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Rob: Series Premiere

By Tony LaScala · January 14, 2012

Perhaps the most difficult episode a T.V. writer will tackle is the pilot episode. In twenty-three fast paced minutes the writer must establish a story arc for an entire series. Technically speaking, Rob achieves this. However, the true staying power of the pilot episode is in the execution. In this aspect, Rob falls well short. I wouldn’t be surprised if the series is ‘executed’ very soon. (That’s the type of humor that I was treated to for twenty-three clock-watching minutes).

The show opens with Rob (Rob Schneider) and Maggie (Claudia Bassols) having just eloped in Las Vegas after knowing each other for only six weeks.  Through a series of poorly executed sitcom-y jokes, we establish that Rob is OCD, and that these two are inexplicably in love. Okay, stop right there. I can accept the idea that a gorgeous young Mexican woman is somehow in love with a short white man fifteen years her senior. Modern Family does this very well with Gloria and Jay’s relationship. However, Gloria and Jay share something that Rob and Maggie do not: Chemistry.

When I watched the Friends debut in 1994, I thought immediately “This is going to work.” The same went for The Office, The Big Bang Theory, and the recent debut of The New Girl. Unfortunately, ‘Rob’ left me with a feeling of “I don’t care what happens next.” All of the aforementioned shows had so many comic directions they could take us, because the characters and their relationships were so well crafted we were able to jump in right away and hit the ground running. The majority of the humor in ‘Rob’ stems from Rob not speaking his wife’s language. “You speak Spanish?” Schneider proclaims just after entering Maggie’s childhood home.

Act One opens at Maggie’s parents house. Maggie hasn’t told her parents she’s married to Rob. Rob opens the door to what he thinks will be a small family gathering. Punch-line spoiler: The Mexican family is enormous. This is where the show might actually stand a chance. Rob has a great supporting cast of veteran character actors: Cheech Marin plays Fernando the emasculated, judgmental father, Eugenio Derbez is Hector the freeloading uncle, Lupe Ontiveros portrays the horny grandmother in mourning, and the overprotective mom is played convincingly by Diana Maria Riva.

In most pilot episodes the actors really haven’t found their footing yet. The characters tend to over-annunciate and ‘punch’ their jokes home. In Rob each supporting character is still tackling their part with the overdone zeal that Schneider brings to his performance. If the show can focus on its ensemble, it may provide a little breathing room for Rob and Maggie’s relationship to take shape and grow on us. Regrettably, it appears Rob already has four episodes in the can. I’ll wager a thumbtack against a corkboard that Rob puts the focus entirely on the ‘tension’ between Rob and Maggie. (As it should if we’re being ‘proper’) Side-note: The amount of ‘proper’ sitcoms making successful runs on network T.V. is dwindling rapidly.

By the end of the pilot episode, Rob is proclaiming his love to Maggie’s parents after a series of predictable mishaps have rendered him an even less suitable spouse in their eyes.  Rob realizes that his life is more changed than he thought it would be.

Rob has a modern concept: Average White guy marries into a Mexican family. It hits the current American immigration political climate “On the Nose.” This is a breeding ground for potentially edgy humor. Rob goes into the edgy range a little, without diving fully in. It’s a show that doesn’t exactly know what it is yet, and I doubt they’ll be given the time to figure it out.