Of his generation of “SNL” stars, Rob Schneider’s post-show career has certainly been helped by being friends with the others. (In particular, Adam Sander, who has produced most of Schenider’s movies.) But there’s also a complete lack of shame – a willingness to try any concept, no matter how dumb(*), and to make himself look as ridiculous as possible in doing it – that’s helped him get jobs that actors with more self-consciousness might have passed on.
(*) Schneider was victim of one of the more devastating “South Park” career assessments ever, in an episode where the boys kept seeing trailers for terrible-looking Schneider movies where he turned into a stapler, a carrot and, eventually, Kenny. One of the last trailers abandoned any pretense of intelligence and had a gibberish narration, including the title “Da Derp Dee Derp Da Teetley Derpee Derpee Dumb.”
And while Schneider has to participate in a few mortifying moments on his new CBS sitcom “Rob” (tonight at 8:30 p.m.) – notably a scene where he’s involved in consecutive misunderstandings involving shrine desecration, masturbation and rape – for the most part it’s a less ridiculous vehicle for him than most.
It’s not good, mind you. If anything, it suggests Schneider is probably better off playing an animal, a teenage girl, or a stapler.
Schneider plays Rob, newly-married to the much younger and more attractive Maggie (Claudia Bassols) after a whirlwind courtship. Where Rob barely sees his own family at all, Maggie is part of a large, close-knit Mexican-American clan, headed by her father Fernando (Cheech Marin) and mother Rosa (Diana Maria Riva), who are none too pleased to meet the clown who married their daughter without telling them first.
Essentially, it’s every sitcom you’ve ever seen about an annoying, schlubby guy inexplicably married to an understanding hot chick(**), mixed with a bunch of clumsy, borderline-offensive jokes about Rob’s misunderstanding of his in-laws’ culture.
(**) Not to be confused with “The Hot Chick,” where Schneider swapped bodies with a then-unknown Rachel McAdams. In hindsight, they’d probably center that movie more around her.
When Rob meets a few dozen members of Maggie’s family at the same time, he awkwardly breaks the ice by joking, “Now I know what’s going on during all those siestas, huh?” When that bombs, he more sincerely suggests, “This is a big family because you’re all Catholic, right?” And by the time Maggie has pulled him away for his own good, he’s complaining that the number of people makes him “feel like I’m at a Julio Iglesias concert.”
The writing for the in-law characters is a bit more shaded, at least. Fernando is an immigrant himself but is in favor of erecting a wall along the border, while at the same time happily admits that most of the workers at his car wash chain are undocumented. (“Between a hundred of them, I think they have three Social Security numbers.”) And Rosa’s objection to Rob has much less to do with him being a gringo than with him being, well, Rob Schneider – and also with the aforementioned desecration/masturbation/rape trifecta.
Outside of that sequence – which at least gets points for going for it and being memorable, even if I wanted to bleach my eyeballs by the end of it(***) – “Rob” the show and Rob the character make very little impression. There are a few jokes early on about Rob suffering from OCD, for instance, but nothing ever comes of it, and Schneider is mainly asked to look nervous and confused around Maggie’s family.
(***) A better-structured show could actually go to town on a sequence like that – Larry David has often been involved in situations about as disgusting as that on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” – but on a show this simple and hacky, it’s just cringe-inducing without the funny.
The one actor who stands out at least a little is the Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez as Maggie’s Uncle Hector, a shady, weird moocher who immediately decides that he will be Rob’s new best friend – provided Rob gives him $7200 first. It’s a very broad, clichéd character, but Derbez has fun with it and has excellent comic timing. As I said earlier this week about Lauren Lapkus on NBC’s otherwise-terrible “Are You There, Chelsea?,” he’s good enough here that I’d like to see him on a show with better material.
And that’s the shame of “Rob,” in a way. Primetime television needs to be more diverse than it is, and here comes a show with a predominantly Latino cast, and that in theory deals with issues relevant to a community that is woefully underrepresented in English-language programming – only it’s lame and tin-eared. If it fails, that makes it harder for the next comedy revolving around minority characters; if it succeeds, it suggests (like the Tyler Perry sitcoms on TBS) that the underserved audience is happy with whatever swill you serve them.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org