Reviews are starting to trickle in for Rob Schneider’s new sitcom, Rob, and they’re middling—the three extant reviews at Metacritic are all 50s, and the San Francisco Chronicle declares it “decent.” This is surprising for two reasons. First, critics have usually eviscerated projects starring Rob Schneider—his three star vehicles got ratings of 30 or less. And second, Rob is aggressively bad—and not in a way that emphasizes Schneider’s considerable comedic gifts.
You heard me right: Considerable comedic gifts. I’m not going to argue that The Hot Chick, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, or (especially) Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo are good movies. I wouldn’t include them in any cinematic canon (except maybe the canon of movies with extended dick jokes). But Rob Schneider is good in them—not only because he is willing to make himself the butt of any joke, no matter how outlandish, personally humiliating, or physically repellant, but because, despite his penchant for masochistic humor, he consistently brings an underlying sweetness to the screen.
Take The Hot Chick, which has been airing on cable lately. Schneider plays a small-time crook who, thanks to some Caribbean black magic, switches bodies with the titular hot chick (played by Rachel McAdams, before she got too classy for such fare). Here are some things that Rob Schneider is willing to do for a laugh in this movie: Learn how to urinate in his new, male body; crawl around on the floor of a men’s locker room; wear hot pants. And underneath the facile (but still funny) jokes, Schneider gives the movie surprising heart.
I’m not the only one to notice the soul-beneath-the-smut in Schneider. Here’s Stephen Holden’s take on Schneider’s performance in The New York Times:
In portraying a spoiled teenage girl who wakes up in the body of a 30-year-old man, Mr. Schneider could have taken any number of potentially offensive tacks. Instead, he brings an almost doelike sweetness to the role of Jessica, a snooty high school cheerleader whose world suddenly shatters when she loses half a pair of stolen earrings that carry an ancient African curse.
The problem with Rob, then, is not that it’s lowbrow. It’s that the character Schneider is portraying is fussy and obnoxious in the wrong way. He’s already won the babe—the show begins with Rob married to a foxy Mexican woman named Maggie—so this is not Rob Schneider, lovably goofy underdog (a comic persona that has worked for Schneider since the “Richmeister” skits on SNL). And having foregone the essential weirdness, the show strips Schneider of his sweetness, too: His character isn’t even nice to his very pretty wife.
In an apparent attempt to explain this behavior, the writers have given him OCD. Real obsessive compulsive disorder is not exactly a laugh riot; on the show, it basically amounts to Schneider being rude to his wife. In the pilot’s first scene, we see Maggie moving into Rob’s house—and he won’t let her put her bags anywhere because he’s a control freak. Not exactly heart-melting stuff.
I won’t even begin to tackle the Mexican stereotypes that abound in the pilot, which are another matter entirely. But if Rob could locate some of that Schneider sweetness beneath the uptight exterior they’ve created for him, the show might actually become watchable—if, that is, it can manage to stay on the air.