'Real Rob': TV Review

Courtesy of Netflix
Not everything Netflix touches can be gold.
12/1/2015

Rob Schneider tries for 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' with often predictable results.

This is not a call for the total cessation of the TV genre in which entertainment personalities play themselves or veiled versions of themselves and we marvel at the peccadilloes that accompany varying levels of personal and professional fame.

It's a genre that gave us Curb Your Enthusiasm and Louie. Depending on how inclusive you feel, it's a genre that brought viewers the James Van Der Beek of Don't Trust the B— in Apartment 23 and the Matt LeBlanc of Episodes and, if you're willing to time travel a bit, the Jennifer Grey of It's Like, You Know.

But the graveyard is filling with shows that ranged somewhere between forgettable and worthy of endless mockery and evisceration. Even Paul Reiser doesn't remember The Paul Reiser. FX, which rarely cancels first-year shows, moved quickly to put The Comedians in the rear-view. And the less said about USA's Donny! the better.

Netflix's new entry into this field is Real Rob, with Rob Schneider giving himself the meta treatment.

Real Rob is better than Donny!

Actually, it isn't just better than Donny!, it's a welcome counterpoint to showcase how oblivious and inept you have to be to make a show as bad as Donny! — because if a work of auteurist television from the man behind the Deuce Bigalow franchise and that comedy about the guy who goes to jail and whimsically tries to avoid being raped is lapping you, you probably didn't want to enter this TV race.

Read More: 'Donny!': TV Review

Real Rob, getting a Tuesday (Dec. 1) premiere in its eight-episode entirety, is just an acquisition for Netflix, as Schneider went off and directed, produced, co-wrote and starred in the series largely on his own, so don't worry too much about this jeopardizing the streaming service's brand. It certainly hasn't been over-promoted.

Thankfully, Schneider plays himself without an excess of ego. Gunning for a sitcom comeback, this version of Rob is boorish to his Mexican-American wife (real-life wife Patricia Azarcoya Arce), contemptuous and abusive to his man-servant/personal assistant Jamie (Jamie Lissow, who doesn't seem to be Schneider's actual valet, but also isn't an actor) and ineffectual-but-caring to adorable daughter Miranda Scarlett (real-life daughter Miranda Scarlett Schneider). Like his various movie and TV personae, this Rob is crude and often stupid, but he's ultimately kind-hearted.

Because Schneider knows better than to overly varnish his image, this is more of a vanity project for his family. Little Miranda manages to be fourth billed, giving her greater title prominence than any other show biz toddler whose greatest screen impact is making a mess with baby food. Relying on heavily accented put-downs and bawdy body humor, Azarcoya Arce comes across as a less desperate (but also less funny) Sofia Vergara clone, which must have been her preference, since she's credited as a writer, producer and casting director here.

As odd a match as Real Rob is with Netflix, the service's reviewing approach with the series is just as odd, giving critics only the fifth, seventh and eighth episodes. That meant eschewing the normal introduction of the premise — I was able to figure it out — but also set up expectations that these were the episodes in which the intentions of Real Rob were best illustrated. I'm skeptical.

This is a genre that has its established stylistic cliches, and Real Rob seems to be picking and choosing at near-random. Of the three episodes I've seen, two are structured around Rob doing stand-up in front of the most generic brick wall imaginable and an alleged audience. The other episode has no stand-up. Two episodes feature confessional-style on-camera interviews with Rob and Patricia, but the third does not. Sometimes there are aesthetic suggestions that this all being done mockumentary-style, but then there are shots that totally violate the perspective and look of that genre. The series' most consistent tic is the combination of jaunty guitar music and time-lapse L.A. traffic that really confuse the passage of time between scenes, but I'm not sure Schneider and company especially care about continuity, or about how cheaply Orlando is doubling for Los Angeles otherwise.

Read More: 'Jessica Jones': TV Review

Real Rob also can't decide whether it's trying to be realistic, satire or basically just a Rob Schneider movie. The satire is pretty limp, especially when it comes to tried-and-true depictions of trend-whoring network suits, fast-talking agents and the general creative vacuousness of Hollywood. There's definitely something funny about an executive plundering Rob's ethnically diverse domestic comedy pitch into an ethnically diverse multicam zombie comedy, but Real Rob sticks to the superficial yuks. The Rob Schneider movie parts are coarse and lewd, but very much in keeping with the star's oeuvre, so fans of that sort of thing will be pleased when explosive diarrhea or a bank teller spontaneously orgasming at the mere mention of Ryan Gosling's name continue for longer than most viewers will find ideal.

It's interesting that when he underplays the schtick and just plays a put-upon family man, Schneider is likable and still has good timing, which is also true when his stand-up material soft-pedals the gender stereotyping and mimicry. Schneider doubtlessly doesn't want to hear this, but with full creative control here, he's done a less interesting and nuanced look at his culturally mixed home life than he tried on CBS' short-lived ¡Rob! That multicam got a well-deserved reputation for awfulness, but an undeserved reputation for racism. If ¡Rob! were developed today by ABC, a network that actually knows how to do broad family comedies that also have ethnic specificity, it might have eventually worked. The show Real Rob's Rob Schneider is pitching is "Everybody Loves Raymond with a little Mexican thing," but you sense the really real Schneider thinks he missed that opportunity and can't go back.

Even if Real Rob falls far short of the genre's peaks, and even its midland prairies, moments here work. The second episode, in which Rob struggles to find the non-acting "thing" that can make him money and build his brand, almost finds its way to some original notions about celebrity. That's not enough for anything resembling a recommendation, but it justifies some "Better than Donny!" praise.

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