This episode of The Neighbors, the long-titled “Larry Bird Presents an Oscar-Winning Film by Larry Bird,” is one of the best episodes of the season, I think. Part of the storyline is in the title, but the short of it is that Larry Bird decides to make an Oscar-winning film. The project unveils Dick Butkus’ approval issues with his father, Reggie Jackson’s longing to be a movie star, Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s constant need to care for a child (now funneled through Sandra Bullock’s The Blind Side), Max’s inefficient spelling capabilities and Marty’s freakout moment in high school.
All of these plot points converge at Max and Dick’s spelling bee, where Max was able to slyly shuffle off the stage thanks to his parents reliving (and finally completing) the Grease number they failed at way back in school. Amber actually helped! Also, Larry was able to see how much he has neglected his son during the course of creating his documentary and decides to turn his film on the greatness that is Dick. (Dick really is great; Ian Patrick is one gifted little actor with tons of odd flair and comedic timing).
From how I explained it, the episode doesn’t make sense, but if you watched it, you would have been amazed at how all of these seemingly random plots come together and fuel one another. For instance, because Marty and Debbie are concerned about Max, Abby is left without a grown-up for her tea party. Jackie, feeling left out after Dick reveals he doesn’t really need parents anymore, turns on the southern accent Sandra Bullock used in The Blind Side and becomes the maternal figure she’s always wanted to be but can’t due to her self-sufficient children. And when Larry wants an “all-American” lead, adds more tension between his son by casting Max as his lead.
Throw in a joke about Tyler Perry films and what seemed to me a veiled criticism of The Blind Side (an upper-class white woman helping a poor, huge black kid? I know it’s based on a true story, but the film was Hallmark quality–certainly not enough to win an Oscar) and you have a great episode. What made the show even funnier was the surprise at the end–Reggie doing his best Dustin Hoffman à la The Graduate impression. It was very encouraging to see Reggie’s character stretch out of his usual confines like that. Reggie’s consistent push to be in the film (including acting as Lincoln-as-Forest Gump) really showed the audience more of what Tim Jo is capable of.
Speaking of stretching outside current character confines, I’m glad that the accents are now becoming a character trait of Jackie’s. Toks Olagundoye excels at them, so it’s fun to hear when she throws on a completely random accent during one of Jackie’s needy motherly moments.
Overall, I’m surprised at how a show that clearly had the company theme of “Oscars” became less of an advertisement for the Oscars and more of an actual original story. Like the episode’s title suggests, ABC has made it clear that all shows in the Wednesday comedy block are supposed to address the Oscars this week, seeing how the awards show comes on this Sunday. This mandate could have easily drained all the creativity from the shows this week, but it feels like The Neighbors took the idea and ran with it, making an episode that honored the agreement while staying true to the zany family fun mission statement the show lives by. If you never watched The Neighbors up until now, then this was the episode to use as your gateway drug to the show.