The premise of the new CBS sitcom ¡Rob! is only interesting if you’ve never heard of Fools Rush In or Guess Who or the Meet the Parents trilogy or perhaps if these are the only movies that you’ve ever truly enjoyed. After a six-week courtship, Rob (Rob Schneider) has eloped with Maggie (Claudia Bassols), having never met her mother and father. Being introduced to the in-laws under these circumstances would probably be distressing for most people but it is particularly so here because Maggie is Mexican-American and Rob…isn’t. Awk-ward! What’s worse, Rob is apparently unable to have a normal conversation with someone whose ethnic background is different than his. “I’m a huge fan of Mexican culture,” he says, trying to endear himself to his father-in-law Fernando (Cheech Marin). He continues: “This dip is excellent. I believe it’s called guacamole.” Was this the kind of woo he was pitching when he first met Maggie?
Unlike so many people, I’m not predisposed to thinking that everything with Rob Schneider’s name attached to it is bound to be crap. My sense of humor was formed while watching mid-‘90s Saturday Night Live—I was that weird 10-year-old, entertaining (aka annoying) everyone with her Richmeister “makin’ copies” routine—and, as a result, I have an odd kind of allegiance to Schneider who got his start on the show. (Yeah, I did actually pay actual money to see both Deuce Bigalow movies in the theater, so if you’re looking for someone to blame for the longevity of Schneider’s career, I’m perfectly comfortable with you looking this way. But then, of course, you should look over at Adam Sandler because he probably played a much larger role.) I’m incapable of simply dismissing him or his work—I give everything he does a chance—and despite its inane punctuation, ¡Rob! (which, I’ll just be referring to as Rob, from here on out, if that’s OK with you) was no exception.
Here’s the thing: Rob isn’t horrible. Or at least it’s no worse than Rules of Engagement, which is on hiatus until Rob finishes its 8-episode order. But it isn’t great either. It’s the kind of uninspired, middle-of-the road fare that it isn’t uncommon to see on CBS. If Schneider didn’t have such a questionable record and high profile, Rob would have immediately been on track to follow in the barely perceptible footsteps of past CBS comedies like Yes, Dear and Still Standing—you know, somehow lasting for years without anyone noticing. This show’s biggest problem, then, is that its producers are apparently content with it being not un-entertaining—that is to say, they’re fine with easy laughs and forced jokes.
Fish out of water Rob has only been in his in-laws’ house mere minutes before he finds himself in a compromising position with his wife’s abuelita. Him: pants around his ankles. Her: bent provocatively over a bed and wailing. (Ah, so this is the sort of cross-cultural, exclamatory situation that the show’s title alluded to.) The pair wound up this way after a bit of slapstick resembling a Rube Goldberg machine in its complexity and involving toppled votive candles. “There’s a simple explanation,” Rob (or I suppose now unequivocally ¡Rob!) says after his wife and her parents run to investigate the commotion. “I poured hot wax on my genitals.” This is hysterical, the laugh track assures us.
Rob is all premise and no character development. There’s no substance. I can’t for the life of me figure out why Maggie would want to marry Rob, especially after only six weeks, when his defining traits seem to be his knack for always saying or doing the wrong thing and total befuddlement when faced with a culture that is not his own. “So, Selena. That was sad huh?” Rob says, struggling for conversation with his in-laws. I get the humor and would be willing to accept it if this man had indeed never had any real contact with Mexican-Americans or if he was just a jerk, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, so his lack of social grace makes no sense. HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, like Rob, revolves around its protagonist’s constant faux pas. But Larry David’s character has been clearly delineated from episode one. The situations on that show are contrived (as really any situation in any comedy is) but as a viewer you can understand how someone as contrary as David would alienate almost everyone he comes in contact with. What’s Rob’s excuse? If this series does continue beyond its 8-episode order—and that does seem likely since its ratings are fairly solid, so far—the goal should be to achieve some kind of depth. Rob doesn’t have to be super deep or poignant or anything—this is Schneider we’re talking about—but it should be more than just a parade of caricatures.