Humor-challenged comedies: 'Rob' more promising than crude 'Chelsea'
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Network comedy may have staged a comeback in fall 2011 with the ratings success of CBS's "2 Broke Girls," Fox's "New Girl" and ABC's "Suburgatory," but it beats a hasty retreat as 2012 opens with one stinker and another hum-drum show: NBC's "Are You There, Chelsea?" and CBS's "Rob."
Starring: Laura Prepon.
"Chelsea," debuting at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on WPXI, is based on the book by Chelsea Handler (E!'s "Chelsea Lately"), "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea." Ms. Handler co-stars as her own semi-frumpy sister, Sloane, while Laura Prepon ("That '70s Show") plays Chelsea, a slutty, boozy bartender.
The show is gleefully rude in keeping with Ms. Handler's personal style, but 8:30 p.m. seems way too early for explicit sex jokes. When Sloane complains about her lack of a sex life -- her husband is serving in the military overseas -- Chelsea gets exasperated.
"You made an exclusive contract with a penis that's only in town for maybe six days a year," she says.
"Yes, and that's why my Hurt Locker is aching," Sloane replies.
This week's pilot, more so than a slightly better episode airing next week, seems forced as it tries to work in the book title as Chelsea prays to vodka after getting a DUI. Her sister suggests alcohol is not a wise substitute for the Almighty.
"They're both invisible and have a hand in unexplained pregnancies," Chelsea retorts.
To offset Chelsea's crude nature, the show gives her a goofy virgin roommate, Dee Dee (Lauren Lapkus), who almost vomits when she attempts to tell a lie.
Starring: Rob Schneider and Cheech Marin.
CBS's "Rob" (8:30 p.m. Thursday, KDKA-TV) is easily the funnier show, but unremarkable. Rob (Rob Schneider, "Saturday Night Live"), a life-long bachelor, marries an out-of-his-league woman, Maggie (Claudia Bassols), from a tight-knit Mexican-American family. Yes, it's another Beauty and the Geek pair, only Rob is obsessive-compulsive rather than the usual slobby sitcom husband.
Rob and Maggie marry in Las Vegas and return home to face Maggie's large family. Naturally, Rob makes a terrible impression with references to guacamole and jokes about the size of Maggie's family deriving from their presumed Catholicism.
Immigration jokes abound but sometimes the punch lines get turned upside down, which is a welcome surprise, including in a running gag between Rob and Maggie's mom (Diana Maria Riva) about his work. He says he's a landscape architect; she hears "gardener."
"It's an honest living," she says. "I just wish sometimes you people wouldn't use a leaf blower; it's so noisy!"
The premiere was directed by Pittsburgh native James Widdoes and one comedic set piece involving candles, a destroyed shrine and Rob and Maggie's grandmother in an accidentally compromising position offers the episode's biggest laugh.
Credit "Rob" with providing more visible Latino characters on TV -- Cheech Marin plays Maggie's dad -- but this needs to evolve into a smarter, less formulaic show before it's worth watching.
First Published January 8, 2012 12:00 am