News about the Fall TV seasons is streaming in from all the networks; we’ll be talking about the past (cancellations) and the future (renewed shows and new shows) for each network, and what it all means to Latino Hollywood, over the next few days–and in the weeks to come–but before we begin, we really should mention the one actual Latino-centric show that any network premiered in 2011-12…and, if truth be told, most of us will breathe a sigh of relief at its passing.
Rob Schneider’s Rob, or Rob!, or !Rob!, won’t be back next season. And maybe–just maybe–that’s a good thing.
The bad part, of course, is that great Latino character actors like Cheech Marin, Claudia Bassols, Diana Maria Riva, and Lupe Ontiveros lost a steady gig. Nobody likes to see that, especially with talented people like this cast. And the lost opportunity is painful, too: towards the end, there, we saw a glimpse of a kind of latter-day, Latino All in the Family, with Cheech in the Archie Bunker chair…but every time things started to get interesting…there was Rob Schneider again.
Which leads, in turn, to the good part: we no longer have to bend over backwards to try and like this show, if only to support our friends. The fact is !Rob! had a whole bunch of big problems from the outset: a lousy “fish out of water” premise, a complete misconception of Rob’s own character (did anybody buy this slightly goofy SNL comic as a 21stcentury Felix Unger?), and the constant, relentless use of unflattering “Chicano” stereotypes in place of actual characters. And its worst sin of all: it wasn’t funny.
Really, compadres, really: to take someone as wonderful and articulate and funny as Lupe Ontiveros, and cast her as a dim-witted abuela who can’t even speak English…that’s just a sin. To make the first words out of the hugely talented Eugenio Derbez’ mouth, “I just came up from Mexico on a temporary visa…and I’m never going back.” To make Diana Maria Riva play older, play an evil-tempered and selfish mamasita instead of the fierce, respected, and proud Latinas she’s played in the past, most recently on FOX’s The Good Guys. No. Just…no.
So let’s treat this less like an embarrassment soon to be forgotten (as it will be), and more like an unfortunate even that can teach us a few lessons. So listen up, networks and producers. As we enter a post-!Rob! world, here are the New Rules:
We don’t need a white guy to front for us. Just show a Latino family at work and play–even a crazy one–and you’ll be fine.
Skip the jokes about gardeners, illegals, taco stands, and gangbangers. Make up real characters, and then make them funny.
Try coming up with a premise we haven’t seen a thousand times before (“Uptight guy marries into a kuh-rayzee family…and hilarity ensues!”)
Remember: there are Latinos who aren’t doing manual labor or unemployed. We see them all over the place, in real life, and on Castle and Dexter and Law and Order SVU (cops), Private Practice and Gray’s Anatomy (doctors), Last Man Standing (business owners), Harry’s Law and The Good Wife (lawyers). Remember that.
Give brilliant actors of any ethnicity–like Cheech and Dina and Eugenio and the rest–something real to do with their considerable talent. Don’t waste their time or ours.
Let Lupe Ontiveros talk. Any time she wants.
Maybe then there will be a sitcom for Latinos that’s actually worth watching.