This TV season, we’ve got so many writers who’ve seen these pilots that we thought getting two takes on each show would be helpful to you. The first review is the “official” TV Club review, and the grade applies to it. But we’ve also found another reviewer to offer their own take on the program. Today, Todd VanDerWerff and Steve Heisler talk about Rob.
Rob debuts tonight on CBS at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.
Todd: You don’t need me to tell you what you think about Rob. You already know. You either saw the promos featuring Rob Schneider having to deal with the Latino family he’s married into and howled with laughter or you said, “Jesus Christ, somebody gave Rob Schneider a sitcom? Where he marries into a Mexican family?” before trying to wash out your eyes with the most powerful home cleaners. Is there middle ground here? I don’t think so. There aren’t going to be people who just kind of like Rob or just kind of hate it. It’s all or nothing here. Those of you who have seen the promos and think this looks like stupid fun, go with God. I’ll see you all somewhere else, probably in my Glee reviews or something, and we can talk about other things.
For the rest of you, let me tell you why Rob (which was briefly known as ¡Rob! before CBS changed it for no real reason) is so awful, so you can feel even more justified in deciding not to watch it. For starters, it’s a sitcom where Rob Schneider falls in love with a Mexican woman and has to put up with her big, crazy family, so it’s already a show with a tired, tired premise, but this time, the premise has that extra layer of race-based humor over the top of it. Now, Schneider himself is married to a Latina, so I’m all but certain that he wouldn’t willingly sign up for a series that seems to be as blithely racist as this one is. I’m willing to go with him when he says—as he did at yesterday’s TCA press tour session for the show—that everything done on this show is done out of love and respect for Mexican culture and that when racist jokes are made, they’re really meant to make him the butt of the joke. Indeed, I can see a version of this show where that’s actually the case, and it’s surprisingly close to the one we actually have.
Schneider, of course, has made a long career out of being idiotic and/or obnoxious on screen and asking the audience to laugh at him. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except for how it’s sort of mean-spirited. But if that’s the sort of thing you want to watch, Schneider’s pretty far down the list of dumbass guys you could laugh at (which may be why he’s now starring in a CBS sitcom, but I digress). Schneider’s persona is that of the whiny, annoying guy who also does stupid voices and makes stupid faces, and he’s always been sort of like if that guy in your office who does impressions of all of the SNL sketches he loves somehow became a major star.
Schneider tries to tone down this shtick for Rob, but the character that’s been invented for him—a weirdly OCD landscape architect who’s always getting into one inadvertent scrape or another—is more or less a toned down version of the usual Schneider character. But you don’t go to Schneider for toned down. You go to Schneider to get all up in your face and crazy. You go to Schneider to get repeatedly assaulted by “hilarity.” It’s not abundantly clear, then, why he’s playing such a staid, boring sitcom guy in this show. If the joke’s supposed to be on him—and how little he fits into the wonderful world of Hispanic culture he’s married into—then why is he never the funniest thing in any given scene?
An example: Schneider (whose character is named, helpfully, Rob) has gone with his new wife—Maggie (Claudia Bassols)—whom he married after knowing her for just six weeks, to meet her family. They don’t know she’s married this short white guy. (Nearly every joke at Rob’s expense is about how short he is, which wears out its welcome about five minutes into the pilot.) He doesn’t know anything about the culture of his new beloved. All he knows is that he likes having sex with her, because he’s hit the jackpot and wandered into a CBS sitcom, where a short white guy who runs into a store, arms flailing in the air, yelling something about how a bee is chasing him, will prove irresistible to an incredibly attractive Latina in her late 20s or early 30s. Anyway, that’s established: Maggie wants Rob to meet her family. Rob wants to have sex with her. (When her parents later tell her it’s not too late to get out of this marriage and, presumably, move into the Hispanic Cosby Show that is their lives, it’s hard not to beg as a viewer, “Please take me with you!”)
As soon as Rob goes over to Maggie’s house, however, the jokes about how large Mexican families are or how they’re all Catholic or so on and so forth fly fast and furious. Again, it’s easy to see that we’re supposed to be laughing at what Rob’s doing here, that he’s supposed to be the butt of the joke, but the jokes aren’t terribly funny, and the way everybody stands around, staring at him, doesn’t help with the situation either. It’s just a long, unfunny scene where Maggie suggests her family conforms to various stereotypes (an idea that could have had some comic mileage), Rob then rattles off a bunch of other stereotypes (again, something could have been done with this), and everybody stands around wondering who the hell this guy is. Because, right, Maggie is waiting for “the perfect moment” to tell her parents that she’s married this guy. How much you want to bet that “perfect moment” will arrive after it appears that Rob has had anal sex with Maggie’s grandma? (You would win that bet.)
There’s nothing inherently wrong with examining cultural and political differences, and in an age when America is more multi-cultural than ever, it might be the single greatest topic comedies—particularly network comedies—shy away from. Network TV tends to be about affluent white people, and it doesn’t really get into other experiences because that’s how the advertisers like it. At that same panel, Schneider and the show’s producers, Eric and Kim Tannenbaum, talked about how much they wanted to do a show like All In The Family, a show that would hold a mirror up to some of the conversations we have about race and politics in America and reflect them back. The problem is that “frank and funny conversations about race and politics” don’t really belong in the same premise as “Rob Schneider.” There are some fun elements in the show—Eugenio Derbez could be a lot of fun as Maggie’s uncle, Hector, with different writers—but the show can never overcome the central fact that a Rob Schneider variation on Archie Bunker apparently involves grandma rape.
Look: Everybody’s trying to figure out the way to do these vaguely politically incorrect shows where the characters talk about race and culture and so on frankly and honestly. Everybody’s chasing that whole envelope-pushing thing that cable does so well because they vaguely sense that this is something network could do well, too. Rob has problems beyond this central flaw—for one thing, Bassols just isn’t a very funny actress in her crucial role—but the central flaw drags everything down with it. What everyone on networks seems to forget about shows like this is that merely mentioning these issues isn’t enough; you have to be funny, too. And the easiest way to avoid the accusations of racism that Rob has run into is simply that: Make a funny show, and nobody will care what you say.
Steve: We can all laugh now (or, if you’re watching Rob, no one will be laughing), but the show features a main character with a series of serious and vague mental disorders. He’s prone to extreme social obliviousness and speedy mood swings, and suffers from a case of “that adorable little OCD thing” as his wife puts it. Rob isn’t so much a character as a series of tropes that put on a person suit. And the worst part is that everyone in the world of Rob seems to be suffering from the same disease. Rob doesn’t do a single redeemable or lovable thing in the entirety of the episode; yet by the end, and despite a joke about how Mexicans have large families probably because they don’t use protection, everyone seems to like him. Because it’s a sitcom, so they might as well. Rob is coherent in any fashion merely because the conventions of a sitcom dictate that it has to be, which is the laziest thing any sitcom can ever do. You know who else is lazy? Mexicans. I’m ready for my Rob paycheck.