Have you ever sat on a couch with a bowl of dry cereal and debated whether or not you could conceivably replace the milk with beer? I, personally, haven’t. But if you have, maybe Rob Schneider’s first sitcom, British import Men Behaving Badly, is for you. Airing for one-and-a-half seasons, the show satirically glorifies the lives of two Indianapolis-based men (Schneider and Ron Eldard) in their quest to remain man-children for all eternity. Floundering through their early 30s all-but-jobless, these two engage in a series of adventures and non-adventures attempting to avoid all responsibility possible.
Throughout the course of the show, Schneider’s character lies about his mother’s death to get a woman’s sympathy, lies about having a kid to impress a single mom, hits on his newly immigrated cleaning woman, and pretends he’s a female to win a photo contest (and to try and nail the hot feminist chicks). The beer-milk debate actually happens – and in case you’re interested, the beer wins based on these two indisputable facts: a) “I bet if you left out cereal long enough, it’d turn into beer.” and b) “Well, they’re both made from grains…” It’s not for the light-at-heart.
During the pilot episode, Men Behaving Badly aims to drive away all casual watchers and create hardcore fans. While Eldard’s character, Kevin, ponders “the sex was consensual when we started, but what about after she fell asleep?” Jamie (Schneider) fumbles around looking for a coffee filter and eventually settles on dirty underwear (In his defense, it may not be “dirty” underwear, but it was picked up off the kitchen floor). The extreme male façade of the show is almost commendable for its lack of adherence to any morality or ethics aside from “guy code”.
In the first half-season, Men Behaving Badly genuinely surprised me. The idea of watching 17+ hours of Rob Schnieder is enough to make anyone cry (C’mon, even Adam Sandler couldn’t watch The Animal 10 times in a row), but in the beginning, the show’s over-the-top demeanor was appealing. Jamie’s relentless assault on anything with lipstick seemed almost inventive. “Yeah, I went to Harvard. You don’t know anyone there, do you? [beat] Yeah, I went to Harvard.” One episode, Jamie falls in love with their Spanish maid, and, knowing nothing of the Spanish language, assumes ever phrase she says is “I love you”. Though you have to squirm to make it through the laugh-track unscathed, it’s actually pretty funny. Even Kevin’s stereotypical plights with his girlfriend seem almost admirable.
But, sadly, the show quickly “drops” the proverbial “trou” and becomes a sitcomy-sitcom sitcom – complete with unrealistic plot developments, exaggerated problems and a laundry list of unnamed, unimportant, uninteresting characters. Nameless people waltz in and out of the apartment masquerading as friends. Later, once they’re established, these friends see no problems with opening the door, saying a crass one-liner and leaving until the next vague opportunity for comedy arises. And as far as plots go, Kevin getting nervous about his girlfriend, Sarah (Justine Bateman), wanting a baby is believable. But drugging her with prescription medication so he can go to the bar is just too ludicrous. The situation might be forgivable if it was funny, but of course it’s not.
Maybe it just comes down to the one comic truth of the ‘90s instilled since my formidable years: Rob Schneider just isn’t funny. He has a great amount of charisma and surrounds himself with funny people, but when it all boils down, the concentrated, Schneider-reduction sauce just isn’t palatable. And though the meat-and-potatoes formula of sitcoms actually enhances its flavor, bland plus bland still equals bland.
The hidden spice of the show, however, is Justine Bateman and her portrayal of Kevin’s girlfriend, Sarah. Not-so-fresh off her “Mallory” days on Family Ties, she seems to have the TV gig down and keeps her character and motives grounded. Sarah is confident, snarky, smart and can be just as irreverent as the boys; the only inconsistency the show can’t resolve is why the hell she’s dating one of them. It’s a shame the straight man has such a minute role in sitcoms as Sarah is the only character I’d dream of caring about.
Of course, Bateman left after the first season and caused Eldard’s departure, as well. So Ken Marino (of The State fame) was brought on as Rob Schneider’s new roommate. But after a couple of shaky episodes, the show disappeared from the NBC radars – or, to continue the food analogy from earlier – NBC just finished vomiting.
Men Behaving Badly has a couple good gags, but the only legacy it will have, if any, is as yet another failed British-to-American translation.
Oh yeah, and no DVD extras.