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In NBC’s Mr. Robinson, fate deals struggling Chicago musician Craig Robinson (Craig Robinson) a lucky hand one evening when old flame Victoria (Meagan Good) walks in during his set. Barely missing a beat, he reworks the song he’s performing — a totally innocent ditty titled “Chocolate Muffins,” with lyrics like “I will mix your batter / With my big wooden spoon” — into a can-I-please-come-talk-to-you serenade. He eventually apologizes for leaving this fine woman high and dry at the prom many years ago, then he discovers she’s teaching at their alma mater, Studs Terkel High School.
Sensing opportunity, Craig heads to class on Monday as a substitute music teacher. He has one week to win over his students and the headstrong Principal Taylor (Frasier alum Peri Gilpin), as well as to entice Victoria back into his arms. Since this is sitcom land, most of those issues are resolved by the end of the pilot episode. The apathetic kids rally to Craig’s side after he teaches them how to sing Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” a cappella. Principal Taylor, it turns out, was a hard-partying groupie in her past and is easily charmed.
But, oh snap, Victoria has a handsome boyfriend, and not even a climactic re-creation of prom night is enough to get Craig more than a peck on the cheek. Fortunately the school supervisor, Mr. Dalton (Tim Bagley) is a slobbering fan of our effusive protagonist’s band. So he offers him a full-time position, ensuring the Welcome Back, Kotter-meets-School of Rock shenanigans can continue for, well, the six installments ordered.
Nothing in the episodes sent out for review suggests that Mr. Robinson will be much more than your typical summer burn-off series — quickly aired, quickly forgotten. It originally was scheduled back-to-back with the family comedy The Carmichael Show, but it’s now being broadcast, two episodes per week, over three weeks (quite the vote of confidence).
The few funny moments are the musical interludes, in which Robinson gets to turn on the charm and act the funkadelic fool. Otherwise, we’re stuck with idiot plots and rote characters that we’ve seen, in some variation, millions of times before. There’s the ne’er-do-well brother (Brandon T. Jackson) who needs to shape up or ship out. There are the quirky teachers, like the math instructor (Spencer Grammer) who moonlights as a stripper or the cocky gym coach (Benjamin Koldyke) who struts around calling himself “Magnum P.E.”
In one episode, Craig tries to score a lucrative contract with a spoiled rock star (Gary Cole). In another, Mr. Dalton’s cute dog, Dilbert Pickles (“Dill Pickles,” get it?), runs off, and it’s up to the teachers to find him. There’s rarely a sense that anyone is doing anything other than marking time on the way to the next gig, which hopefully, for Robinson, won’t be Hot Tub Time Machine 3.
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