Jami Gertz previews Season 2 of THE NEIGHBORS

JAMI GERTZABC’s gem of a show, THE NEIGHBORS, which initially found critics fighting against it only to turn around and embrace it once they realized how great the show really is, returns to the ABC schedule tonight at 8:30/7:30c with their second season premiere, and I, for one, could not be happier.  I was a vocal fan from the beginning, loving what Dan Fogelman and his team were offering up – at the center, a family comedy about the American Dream and family told from a wacky point of view featuring aliens with the names of superior sports heroes of the past.

For those unfamiliar – THE NEIGHBORS pilot told the story of the very human, very Earthly Weaver family (Debbie, Marty, Amber, Max, and Abby) who happened to move into the only available house in a community occupied by very non-Earthly Zabvronians led by Larry Bird and Jackie Joyner-Kersee with their sons Reggie Jackson and Dick Butkus.  What followed was a story of families coming together, becoming friends, and experiencing life together. Often hilarious, often absurd, but always heartfelt, the show grew on me to the point where it’s one of my favorite returning comedies.

To celebrate the new night, I spent some time chatting with Weaver matriarch Debbie (the lovely Jami Gertz) about the show: what’s coming, who’s coming, and why people have embraced the show. Check it out!

ISABELLA CRAMP, MAX CHARLES, CLARA MAMET, JAMI GERTZ, LENNY VENITOI’ve been a fan forever, and I’ve been a fan of THE NEIGHBORS since minute one, so I’m so excited for a second season to start.
Oh Amrie, thank you so much, I’m very appreciative about that.

Why do you think people finally found THE NEIGHBORS?
I was talking about this today, and you know how sometimes you have little epiphanies, and I was talking about it – People found us.  We started out slow.  We found ourselves, you know what I mean?  We found our voice, we found out what we’re good at and what we wanted to say, and the writers figured out which characters were good at what, so we found our groove and think that we’re kind of an underdog, and people found us.  I have such gratitude for it.  I always knew in my heart, from reading the pilot episode, that Dan was on to something.  I giggled out loud when I read it, and it was his take on human behavior, on American life, through these aliens, and I saw it.  Yet, it was a little fuzzy because of the exposition in the beginning.  Once we found out voice, people tuned.

IAN PATRICK, ISABELLA CRAMP, LENNY VENITO, MAX CHARLES, SIMON TEMPLEMAN, JAMI GERTZ, TOKS OLAGUNDOYEYou mentioned finding which characters work best together – as the season when on, when you and Ian (Patrick) would have scenes together (Debbie and Dick Butkus) or Clara (Mamet) and Simon (Templeman as Amber and Larry Byrd) – it’s so much fun to see people play with each other.
Which is what our writers are so good at!  They figured out – oh if we put Larry Byrd and Amber together, sitting on the curb, sitting on the street – that conversation?  Is just so clever!  They figured it out.  It takes time.  You write a pilot, you try to get the pilot sold.  You get it sold, they say they’re going to make it.  You try to get the best cast, and you put it on the air!  Then you have to do the work of character arcs, and where are we going, and what do we want to say, and I think that Dan Fogelman, I just adore him.  He is a lovely human being, first and foremost, and just clever in how he views the world.  I think he came into his groove.  He found it.  I feel privileged to be a part of it.

I’ve gotten to see the first two episodes of season 2 – really enjoyed them both.  What can you tease about Season 2?
We discuss the idea of soul mates.  What is a soul mate?  Are there soul mates?  Is there someone that you’re pre-destined to be with, or is it the person that you never thought would be the one for you? Why do we love?  Who do we love?  I think we explore work in America, and what is work?  Why do we work, how hard to we work?  It’s all through humor, and it’s all through heart and humor, by the way.  We explore the American Dream, what is the American Dream?  We explore relationships. What is love, what does it mean to be there for someone, and what does it mean to be a friend?  What is a true friend?  There’s an episode with Jackie and Debbie where Debbie has just fallen short, and Jackie is a kick-ass friend, and Debbie’s gotta come up with the goods about being a good friend, and who do we rely on?  There will be more exploration of human behavior through laughter and heart.

IAN PATRICK, TIM JO, TOKS OLAGUNDOYE, SIMON TEMPLEMAN, LENNY VENITO, JAMI GERTZ, CLARA MAMET, ISABELLA CRAMP, MAX CHARLESAnother great part of the show is playing the heart, the family issues, but you also get to play opposite aliens and alien things, so it has to be fun to play that back and forth.
Yes!  Yes, and that’s where as an actor, and as these characters, the Weavers had to suspend belief.  For the audience to be on the ride, we had to say okay, we’re going to believe this.  We’re going to live next to them, we’re going to live in this neighborhood, we’re stuck.  How are we going to make it work?  Which is, by the way, a lot of human behavior.  A lot of times you work with people you’re not so crazy for.  You’re in a job that maybe you’re in over your head, and how do you make it work?  And how do you thrive in that situation? So I think that it is fun getting to suspend the belief.  I feel privileged that the Weavers, it makes their life exciting!  You know what I mean?  It’s fun and cool.

You can see the excitement – whether they’re rolling their eyes at what’s happening, you can see that they’re also excited about the crazy world they lucked into.
Yeah!  It could be so mundane, but for the Weavers, look at what we get to live next to!  It’s awesome!

The show has handled guest stars really well – anything you can tease about who is coming?
I don’t know who is allowed to discuss that stuff, but I’m sure there will be some people stopping by!  First and foremost, we try to get the best actors for whatever part.  There are so many fine actors who make a living and feed their families from acting.  Listen, I’m old-fashioned in my outlook as an actress – I’ve been doing it 30 years.  I just want to find the best possible actors for the roles.  We have an amazing, Susan Vash, is our head of casting, and she’s brilliant.  She has brought in some really great comedic actors this year, so far.  We’re on episode 6, so we’ve had some really good people so far, great actors.  Great comedians.

I look, too, at the great job done in casting the core group.  You never know how a family dynamic is going to work – are the kids going to have the chops, you know, and I think that everyone just works so well together – everyone is so funny, everyone meshes.
It’s a really lovely set, it’s a lovely place to be.  And we do all work together well, and that doesn’t always happen.  It’s a real blessing.  You never know if that’s going to happen, but we truly care about each other, and work well together, and want each other to do well.  We’re the first ones laughing off camera at what Simon’s doing, or what Dick is doing.  We’re the best audience for each other, in trying to make it its best and funniest.  We really do work together well!

Do yourself two favors: Catch up on Season 1 (watch the musical episode and the finale if there’s not enough time in your day) and watch the Season 2 premiere tonight on ABC.  You will be pleasantly surprised at how much fun you can have with these people!  For more on THE NEIGHBORS, head to ABC.com.