Stereotypical sitcom setup delivers old-school laughs
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/08/2015 (2562 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For some people, summer is all about living in the present, a time for chasing new adventures, exploring new destinations and making new memories. For others, these fleeting warm-weather months represent a more nostalgic time, when time is spent lazily reflecting on the events of summers past.
How your summer preferences lean, toward past or present, will likely help determine your feelings toward Mr. Robinson, a decidedly retro sitcom being given a soft off-season launch by NBC. The series, which debuts tonight at 8 on NBC, is an unapologetic throwback that embraces, for better or worse, the time-warped elements and attitudes of TV comedies that were popular a quarter-century ago.
From its theme music and onscreen title font to its sets, camera angles and the pacing and structure of its jokes, Mr. Robinson is a show clearly intended to remind viewers in the 40-plus age bracket of the comedies that populated prime time way back in the 20th century.
And while it’s sure to create some warm-and-fuzzy feelings for folks who have fond memories of watching Welcome Back, Kotter, Head of the Class and Saved By the Bell, this old-school classroom comedy has nothing to offer viewers whose midlife TV-watching crisis is still several years away.
Craig Robinson (The Office, Hot Tub Time Machine) leads the cast, playing a struggling musician (also named Craig Robinson) who makes ends meet by working as a substitute teacher. At night, he’s the charismatic leader of a funk band called Nasty Delicious, which has a huge following in Chicago’s nightclubs, but hasn’t been able to land a record deal; in the daylight hours, he picks up odd shifts teaching music in schools.
One night, while he’s onstage, Craig spots an attractive face from his past in the audience — Victoria Wavers (Meagan Good), the girl he dumped on the eve of their senior prom so he could perform an important gig with his band.
Craig wants to rekindle their long-ago spark; she’s cool to the idea, but seems willing to give friendship a try. She mentions that she’s teaching English at their old high school, and before you can say “obvious sitcom contrivance,” Craig has landed himself a substitute-teaching gig at their alma mater, too.
What follows, of course, is a parade of situations, characters and setup-punchline combinations that feel like they’ve been rescued from a late-’80s time capsule. Mr. Robinson’s students aren’t interested in learning, but his funky-cool way of teaching quickly opens their eyes to the magic of music.
The roster of straight-from-central-casting grown-up characters includes a tough-talking and perpetually frisky principal (played by Frasier’s Peri Gilpin), a doltish, short-shorts-wearing gym teacher (Ben Koldyke), an attractive English teacher who moonlights as a stripper (Spencer Grammer) and a stereotypically brainy Asian science teacher (Asif Ali).
Mr. Robinson’s storyline — such as it is — unfolds mostly in the classrooms and hallways, but its most charming scenes take place in the nightclub, where Nasty Delicious’s cheeky funk produces the show’s funniest moments.
There certainly aren’t enough laughs here to carry it beyond its scheduled six-episode run, but Mr. Robinson does have an easy charm that might appeal to viewers who favour nostalgia over new in the summertime TV schedule.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BradOswald
After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.
Updated on Wednesday, August 5, 2015 8:59 AM CDT: Replaces photo