CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
TV Review: Cultures Clash in CBS’s Mediocre Comedy ‘Rob!’
CHICAGO – After an absolute train wreck like ABC’s “Work It” and something that comes close to disaster in NBC’s “Are You There, Chelsea,” there’s something nearly-satisfying about a mediocre sitcom like “Rob!” The latest effort to find a hit in the coveted post-“Big Bang Theory” slot is certainly better than the last two (“S**t My Dad Says,” “How to Be a Gentleman”) but that is the definition of faint praise. This is still mediocre comedy, the kind of show that you might enjoy if you stumble upon it but that you don’t need to set a Season Pass for any time soon.
Television Rating: 3.0/5.0
Rob Schneider has always looked uncomfortable on film in comedies like “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” and “Grown Ups,” but he was often very funny in his time on “Saturday Night Live” and even delivered on the short-lived “Men Behaving Badly.” He just seems more at home on TV — his timing, his screen presence, his whole persona seems made for the small screen and he works here. It helps to have a living legend like Cheech Marin to make Schneider look better. The veterans of “Rob!” (Schneider and Marin) help elevate the premiere above typical comedy pilot quality in 2011-12. In other words, it’s better than a lot of comedy junk that has premiered this year. Don’t take that to mean it’s great either.
Photo credit: CBS
Schneider plays, of course, the title character, a lifelong bachelor who is introduced making out with his stunning new young wife Maggie (Claudia Bassols). The Mexican book translator, who happens to be the hottest book translator in the world, is the opposite of Rob. She’s outgoing, vibrant, and full of life. He’s anal, obsessive, and neurotic. The idea that they would even spend five minutes together much less get married is one of the grand jokes of “Rob!” Hollywood loves to write stories of schlubs who end up with beautiful women. It gives lonely writers hope.
Photo credit: CBS
Oh, did I mention that Maggie is Mexican? And that her ethnicity is the main focus of the show? Due to Maggie and Rob’s whirlwind romance, Rob hasn’t even met his new bride’s extended, overprotective family. Of course, he meets them all at once in one of two scenes that comprise the bulk of the premiere of “Rob!” and the culture clash jokes fly fast and furious. Maggie’s family includes father Fernando (Marin), mother Rosa (Diana Maria Riva), uncle Hector (Eugenio Derbez), and grandmother (Lupe Ontiveros). They think Rob is the cab driver and then call him a gardener after he reveals that he’s a landscape architect. They get in close where Rob needs personal space. They’re loud, outgoing, and exactly what you’d expect from a CBS sitcom Mexican family…
…but not nearly as much as you might expect. I thought that “Rob!” would wallow in more stereotypes than it does. In fact, the title character often seems the butt of the joke more than Maggie’s family. It helps to have actors like Marin, Riva, and Ontiveros to ground the comedy as best they can, and Derbez makes some quirky choices that actually produce some laughs. Bassols is the biggest weakness of the pilot, over-enunciating every line and never coming off even remotely believably. But she might settle in once she gets more comfortable with her character.
Yes, the writing still gets caught up in stereotype and Rob is sometimes far too goofy to be realistic (his first conversational item to come to mind when he finally gets Maggie’s family alone is Selena) but this is not as broad as the title, concept, or even the commercials might lead you to believe. And there’s something kind of comforting about an old-fashioned sitcom like this one that doesn’t feel nearly as desperate as “Chelsea” or “Work It.”
I do wonder how on Earth they can keep up the culture clash concept over multiple episodes, much less seasons. Is Rob still going to be committing cultural faux pas three or four years into his marriage? What will this show become without “dumb American meets his hot wife’s Mexican family”? I think it will wear out its welcome. But, for now, it’s kind of like the family’s response to its title character — repulsion is the natural first instinct but he kind of grows on you.