August 6, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Mr. Robinson”


MR. ROBINSON:  Wednesday 9PM on NBC – Change the Channel

NBC has been making a specialty of what might be called “stealth comedy.”  The network throws a short order of sitcom episodes on the air two at a time, apparently in an effort to be rid of the shows as quickly as possible.  The last season of Parks & Recreation played out that way, and so did the truncated run of Welcome to Sweden.  The latest to receive the treatment is MR. ROBINSON, which will vanish after its 6 episodes are tossed onto three August Wednesdays.  Even with more time on the air, though, Mr. Robinson wouldn’t have lingered in the memory.

The idea of centering a sitcom around Craig Robinson wasn’t a bad one; as a veteran of The Office and reliable supporting figure in big-screen comedies, he’s the kind of performer who could very well be primed to make the jump to series star.  In this case, though, the vehicle (which he helped choose for himself as one of the producers) is second-hand at best.  Mr. Robinson arrives with quite a few miles on it:  it was originally created by Owen Ellickson for the 2013-14 season, but Ellickson was replaced by the team of Mark and Rob Cullen, and the show was largely recast.  In its current form, it features Robinson as “Craig Robinson,” a musician in a band with brother Ben (Brandon T. Jackson) who’s never quite made it and who makes ends meet by teaching music in public schools (for those few who saw it, think the Wendell Pierce storyline on the last seasons of Treme).  When he discovers that old flame Victoria (Meagan Good, who’s billed as a guest star despite her central role) is a math teacher at one of the schools, he manages to get himself hired full-time.

Mr. Robinson has the virtue of mild ambitions, but it goes beyond retro to actively antiquated, with the feel of a refugee ABC multi-camera sitcom from 1990.  Craig’s fellow staff members are dim-wits, from the unaccountably worshipful school superintendent (Tim Bagley, also officially a guest star) to the former tennis pro (Ben Koldyke) to the Indian (Asif Ali, another guest star) obsessed with surpassing his brother.  Then there’s the teacher (Spencer Grammer) who’s also a stripper and a realtor, because that’s not contrived at all, and the principal (Peri Gilpin), who’s an odd mix of straightlaced and uncontrollable rocker chick.  The students have been allotted one trait each, basically shyness and sassiness, although all are soon mellowed by Craig’s teacherly charms.

The writing doesn’t help.  Opening night’s two episodes (the pilot written by the Cullens and Episode 2 by Consulting Producer Susan Hurwitz Arneson; both directed by Andy Ackerman) basically told the same story twice.  In each half-hour, Craig had an opportunity to help his band, but only by doing the wrong thing:  failing to attend a school function to perform at a club, and then encouraging the principal to hang out with her old rocker boyfriend (guest star Gary Cole) in order to get a record deal.  In both cases, after some dithering, Craig learned a valuable lesson and came around to the right thing, and everything worked out just fine.

Harmlessness can only get a show so far, and Mr. Robinson is so dull that even Gary Cole, usually a guaranteed laugh-getter (most recently on Veep), seems adrift.  Robinson’s likability, mostly visible in his brief musical interludes, can’t float a vessel so laden with creaky baggage.  It’s best for everyone that the series won’t be around long enough to damage anyone’s career, and in 3 weeks The Carmichael Show will take over the timeslot and launch its own mini-run, as NBC moves on to its next comedy widget.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."