Rob Schneider showed his DIY spirit—and impatience with studio rigmarole—when he announced he’d be funding, directing, writing, and starring in a new sitcom. That project, Real Rob, was picked up by Netflix earlier this fall, and will have its streaming debut on December 1. Although Schneider footed the bill for the show’s production, he’s borrowed heavily from other shows for its premise and storylines. Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s unlikely that any of its predecessors will lay claim to Real Rob.
Real Rob stars Rob Schneider as an ostensibly exaggerated version of Rob Schneider who, contrary to popular opinion, is not just a guy waiting around to make movies with Adam Sandler. (For the purposes of clarity, the remainder of the review will use “Schneider” to refer to the creator-writer-star, and “Rob” to refer to the character he’s playing.) He’s a family man who’s starting over yet again with a new wife and child, played by his real-life wife and daughter, Patricia and Miranda Schneider. Art imitates life when Rob lands a pilot deal at a studio for a semi-autobiographical series about his courtship of Patricia and her Mexican-American family’s refusal to accept their subsequent marriage. It’s the same ground the real Schneider covered in 2012’s Rob, the short-lived CBS sitcom in which he tried to win the approval of his in-laws—but he’s not just borrowing from himself here. Playing an outsize version of yourself is a concept that pre-dates Real Rob by decades, from Jerry Seinfeld depicting a shallower rendition of himself in his eponymous sitcom, to Curb Your Enthusiasm featuring a (presumably) more grating iteration of Larry David. Louis CK initially went the same route with Louie, but soon branched out to tell more abstract stories in an effort to keep things fresh.
But the central narcissist is far from the only retread in Real Rob, which is a veritable pastiche of other, better sitcoms. Schneider and his co-writer, comedian Jamie Lissow, have a scattershot approach to incorporating these influences. The star has given himself the fictional financial woes of the not-quite-Matt LeBlanc character from Episodes, along with an agent who’s a knockoff Ari Gold. The fictional Rob also has a sycophantic assistant played by Lissow, who looks like Ed Helms but whose character is significantly less competent than Andy Bernard. There’s also a sexy male nanny (à la Melissa & Joey) thrown in for good measure.
Real Rob also features talking-head confessionals à la The Office or Modern Family; in addition to these asides, Schneider reminds us that he’s a stand-up comedian by cutting away to clips of his warmed-over stand-up act. Rob does a bunch of tired, old bits that are mostly in the “men do this/women do that” vein. He translates women’s supposed double-speak, e.g., “I’m going to get a glass of water” somehow actually means “You should go get me a glass of water.” While Schneider’s more offensive comedy has often been unintentional, here he seems intent on ruffling feathers. In one of the stand-up scenes, Schneider muses about Stephen Hawking and his two divorces, first by questioning Hawking’s desirability, and later by mocking his disability—he jokes that Hawking’s dramatic exit from his wives’ lives would be somewhat hindered by his inability to open the door for himself. Schneider must have congratulated himself for taking down such a risible figure.
Ultimately, though, Real Rob’s undoing is in the doing too much. Schneider’s mixing too many elements from too many shows, so he’s unable to update them in any way. And because the cast is so small, Schneider ends up spreading himself too thin. He tries to embody all of the leads of all of the shows he’s referencing—he’s both the naysayer and the crazy schemer, the grounded family man (who doesn’t believe that negative spirits live in his home) and the unfocused dreamer. It would be a Herculean task for any performer, so it’s not surprising that Schneider, who’s made his bones off playing Sandler’s sidekicks and otherwise grotesque caricatures, crumbles under the pressure.
There’s a bit of unintentional meta-commentary when Rob pitches a show (that’s also based on his marriage) that ends up retooled by studio executives until it’s no longer recognizable. The untitled fictional series is now set in a post-apocalyptic world that’s been overrun by “zompires,” a zombie-vampire hybrid, because the studio wants to include as many clichés as possible. Schneider protects his wife on the show-within-a-show by killing the zompires with his stand-up material. But it’s a premise that even Rob finds too hard to believe, so he quits the show. Even Schneider isn’t buying what he’s selling.
Netflix and Schneider saw fit to screen three episodes from the second half of the season for critics, including the finale, a choice that hints at what the future holds for Real Rob. It probably isn’t a second season—unless Schneider’s willing to pick up the tab again.