Anomaly Appraisal: Neighbors From Hell

Yes, this is a tad late but I would rather have to wait and watch it online than cough up for cable every month. There were a few somewhat scathing reviews put out in advance of the show’s premiere a few weeks ago, namely in Variety, where the reviewer pretty much shot it down before it even left the gate. Not here though, oh no. On this blog we believe in positive criticism and looking on the bright side of life and all that.

FIrst of all, the setting: a family of demons get sent to Texas to stop a giant drill from getting all the way to hell. So far so ordinary. The twist is that what the Hellmans see on the surface simply does not compare to what they do underneath. It’s far worse!

The first episode is so clearly a pilot episode. There is the standard introduction of characters, the monologue about why they are where they are and of course, a convenient plot that introduces the audience to the setting and ancillary characters. It’s a pilot, so there’s not point getting too worked up over the plot. Every show must have an introductory episode of some sort and the producers here clearly decided to do that straight out of the gate. Nothing wrong with that, but it does not provide the best platform on which to measure a series.

The music in the show is rather standard fare really. There is nothing remarkable about it except to say that yes, it does contain some heavy metal. If it didn’t, I would have a lot of questions about a show supposedly centred on a bunch of folks from hell.

The animation was done using Toon Boom software, which I posted about waaay back when. It certainly provides for a much higher standard of animation than flash although it stil falls short of true hand-drawn animation. That’s not a problem though. The animation is remarkably smooth and certainly does not suffer from the jerk, puppet-like movements that flash is so susceptible to.

The character design is pretty darn good actually. There are plenty of cable shows where nickel and diming has resulted in character designs that look like they only got one pass through the saw and skipped the finishing table altogether. The designs are split into two groups: The Hellmans and everyone else. The family seems to fit in despite the fact that they are green.

Each character is only a small bit stylized and whose design most certainly matches their character. Therefore we have the father with his jacket, the mother with a somewhat attractive red dress, the daughter in dressed prim and proper (although this belies her demeanour) and the son in a T-shirt.

Pazuzu is perhaps the most interesting, mainly because he doesn’t really look like a goblin, more of a wild-eyed boisterous dog. His wide eyes and huge grin suggest a character that really is Balthazar’s best friend.

The characters are your usual nuclear family. The oafish father Balthazar tries his best his best to do right for his family as well as his wife. He gets in trouble with the boss, he betrays his best friend (a goblin named Pazuzu) and has plenty of pop-culture references in his catapult. He’s a likeable fellow overall.

His wife, Tina, is a somewhat more interesting character. Despite being a housewife, she is easily superior to her husband. She is driven and more than capable of fulfilling her own ambitions.

The daughter, Mandy, has the coolest head in the family. She is not above using violence against her brother though and is especially skilled at getting people to do her bidding. The son, Josh is your standard teenage boy. He’s always up to mischief and getting himself into awkward situations. It is hinted that he has a temper a well.

Much remains to be seen as to whether the characters become as richly developed as their backgrounds suggest. A common problem I find with the likes of Family Guy and more recently The Simpsons, is that hardly any episodes are devoted to the kids and their development. For the most part, they are fill in characters that come and go as needed but are rarely seen to have their own lives with their own problems. Hopefully later in the season, we will see a few episodes where the kids get a chance to mature as characters.

A character of note is Satan, if only for his voice-actor, the very funny Steve Coogan. It’s fantastic to hear him again, especially as he is hardly ever seen outside the UK. For those that don’t know, Steve is one of the funniest comedians of the last 20 years and created one of the most memorable characters to grace TV screens in Alan Partridge. He adds an awful lot to the character of Satan which in turn made the show much more enjoyable (at least for me).

Overall, I liked the show. It’s not the most fantasic animated TV show ever made (because that is currently airing over on Comedy Central and is back to what it does best) although it deserves to succeed on tbs. Could the jokes be improved a wee bit? Sure. They stray dangerously close to the gratuitous at time, I mean c’mon, do we really need to see horses going at it? The allusion should be more that enough for the viewer to get the message. Humour like that suggests a lack of finesse and the easy way out. It may be good for a cheap laugh onec, but it does not stand up during repeated viewing (for the most part).

Neighbors From Hell is a show thatis trying to prove that animation can indeed be marketed to adults. It deserves to succeed in that regard. I recommend you watch it at least once.

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