Judge Jeff Robbins has only one rule he lives by: Stay away from bad sitcoms.
"This is to determine, once and for all, when man is at his peak: Single, engaged, or dead."—Russell (David Spade)
Although viewers of Rules of Engagement: The Complete Third Season may be curious to discover when man is at his peak, they will find instead television comedy at its lowest.
Facts of the Case
The CBS sitcom Rules of Engagement contrasts the wacky adventures of long-married couple Jeff (Patrick Warburton) and Audrey (Megyn Price) with the engaged couple Jennifer (Bianca Kajlich) and Adam (Oliver Hudson). David Spade plays their single friend Russell (think How I Met Your Mother's Barney Stinson without the looks or charm of Neil Patrick Harris), who is also, as we're continually reminded through an endless stream of unfunny jokes, not tall.
For its fall 2010 season premiere, CBS is running a very telling promo for its returning Monday night comedy Rules of Engagement. Used to entice viewership is a behind-the-scenes shot of a clapper board and a shot of star David Spade screaming. Under this, the jovial CBS announcer trumpets the return of the show that "breaks all the rules."
Apparently the CBS promotion department couldn't come up with a single funny line of dialogue from the season premiere of Rules of Engagement to use in the promo.
This isn't surprising, since after viewing all 13 episodes that make up Season Three, it is painfully clear the only rule that Rules of Engagement breaks is the edict that a show considered to be a "sitcom" should include at least some "com."
For those eternal optimists, there is some good news here: The introduction of Adhir Kalyan as Spade's assistant Timmy. It is the interplay between the sophisticated Kalyan and the sleazy Spade that the show finds its greatest success.
Although it is completely unbelievable that Timmy would suffer the ignominy of the tasks given to him by Spade—transferring Spade's VHS porno collection to DVD, pretending to be Spade's gay lover—Kalyan and Spade have good enough chemistry that it's hard to complain about the unrealistic nature of their relationship.
Especially when there is so much else wrong with Rules of Engagement. Patrick Warburton is a likable comic actor, but here (undoubtedly realizing that the lines he is reading are groan-inducing) he backslides into his Puddy character from Seinfeld (you know, that squinty-eyed, open-mouthed reaction shot) so often that his performance borders on self-parody. He and Price do have some good rapport, though, and, given how unfunny their Ropers-type bickering shtick is, it's somewhat pleasant that their characters' petty sniping is often overshadowed by their genuine affection for one another.
Faring far worse are Kajlich and Hudson. Their parts are so badly underwritten that I couldn't remember their characters' names even after watching thirteen episodes of the program. It's not that Kajlich and Hudson are unpleasant actors, it's simply that they've been given absolutely nothing of interest to do.
It doesn't help the show's chances for success that the presence of Warburton seems to have motivated the writers to rip off Seinfeld at every possible juncture. Remember when Elaine and George volunteered to help senior citizens and hated it? Here Audrey volunteers to read to senior citizens and hates it! Remember when George was tied up and robbed by a woman he was hoping to have sex with? Here Russell is tied up and robbed by a woman he was hoping to have sex with! Remember when George pretended to be married in order to pick up women? Here Russell pretends to be married to pick up women! Remember Seinfeld's "The Contest?" Rules of Engagement gives us "The Challenge!" There's also an overtly obvious mention here of "shrinkage," and even the relatively enjoyable Timmy/Russell relationship is reminiscent of the interplay between Kramer and his short-lived "Kramerica Industries" intern. All this does, of course, is make us wish we were watching…Seinfeld.
Rules of Engagement does deserve some credit for wisely casting guest appearances by the great Bob Odenkirk and Arrested Development's Tony Hale. It gets less credit for allowing the remarkably wooden Jerry Rice to eat up screen time in one episode.
Given Rules of Engagement's penchant for improbable situations and stilted dialogue, it's not surprising the episode that works the best is when the show doesn't even try to be the least bit believable. In "Twice," Audrey misleads her co-workers into thinking she's pregnant in order to obtain a lighter workload, while Jeff thinks everyone at his wife's office is congratulating him on the fact that he and Audrey had sex twice in one night. It's a completely farcical plot, but it's the funniest business that Warburton and Price are given to do all season. As a bonus, the episode also contains one of Spade's better situations, as he introduces an Amish visitor to his life of binge drinking and female mud wrestling matches.
All thirteen episodes are presented here on two discs in 1:78 amamorphic widescreen and look better than they need to. Audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital. There are no subtitles or alternate audio options. The menu screens are static. This is as bare-bones as it gets, folks.
You want wacky behind-the-scenes footage? You want deleted scenes? You want audio commentary from David Spade? Sorry, but you can have trailers! Trailers! And more trailers!
Previews of Community: The Complete First Season, Drop Dead Diva: The Complete First Season, Grown Ups (also starring Spade), The Karate Kid, Stomp the Yard: Homecoming, The Pillars of the Earth, Rescue Me: Season Five, The Back-Up Plan and Rust are all found on Disc 2. The trailer for Community plays automatically upon loading Disc 2, the remainder can found in the "Previews" menu.
Outside of the trailers, no other bonus features are included.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the bulk of Rules of Engagement: The Complete Third Season is hard to stomach, both Megyn Price and Bianca Kajlich are easy on the eyes, my friend. And there are only 13 episodes to slog through.
Being released just days before the fall season premiere and with absolutely no bonus features, this release has extremely limited appeal. Fans of the show should just watch the new episodes and everyone else should stay far away.
CBS is guilty for canceling The New
Adventures of Old Christine and keeping this show on the air.
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