Your opinion of CBS's newest comedy, Rob, will largely depend on your opinion of series star Rob Schneider's body of work, which includes such catch-'em-on-afternoon-cable classics as Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, The Hot Chick, and The Animal. There's a time and a place for those color-by-numbers comedies, and it's usually when you're hungover and alone. Rob is pretty much the same, except it airs during primetime, so there's really no reason for it to exist, let alone for you to be watching it (if you're hungover at 8:30pm, you'll be dead soon anyway).
Rob, which is no more than a story about a gringo who marries into a Mexican-American family but is really 30 minutes of "How did this guy get this girl to marry him?," is quintessential Schneider packed with trademarks from his films. It just wouldn't be a Rob Schneider project without an awkward situation that's mistaken by others to involve grandma sex. And, as with all his movies, it's an excuse to pair the shlubby Schneider with a just-fell-off-a-magazine-cover gorgeous chick, in this case, screen-licking-worthy Spanish actress Claudia Bassols, who plays Rob's wife Maggie. The humor is typical swing-at-every-pitch-and-hope-you-make-contact-once-or-twice, and Rob's series premiere got in a few hits (like, two and a half) via accidental chuckles -- though I will never admit to that in person.
Where Rob goes really wrong is with its handling of potentially sensitive racial humor. In the pilot, Cheech Marin's character -- Rob's father-in-law, Fernando -- says he'd like to see a giant wall erected on the U.S.-Mexico border to keep "competition" from coming entering the United States. Yet he's risen from working as a lowly towel boy at a car wash to being an affluent owner of an eight-car-wash empire who isn't afraid to employ illegal immigrants to his benefit, making him a Mexican Tio Tomas. His background will surely become the butt of many jokes, and I've got to think some people will have a problem with that. Meanwhile, Maggie's uncle Hector has just arrived in America, and he embodies a painful stereotype: the opportunistic freeloader. And of course, Rob's knowledge of Mexican culture is based on a Chevy's menu. The funny thing about all this is that Rob is based on Schneider's own life -- he's really married to a Mexican woman -- yet he treats it like... well, a CBS sitcom.
There is one legitimately good part of the show, and that's Marin. He's the only one who looks comfortable and knows how to sell a joke without throwing in a stupid hand gesture or voice inflection to tell the laugh-track guy how hard to press the "laugh" button. But I'll be honest with you, years of Cheech & Chong fandom will prevent me from ever speaking ill of Marin. And in the end, there's an adequate amount of heart and recognition that the human experience transcends culture to think the show won't just be a constant flow of jokes about tacos.
It's appropriate to compare Rob to contemporary comedies, and the bar for comedy is currently so low it's halfway to China, thanks to ABC's embarrassingly bad Work It. Stacked side-by-side against the cross-dressing atrocity, Rob is merely not that good.
Did you tune in? What did you think?