CBS’ new Rob Schneider vehicle ¡Rob! premiered last night, and while it was not as cringe-worthy as I expected it to be, it was still fairly cringe-worthy. And not just in the “broad physical comedy, everything goes wrong” way you expect a Rob Schneider vehicle to be.
The sitcom follows the exploits of the title character as he tries to make nice with the extended family of his improbably hot new Mexican-American wife Maggie. From the first time Rob meets them, much of the comedy comes from stereotypes white people in America hold about Mexicans and Latinos in general. The show generally puts these stereotypes in the mouth of Rob, mocking him for being so foolish. This could be read as a satire on people who hold racist or ignorant views (“I feel like I’m at a Julio Iglesias concert,” he says on meeting Maggie’s family…I gasped), but this is undermined by the fact that it also contains a good deal of racial stereotyping outside of Rob’s character.
First, there’s Maggie’s shiftless cousin Hector, who proudly proclaims his intentions to become an illegal immigrant. Then there are the stereotypically strict Mexican parents, played by Cheech Marin and Diana Maria Riva. Then there’s the non-English-speaking grandmother with a shrine to the Catholic saints in her room. That’s right, they gave Lupe Ontiveros a non-speaking role.
I’m not saying there are zero differences between Mexican and white bread American culture, but must we really make these differences the focal point of yet another sitcom? It brings nothing new to the table to repeat the few tropes of Mexican culture that Americans already have ingrained in their minds. The strongest parts of the show come when we see glimmers of individuality in the characters outside of the culture they belong to, like when Maggie’s dad gets sarcastic with Rob over his efforts to show his knowledge of Mexican stuff (“enjoy the guacamole that you so impressively identified”), or conversely, when he feels a kinship with Rob over being “an old, short guy.” I also want to know more about the weird TV shows he watches (“a show where they make Hoarders live in a house together” sounds impressively terrible). I feel like Hector could also have the potential to be a unique and loopy character beyond his mere penchant for American jobs. Is Hector gay? Does he love trivia nights? Is he addicted to popping bubble wrap? Let’s hope Rob‘s producers see fit to develop these glimmers into something worth watching as the season progresses.