Scott D. Pierce: 'Persons Unknown,' 'Neighbors' move in

Published: Sunday, June 6 2010 7:48 p.m. MDT

The Hellmans — Balthazor, Tina, Mandy, Josh, Pazuzu (the dog, sort of) and Uncle Vlaartark

TBS

If you're looking for something different to watch — something a little out of the ordinary — there are a couple of choices on Monday.

NBC has an offbeat mystery, "Persons Unknown," and TBS has an offbeat cartoon, "Neighbors From Hell."

"Persons Unknown" (Monday, 9 p.m., Ch. 5) is sort of a permutation of "The Prisoner." It could be titled "Seven Prisoners" — seven very different strangers are kidnapped and suddenly find themselves in a deserted town with no idea how they got there, why they're there or what's going on.

They can't leave the town; they're under constant surveillance by security cameras; they're threatened physically and psychologically. They've got only each other, but who's trustworthy and who's not?

(Daisy Betts, Chadwick Boseman, Tina Holmes, Kate Lang Johnson, Sean O'Bryan, Alan Ruck and Jason Wiles star.)

Back in the real world, a reporter (Gerald Kyd) has found evidence into one of the kidnappings — and he's under surveillance, too.

"Persons Unknown" is the brainchild of writer/producer Christopher McQuarrie. (He won a best screenplay Oscar for the 1995 film "The Usual Suspects"; his other film credits include "Valkyrie" and "The Way of the Gun.")

Apparently, "Persons Unknown" is intended as a 13-episode movie of sorts — closed-ended with a resolution in the finale. Or so we're led to believe.

The premiere is heavy on set-up and light on action. It's more about mood than plot.

Whether that will hold up over 13 hours is questionable. And, clearly, NBC didn't have enough confidence in "Persons Unknown" to air it during the regular season.

"Neighbors From Hell" (Monday, 8 and 10 p.m., TBS) is the cable channel's first original animated series. And it comes to us from producers of "Madagascar" and "South Park," which should tell you something.

As should the title. It's exactly what it says it is.

The Hellman family — Balthazor and Tina; their kids Mandy and Josh; their Uncle Vlaartark; and their dog (sort of) Pazuzu — are from hell. Satan has sent them topside to prevent humans from drilling into the underworld.

And they're posing as a typical suburban family.

(Molly Shannon, Will Sasso, Patton Oswalt and Kurtwood Smith are among the voice actors.)

There are some very funny gags in "Neighbors." In the opening moments, as demon Balthazor is torturing a new resident of hell, there's a laugh-out-loud moment.

The show has a lot of pop-culture gags. But unlike, say, "Family Guy," it doesn't have too many. And it has an actual plot.

And it has moments that are surprisingly clever commentary on modern society. Like neighbors who shock Tina — who's a demon — with their horrible behavior. And how the management of a huge corporation puts hell to shame.

But — and you knew there would be a "but" — "Neighbors from Hell" also manages to go over the top too often. Vulgarity for vulgarity's sake isn't funny.

It's not as risque as "South Park" or "Family Guy." But this cartoon is not for kids.

COMING TUESDAY: The ABC Family Channel introduces their latest hourlong drama — "Pretty Little Liars" (Tuesday, 9 p.m.), a mystery based on a series of teen novels.

It's about four 16-year-old girls whose friend, Allison — the mean-girl leader of their little group — disappeared a year earlier. The four remaining girls have sort of lost touch with each other, but they're reunited when they start receiving text messages from a mysterious "A."

Could it be Allison? What happened to Allison? The girls seem to know more than they're saying. And they've all got secrets.

Tuesday's pilot is so chock full of exposition and background information that it feels a bit bogged down. And there are so many characters and so many mysteries it's not easy to keep it all straight.

If it settles down a bit, however, this 10-episode summer series might be just what the teen and 20-something females it's aimed at will enjoy.

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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