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Mark Peters

 

There are aliens among us. Right here, right now. Or at least that's a belief commonly held by intellectual boffins and screw-loose conspiracy theorists. Would you be able to pick out a cunningly disguised extraterrestrial dude among the morning rush-hour commuters on a jam-packed MTR train? Granted, there's never much human life to be spotted at that time of the day; but if you believe The Neighbors (below; Fox, Thursday at 9.50pm), visitors from outer space are probably already living right next door to you.

In this rather silly "comedy", the Weaver family has just moved, unwittingly, into a suburban neighbourhood populated entirely by unfunny aliens named after sports celebrities, who are awaiting instructions to return home to the planet Zabvron. You certainly shouldn't judge a programme on the pilot episode alone but a comedy with no jokes in it does not make for a good start. Actually, I lie; there is one teeny-weeny joke: the Zabvronians speak in plummy British accents in order to "clean up your guttural [American] language".

So there you go - I've just saved you 22 minutes of your life; risk of being possessed by the urge to poke out your own eyes with the remote averted. The Neighbors certainly doesn't have the comedic genius of Robin Williams in Mork & Mindy or the cast of 3rd Rock From the Sun to sugar-coat its childish and inept script, and you will need a bucket full of spacedust to muster a grin from this lifeless show. If you decide to ignore my advice to steer clear, I just pray that you're abducted by aliens who kindly erase your memory. Does it have the potential to turn into a surprise wacky hit? Yes. Just like Steven Seagal has the potential to win an Oscar. It's simply that good.

Maybe escaped serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, Rome) has also endured a little too much of The Neighbors: he has taken to gouging out the eyes of his unfortunate victims. In Kevin " Scream" Williamson's new blood-spattered thriller, The Following (above; TVB Pearl, Tuesday at 10.40pm), the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired psychopath has enlisted "followers" to do his dirty killing for him, forcing his damaged-cop nemesis, former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon, on sizzling form) to chase the "cult on steroids" killer for a second time. The plot is full of suspense and clever twists, and although it's awash with horror-movie clichés and often as implausible as a Scooby-Doo episode, The Following is a blood-chilling drama that begs to be watched from behind the sofa.

From the birth of violence to the violence of birth. Call the Midwife (BBC Entertainment, tonight at 9pm) may be this season's Downton Abbey but it has far more blood and grit than the toffs-and-servants period drama. Set in London's working class East End, this 1950s tale of nuns and nurses delivering tots is based on the memoirs of real-life midwife Jennifer Worth. Depicting the joys and pains of labour and childbirth, the show is full of tragedy, but there are moments of light-hearted relief, mostly from nurse Chummy Browne (Miranda Hart, Miranda), who steals the show.

Finally some family fun of the modern kind in the return of, ahem … Modern Family (Fox, Thursday at 10.15pm). Over the past three series the award-winning comedy has settled gently into comfortable slippers and while it's still infinitely funnier than most others of its ilk, the cutting humour has descended from side-splitting, in season one, to merely smirk-inducing. The joy of the show has always been in its kind heart and the subtlety of its farcical narratives, but the storylines are now somewhat telegraphed and can detract from excellent performances.

Season four begins as Jay (Ed O'Neill, Married … With Children) celebrates turning 65 with a day of "no surprises", despite son-in-law Phil (the vastly underrated Ty Burrell) planning a birthday kidnapping and Jay's wife, Gloria, about to break the news that she is pregnant. While it's not the greatest episode ever (Phil's jokes fall unusually flat), it's a slow burner and features another glorious cameo from Chazz Palminteri, as Jay's buddy Shorty. Hopefully future episodes will venture away from Cam and Mitchell bickering and back to them being on top of their fantastically sarcastic game.

Even when it's on mediocre form, if Modern Family doesn't raise a chortle you're probably from another planet.

 

 

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