Written by Dylan Brandsema
The characters in Mr. Robinson talk their in fast forward – like they’re in an epic stage play written by Aaron Sorkin and they have to finish out the rest of the story but there’s only 10 minutes left on the clock. The reason for this is because Mr. Robinson, NBC’s newest sitcom, tries to squeeze way too much into it’s 22-minute run time then it rightfully deserves. It turns its star, Craig Robinson, into a punching bag for unfunny jokes, undeveloped characters, and so much forced story progression you’ll think you’ve missed scenes, even when you’ve given it your undivided attention.
The pilot centers around Craig Robison (continuing the long-running tradition of comedians playing a version of themselves in a television show) working as a substitute teacher at a middle school while also trying to maintain balance in his funk band, Nasty Delicious. When the two worlds collide, as expected, hilarity ensues – actually, let’s rephrase that: it should ensue but it doesn’t.
The “jokes” in Mr. Robinson are barely that. They consist exclusively of characters making out of place, forced, crude comments in response to something another character says. Every time, it almost never makes contextual sense and seems obligatory to the believe that a sitcom has a to have a laugh every other line, or just plain isn’t funny. The forced, awkward laugh tracks don’t do anything to help either, and even then, they never seem to hit at the right moments. Whenever a character says something that’s meant to be funny, the automated laugh track begins almost as they’re saying it, as if the show wants to laugh before anything really happens. It feels like it’s only a sitcom because it has to be. Not a single joke lands in the entire episode, and it winds up falling flat on its face before it’s even half way over.
The most unfortunate thing about it is that Craig Robinson is deserving of a much better show. He’s been consistently funny in almost everything that he’s done, but here, he’s given almost nothing to work with. Talking about Robinson as a comedian is pretty much a one-sided argument – he’s a funny guy. Talking about Robinson as an actor, however, is another thing. In shows like The Office and films like Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make A Porno and This Is The End, he did a fair job, but he’s not necessarily Laurence Olivier. Robinson isn’t a skilled comedian, for sure, but is a skilled enough actor to carry entire series? Perhaps one dual-episode premiere isn’t enough to make a judgement on such a preposition, but so far, the answer is an emphatic no.
The last five minutes of the premiere episode becomes so off-the-walls bad it takes the term “taking the piss” to new level. In his quest to win back Victoria (Meagan Good), an old ex and a teacher who works at the school he’s currently subbing at, he arranges, with the help of his band mates, a High-School-Musical-esque musical number to woe her towards him on Back To School Night. When the principal sees how elaborate he is with the students, they decide to hire him as the music teacher full time. Um, what? What about the teacher who he was subbing for? Are they suddenly out of a job because Craig Robinson randomly decided he needed to back with an old flame? It doesn’t work anyway. Victoria tells him she has a boyfriend, and the next episode, nothing happens between them that was related to this. What was the point of this ending sequence? Not only is it extremely contrived, but it doesn’t any damn sense.
The follow-up episode, entitled “Flesh For Fantasy”, isn’t much better. It revolves around Craig’s band trying to score a record deal, and in doing so, Craig invites a big-time label manager named Neville Rex (Gary Cole) to come speak to his music class about…something. The school’s principal (Jean Smart) and he apparently knew one another from the past and this causes them to get back together (kind of), while Nasty Delicious is out of a record deal. There’s a random storyline involving some of the school’s teachers (who, by the way, are some of the badly executed harpings on of racial and character stereotypes in recent memory) investing in the stock market that goes absolutely nowhere and has no relevance to anything else in the episode. Why is there? No one knows. Does it do anything to help the episode? Absolutely not.
Oddly enough, the music Nasty Delicious plays is actually pretty good. The sequence towards the beginning of the 2nd episode where they are playing to impress Rex has a pretty catchy and competently written tune – if this show were all about Craig and his band, rather than all this school teacher/old ex girlfriend nonsense, it could potentially be a solid sitcom.
But alas, Mr. Robinson is not a solid sitcom. In fact, it’s really bad, and a complete waste of Craig Robinson’s comedic talents. One gets the impression in watching these first two episodes that this story and these characters, with a little improvement in the story advancement department, probably could have worked better as short 80-or-so minute feature film.
But then again, maybe it wouldn’t.
Mr. Robinson OVERALL RATING: 3/10
Dylan Brandsema is a staff writer for Pop-Break specializing in film and television. When he isn’t writing reviews or spending too much analyzing the medium, he’s writing and directing his own independent films as well as drinking way too much soda. Currently at full-time film major at Full Sail University, Dylan eats, sleeps, and breathes everything related to the cinema. You can follow him on Twitter @SneakyOstrich69.