Sunshine Cinema’s midnight screenings of The Room (“the Citizen Kane of bad movies”) are always a blast: b-movie lovers line up to revel in the melodrama’s stilted acting, tin-eared dialogue, and the kind of wtf props that spur everyone to throw plastic spoons at the screen. But Saturday night’s engagement was extra special – not only was there the usual frenzied Q&A with writer, director, actor Tommy Wiseau, but there were several sold-out screenings of the international man of mystery’s new sitcom, The Neighbors. And it was extra extra special for us, as we got to chat with the director after the premiere of the pilot. (And went home with a pair of Tommy Wiseau boxer briefs, to boot.)
If you’re unfamiliar with Wiseau, you should know that James Franco might play him in his adaptation of The Disaster Artist, the book about the tortured making of The Room (for the record, Wiseau supports “only 50 percent” of the book; he insisted there were inaccuracies in actor Greg Sestero’s portrayal of him as a megalomaniacal Quixote with a camera.)
True to its title, The Neighbors follows a menagerie of misfits as they butt heads and knock boots in their LA apartment tower, The Nest. In this gonzo version of Three’s Company, the tenants are played by a motley crew of newbies and actors whose credits include soap operas and b movies like Hoochie Mama Drama. Wiseau plays the Mr. Roper character: Charlie is the building manager who has to deal with the melting pot, or “the special culture in America” that Wiseau — in his thick, unplaceable accent — told us was the show’s inspiration.
Here’s one example of that: one tenant pops into Charlie’s office to complain about “the black guy, the rapper guy” in apartment 666 (“this is the guy who came out of chocolate river and cut my internet,” says the Chinese tenant without explaining what the hell he means by chocolate river). The black guy shoots back, “He has sex with men and women – I can hear it through the wall. And maybe even a chicken!”
Aside from this inspired dialogue and Charlie’s recurring catchphrase (“what a day!”), the aforementioned scene contains a classic Wiseauvian continuity error: how can the guy in room 666 hear the guy in room 313 through the wall? But that’s the least of the show’s, well, let’s just call them quirks – one scene featuring Troy the stoner drug dealer (played by the show’s co-producer Andrew Buckley) is so blurry that an audience member finally yelled out “Focus!” (only to beg “unfocus!” when the picture got clear again.)
Such blatant gaffes make you wonder whether Wiseau is playing to his so-bad-its-good reputation. In an early scene, a tenant tosses a basketball around in the manager’s office in a way that recalls that infamous game of rooftop football catch. And rest assured, there are a couple of “Oh, hi”s. But Wiseau told us he wasn’t trying to riff on The Room, nor was he trying to create a highway wreck. “I think that you can compare The Neighbors to any sitcom on tv right now,” he said. “I think we can beat them, as far as I’m concerned.” But he qualified that: “Now, the question is – who’s judging?”
Last night’s judges seemed into it, at least – Wiseau’s fans clapped along with the hard-pumping techno music that stitches together the 32-minute episode’s rapid-fire (and sometimes completely random) scenes, and one attendee even started dancing in the aisles to it. There were the usual guffaws over awkward cuts: when a closeted gay tenant confesses to Charlie about cheating on his pregnant wife, she appears out of nowhere almost horror-movie style, with a ridiculously distended belly. And there were the usual giggles over limp dialogue: “You guys should probably calm down,” Charlie’s secretary/girlfriend tells the couple. “I mean what is it, a rollercoaster ride in here?”
But to Wiseau’s credit, the episode’s biggest laugh was intentional. It came when Ed, the James Van Der Beek-esque handyman who’s having a tryst with a tenant, stripped off his shirt to reveal a pair of Tommy Wiseau underwear (you can buy the Tommy Hilfiger knockoffs here).
Wiseau said he was “amazed” by the positive reaction to the pilot. “Sometimes we get comments about The Room: ‘Oh, I don’t like The Room,’ or maybe ‘I like it a little bit,’ but each time I ask about The Neighbors it’s very positive. And I would actually say extremely positive, based on what I see. I don’t know if I’m tripping or something.”
The show’s creators think it’s ready for prime time, and Wiseau and Buckley are hoping a network will pick up 12 episodes. They’re halfway through shooting episode two in Los Angeles, with five more “in the pipeline.”
But will the show be pitched as a comedy or a drama? (With Wiseau, you always have to ask.) “You have drama, you have comedy,” he said. “But it leans towards comedy because some of the stuff is ridiculous.”
He pointed, for instance, to the character of Cici, a portly, flamboyant woman who is part John Waters, part minstrel show as she works herself into a hysterical, irate frenzy trying to find out who took her pet chicken. This raving Angry Black Woman who’s quick to call other tenants hos might seem like the worst kind of caricature, but Wiseau assured us that future episodes will “present a deeper character.”
We’ll presumably also learn more about Philadelphia, a blonde bombshell who clearly has her plastic surgeon on speed dial. Karly Kim, who plays the sexpot, struts through the hallways in a thong, which led us to ask Wiseau if he discovered her in porn. “No,” he said. “I think she has a unique personality. I’m not looking for what’s happened in the past.”
Wiseau told us there are two more “bikini girls” where Philadelphia came from. Another seductress is dating Ricky Rick (also played by Wiseau, wearing a ridiculous wig and a letterman jacket); she manages to bewitch Troy into “selling” her a $100 shotgun for free. We’re guessing that shotgun will reappear in a future episode (and maybe it’s what everyone’s running from in the teaser clip below) – though it’s uncertain when we’ll get to see future episodes.
In addition to The Neighbors, Wiseau told us he’s trying to make a vampire film as well as a feature titled Foreclosure. “It’s about one of the characters, Richard – the bank takes over [his home] and he’s upset,” he said. “He goes back to the bank, takes over the bank, tries to figure out what’s the problem, drama, FBI, CIA, etc. etc.”
He’s hoping to release the film before February, but don’t hold your breath – it hasn’t started shooting. Wiseau grinned from behind his Terminator shades as he explained the ambitious turnaround time: “We have our resources.”
Asked if that film could be considered a thriller, he responded, “You know what I’d say? It’s a drama, but you decide if it’s drama or comedy.”
Then he burst out laughing. “I’m just teasing.”
Watch footage from Saturday’s Q&A session