I realized something pretty quickly while watching the first minute of Rules of Engagement's Season Three premiere: I don't watch any shows with laugh tracks. I hadn't really thought about this at all until the first line of the episode. Patrick Warburton and David Spade sat around in a diner, one of them said something supposedly witty and the "studio audience" erupted in laughter. I almost did a double take. Had it really been that long since I watched a show where I was, in essence, being told when to laugh?
I'm not a big fan of the stand-alone comedy, or the show perfect for syndication, where each episode works basically independent of the one before. Some comedies have episodes that can be viewed separately, but have themes and storylines that weave themselves into each half hour. Comedies like Rules of Engagement work conversely. They pander to the not-quite-lowest denominator in the search for laughs, rarely carry themes from one week to the next, and do little else. It is a show intent on cheap giggles, time hardened cliches, one-liners, and a very loose premise.
Rules of Engagement follows the lives of five people. Jeff (Patrick Warburton doing his best David Puddy) and his wife Audrey (Megyn Price) play your typical married couple. Here I mean your typical "television" couple. He's dense. She’s logical. They bicker and argue but always make up by the end of the half hour. Jeff is constantly making mistakes because of his male ignorance only to apologize and learn the error in his ways. He, of course, is some sort of high powered muckety-muck in the corporate world affording he and Audrey the lives of wealthy, but not too rich, New Yorkers who live in a huge apartment but still choose to hang with their friends at a local diner (it looks just different enough from Monk's).
These friends of theirs are Adam (Oliver Hudson-the only real consistently funny person in the show) and Jennifer (Bianca Kajlich), a soon-to-be married couple. How these couples are friends is lost on me. Having not seen the previous seasons I was not privy to how their relationship began. Regardless, Adam and Jennifer offer the alternate glance at married life. Where Jeff and Audrey set us up with all the tired married life jokes, Adam and Jennifer supply the look at “what it means to get married” storylines. I probably don't need to explain these to you, but they include (and are not limited to) things like: marriage is a prison sentence, your wife is always right, we still love each other even though we are fatally flawed and idiotic people. References like these have been beaten down to a crazy degree.
Finally, there's Russell (David Spade): the single friend. Russell is here to offer one thing only, Dollar Store laughs. He is the antithesis of the married life. He's a womanizing, self-involved, egotistical scumbag. Think Barney Stinson but a whole lot less likable. In the first episode, Russell must deal with having left his cell phone at the apartment of his previous night's one-night stand (that he can't remember the lucky lady's name is taken right out of the sitcom douchebaggery Bible). While Russell is single, his relationship plays out in the form of his assistant Timmy (Adhir Kalyan ) who Russell ritualistically abuses and mistreats for the sake of some ha-ha's. Russell also contributes such lines as "Smell you later losers." It's material like this that almost works against any other redeeming aspect of Rules of Engagement.
Each episode follows a theme and structure. It goes something like this: introduce theme, have each character play out their version of said theme, all characters make some sort of mistake concerning their significant other, learning process begins, episode ends with each character having made some revelation concerning their relationship (Russell aside) and things are all good. Cue the credits.
Rules of Engagement is not without its funny moments. I laughed, almost in spite of myself, at various one-liners. But they were few and far between. The problem here is that the show offers nothing new and nothing at all creative. It seems like a glorified paycheck for Spade and Warburton (two legitimately funny people) who are simply going through the motions. The rest of cast has a "just happy to be here" vibe. If the writers could move past the obvious cliches and Television Writing 101 antics I think Rules of Engagement could be entertaining. Unfortunately, no one seems interested in doing anything of the sort.
Rules of Engagement Season 3 premieres on Monday March 1st at 8:30 PM on CBS.