10 Thoughts On Mr. Robinson

Craig Robinson has a new sitcom. That’s right, finally after years of people clambering for the mega superstar to get his own vehicle, after years of outcry of not getting enough Robinson, after years of-

What’s that? Who’s Craig Robinson? Oh, right. You probably barely know who that is. Well, to refresh your memory, Robinson is best known for his work on The Office as Darryl Philbin. This is him.

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“Oh, right,” I hear all of you saying. “He was in This Is The End. Yeah. He’s pretty funny.” Yeah, guys. He is pretty funny. But of all the middle-tier successful comedians, Craig Robinson is probably the last one you’d expect to get his own sitcom. His style is either a stoic deadpan foil to a ridiculous id character (The Office) or a raunchy, potty-mouthed musician who likes to talk about sex (This Is The End, Hot Tub Time Machine, etc.)

So when NBC announced they’d be doing a vehicle sitcom for Craig Robinson, one would assume it would be playing to his strengths as a comedian. Maybe something a little bit subversive? Maybe something that could be a vehicle for talking about racial issues that have become more central in the national conversation in the last couple years? Right? RIGHT?!?!

Or maybe we’d get a show like Mr. Robinson. Here are ten thoughts I had while watching the first two episodes.

1. Craig Robinson is very talented

Make no mistake, Craig Robinson deserves his own show. He is a dynamite musician and, when given proper material, can create lovable, ridiculous characters that viewers want to spend time with. So giving him a show where he plays a down-on-his-luck funk musician who starts working as a music teacher to impress an ex-girlfriend sounds like a good idea. Right? RIGHT?!!?

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2. Who pitched this show?

Therein might lie any clues about why this show is so aggressively terrible. If Craig Robinson pitched it, then it was high jacked by producers and made into the most cookie-cutter, bland, unoriginal sitcom I’ve seen in years. There’s no way he would have come up with something like this. In the first episode, Craig must decide if he’ll go to a parent-teacher conference (or something) or go to a gig his band is playing at! Oh no! What an unusual circumstance! I’ve never seen anything like this before (except in literally every sitcom from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, a lot in the 00’s and a few in the 10’s).

3. Wow, this is borderline racist

For a show with a black star, there sure is a lot of racially questionable material coming out of these characters mouths. At one point, the white lady principal says to Craig “I see you gliding along with your coco crisp hair and regal Nubian glow.” Okay, maybe not racist, but that’s certainly a weird thing to be coming out of white person’s mouth who the character met thirty seconds ago. She later refers to him as Billy Dee. As in Billy Dee Williams. Because… he’s black? I guess? Is that even a joke? At one point, the gym teacher, a loud obnoxious former tennis star, insults Tamir, the Indian chemistry teacher, by saying his future will not hold a “Bollywood ending.” And that’s so funny! Because Tamir is Indian! And Bollywood is in India! HAHAHAHAHAHA. The show is littered with race based “jokes” like these that are so surface level that it’s impossible to be offended. Because there is zero attempt to say anything interesting, nuanced or original about race in the entire show. The reason it’s offensive is not because it’s outrageous and inflammatory. It’s offensive because it’s lazy.

4. Oh, good! It’s sexist too!

One of the central characters is the principal, a white female who, just seconds after she’s introduced, is characterized as having been a rock-and-roll groupie as well as having jungle fever. But she got it all together and became the principal of an inner city Chicago school! Good for her! (Oh, right, this show takes place in Chicago. I forgot. And so did the show) Except that when a mega rock star from her past, played by Gary Cooper, comes back into her life, she reverts back to her crazy sex and drug fueled self literally over night and misses “the most important budget meeting of the year” (oh, the stakes!). But then Craig sings a song about how what she really wants to do is not be a groupie for the smarmy Gary Cooper, but rather wants to help kids! Awwww! So she ditches him and goes back to being a principal. The lesson? Women are so weak-willed that they will do whatever the man with the catchiest song says she has to do. Her character did a complete 180 overnight to accommodate her former rock star flame, and then changes completely back because Craig told her it’s what “she really wanted.” AWWWWWWW HOW SWEET.

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5. At least Gary Cooper is having fun

Why Gary Cooper is in this show, I will never know. But I’m glad he graced us with his presence. It made the second episode at least marginally more interesting. He clearly left all his fucks at the door, because he is giving zero of them on this show. From his terrible British accent to his jokes about very troubling sounding sex acts, it looks like he showed up on set, glanced at his lines, said “I’m just gonna do whatever I want,” and then did that. Because him and Craig seem to be the only people who understand what a mess they’ve gotten themselves into.

6. This is a bad show

One of the characters works part time as a stripper. She wants to make a reality show about how she flips houses called “Stripper-Flipper.”

Moving on.

7. Craig Robinson looks absolutely miserable

Craig Robinson is great. He’s charming and easy to watch. He can bring a warmth to even the sappiest of one liners. He’s a gifted musician who can play the crap out of those hilarious sexy joke songs. And in every scene, he looks about two steps away from bursting into tears. The only time he looks like he’s truly enjoying himself is when he’s playing music. If that was the bulk of the show, it would be great. But it’s not. It’s mostly characters standing around making jokes that were stale in the 90’s. Robinson was a big part of The Office, a sitcom that was famous for its originality and well-constructed character based humor. It must be a huge bummer for him to come from a giant like The Office to a show as terrible as this. And to boot, it has his name on it. I say again: bummer.

8. In the age of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, how is this the only sitcom with a black star on television?

As a culture, we are in the midst of massive social upheaval. With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining momentum and the visibility of the struggle of the African-American community higher than ever, you think we’d be able to come up with something a little better than Mr. Robinson. Not counting the lazy racial jokes that are bandied about, there is no commentary about race in this show. The closest we get is when Craig says to a black student that he caught smoking weed he’d “be just another black kid thrown out of school for doing drugs” if he got caught again. Yes! Go with that! Don’t shy away from that, we need that kind of honesty. If the show refuses to be funny in its own right, the very least it can do is try to say something meaningful.

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9. This show was probably great on paper

Craig Robinson. As a funk musician. Teaching music. At an inner city Chicago school. That sounds great! I’d watch the crap out of that show. It really does sound like a good showcase for Robinson. He could show-off his not inconsiderable musical talents, as well as playing with some humor in an environment that really isn’t funny. African-American children are the most underserved population when it comes to education in this country. This is a great opportunity to shine a light on that in a way that’s funny but also takes the issue very seriously. Instead, the script is watered down to one line about how hard it is for black children to succeed and a cast where less than half of the actors are black and the other main characters are white. This show could have been great. What a waste.

10. Jesus, what happened to NBC?

The Office. Seinfeld. Friends. 30 Rock. Parks and Recreation. NBC has produced some of the best sitcoms in television history. The network went through periods where their Thursday night comedy line-up was an unstoppable ratings juggernaut. Now their lead comedy is a show where in the first episode, one character asks another character “So we cool?” a total of 4 times. NBC has announced recently that they are going to be phasing out the Thursday night comedy block and focusing more on drama. Is this the last gasp of NBC comedy? If so, what a sad, sad end. Here’s to you Craig. Hopefully your next venture will treat you better.

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