Like most people, I’ve been a huge fan of Craig Robinson since he broke out on The Office a little less than a decade ago, and I’ve enjoyed him in just about everything he’s done since he first came on the radar. I thought I could watch anything he put out there, but his new NBC series Mr. Robinson is another example of major comedic talent being watered down by lazy joke writing in an identity-free sitcom. As it’s said in the show at least a dozen times, “Oh HELL no.”
It’s already hard to pinpoint all of the ways in which creator and former Office EP Owen Ellickson sinks the Mr. Robinson pilot at almost every turn, but Cop Out screenwriters Mark and Robb Cullen managed to take it down even further as showrunners for the rest of the six-episode first season. The sex-related jokes are the kind you’d hear at the worst family reunion, the race-related jokes are the kind you’d hear a work seminar, and this is possibly the most unbelievable school scenario since Saved by the Bell. I just hope everyone involved spent their paychecks wisely.
Robinson naturally plays struggling musician Craig Robinson, who cycles through the Chicago club scene with his libido-laden funk band The Nasty Delicious, a real-world tie-in that was the most enjoyable aspect of the show to me. His brother Ben (Brandon T. Jackson) is his guitarist as well as his sloppy, jobless roommate, and although the band aims to make it as far as possible, Craig chooses to supplant his artistic dreams with a substitute-turned-permanent teaching position at his high school alma mater, mostly based on the fact that Victoria (Meagan Good), a girl he “dated” all those years ago, teaches there now. And even though she has a boyfriend, Craig won’t be dismayed. After all, he finagled his way into a music teacher job seemingly based only on the fact that the principal, played by Frasier vet Peri Gilpin, thinks he’s got a great physique.
It’s a shame that the show didn’t expand its throwback approach by showing what Craig was like in high school, instead just offering up witless banter with a handful of coworkers that seem to be the only other adults in the school (which also has barely any children in it). Beyond the lifeless Victoria, we’ve got Ben Koldyke’s “Magnum P.E.” Jimmy, the worse-than-your-worst-uncle gym coach, Asif Ali’s nerdy science teacher and Spencer Grammer’s math teacher Ashleigh, whose schtick is that she’s also a stripper. The (almost) always enjoyable Tim Bagley plays the big boss Supervisor Dalton, though he’s just another layer of incompetence.
Craig’s students aren’t any better. Dante Brown has the most personality as the rap-spewing Deandre, and there’s Ethan Josh Lee as Quan Phook, whom Craig refers to as DJ Phonebook, who speaks solely in terribly awkward non sequiturs. Otherwise, the child actors could have been changed from episode to episode and I wouldn’t have noticed.
It’s mind-boggling that NBC spent the last year or so diminishing its comedy slate, only to drop this vapid nonsense on summer viewers. Instead of School of Rock, this is more like School of Cock, considering all the penis jokes that are made. (Yes, the pilot even has a hermaphrodite “joke.”) If there’s one piece of proof beyond all others that Mr. Robinson is a failure, it’s that the impeccable Gary Cole makes a guest spot as a substance-abusing record exec, and he’s quite possibly the least enjoyable character of all the six episodes. How does anyone ruin Gary Cole?
While there are slipshod attempts to give a couple of these characters minor story arcs, these six episodes are clearly more comfortable using the limited time to shoot for broad humor over carving out meaningful dialogue and relationships. Which, to be fair, is what high school could be like sometimes. But those aren’t the times that anyone remembers years later, and few will remember Mr. Robinson after NBC expels it from our lives. We'll be looking for you elsewhere soon, Craig.
Mr. Robinson will be holding viewers in primetime detention when it premieres on NBC on Wednesday, August 5, at 9 p.m. ET for a double-episode airing.