On its face, CBS’s new sitcom ¡Rob! doesn’t have a terrible premise. Executed properly, it could actually be pretty endearing. It’s the story of an American man who unwittingly marries into a big, Mexican family and gives it his all to fit in for the sake of the woman he loves. Sure, that in itself is a minefield of potential schlock, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be terrible. And for the record, ¡Rob! isn’t terrible. It’s not good, either, but not in a way that’s especially offensive or grating.
All the reasons ¡Rob! should be awful don’t really come into play in the pilot. It may seem like a strange and unwarranted thing to give star Rob Schneider a vehicle, especially after years of risible feature films that come off like bad cartoons made flesh. Schneider isn’t playing the part of the hack here, though. Rather, he’s nestling into the role so many comedians have before him. He’s the awkward schlub who somehow managed to bag a gorgeous, infinitely forgiving woman, resulting in a lifetime of being baffled at his own strange luck. The only real difference between ¡Rob! and recent classics of the form like Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens is the lack of a strong supporting cast. A lot of this show’s performers fall somewhere on the “meh” spectrum, which may speak more to the lack of prominent roles for Latino actors in American TV than the casting of ¡Rob! in particular, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s little to like about the requisite wacky uncle character or the disapproving mom.
The one exception is, predictably, Cheech Marin as Fernando, Rob’s new father-in-law. Marin brings his old penchant for schtick into a role as old as the institution of marriage itself: The tired, quietly snarky in-law who secretly just wants everybody to get along. The performance isn’t exactly revelatory, but he hits all the right notes without being a ham.
As for the elephant that has been camped out in the room ever since ¡Rob! was but a glimmer in the eyes of Rob Schneider and Lew Morton– Yes, ¡Rob! is far from enlightened when it comes to the topic of race. I think it’s misplaced criticism to attack the show for being reductive and inaccurate about Mexican people, if only because the weak family sitcoms that CBS keeps producing are reductive and inaccurate about everything. If a genre created by white, suburban, upper-middle to plain ol’ upper class Americans for the express consumption of white, suburban, upper-middle to plain ol’ upper class Americans can’t depict something genuine and affecting about white, suburban, upper-middle to plain ol’ upper class Americans, what hope is there for their attempt at a show about Mexicans?
So, no, ¡Rob! is not funny, endearing or even all that interesting. It’s also not so bad that it’s ironically or academically fascinating. It’s just another lame sitcom on the network that specializes and makes bank in lame sitcoms.