Rules of Engagement

Todd R. Ramlow

Girls want intimacy, while all guys want are spectacular and exotic sex acts. Urgh.

Rules of Engagement

Airtime: Mondays, 9:30pm ET
Cast: Oliver Hudson, Bianca Kajlich, Megyn Pryce, David Spade, Patrick Warburton
Network: CBS
US release date: 2007-02-05

The opening titles for The Rules of Engagement are soundtracked by Los Lonely Boys' "Heaven," which should tell you all you need to know about the new CBS show. "Heaven" is a soft, office-radio kind of song, neither too noisy nor too boring to annoy anyone. It's the musical equivalent of beige, and Rules of Engagement is the televisual.

Yet another entry in the heterosexual-battle-of-the-sexes sitcom genre, Rules' "wit" begins and ends with its punning title. Indexing metaphors of war, the show also brings up the mass cultural phenomenon The Rules (TM): Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. For the record, that "TM" in parenthesis is accurate; apparently even the phrase "The Rules" has become so intimately connected to this het-romance psycho-babble that it can be trademarked. In any case, blah, blah, blah: love is a battlefield and romance is something that needs to be "engaged."

Rules pits three "types" of heterosexual couple against each other so that wackiness might ensue. Audrey (Megyn Pryce) and Jeff (Patrick Warburton, dead-pan and excellent as always) have been married 12 years and are settled nicely into their routines (playfully combative, but deeply loving, naturally). Jennifer (Bianca Kajlich) and Adam (Oliver Hudson) have only dated seven months but are already engaged, even as they're still getting to know each other. Russell (David Spade) is a "player" (really? David Spade?) who lies about his age to his many one-night stands.

While the women are sometimes perplexed by their men's behaviors, it's the men's insecurities and uncertainties that drive the show. Straight guys, when not openly hostile to or resentful of women, are befuddled by them. Thus, they need "rules" and why straight girls need "secrets" to help "capture" them.

Such anxieties are front and center in the second episode, "The Birthday Deal." It's Jeff's birthday, and when discussing the upcoming party to be thrown by his wife, he lets slip to Adam that the party doesn't matter so much as the annual post-party "birthday deal" he has with Audrey: that's his real present. Adam prods, Jeff demurs, insisting that if Audrey finds out he's told anyone the birthday deal if off. Adam decides he needs to establish a similar deal with Jennifer, but she cottons to the idea and insists she get one as well. He's initially excited about double deals, with a running joke among the guys about what he might get (top or bottom) "anally/annually." Adam quickly becomes disillusioned. He begins to fear exactly what debauchery Jennifer could demand, which might make him, as Jeff puts it, unable to "even look at her when your mother's in the room."

What Jennifer wants is, unsurprisingly, romance: every year Adam will wake her with a morning foot rub, serve her breakfast in bed, then treat her to a back rub, and finally snuggle in bed with her to watch The Notebook. Adam will get a "Velvet Hat Trick." Yep, girls want intimacy, while all guys want are spectacular and exotic sex acts. Urgh.

Rules of Engagement does try to complicate this stereotypical gendered positioning, largely by allowing Jennifer a certain amount of pre-Adamic sexual agency and license. When he explains, via note, the "Velvet Hat Trick," she quips, "That's not how I do it." Girl's got a past, one that causes much ado in Episode Three, "Young and Restless." Here the couple squabbles over the detritus of past relationships that clutter their new cohabitation. This begins over the larger, queen-sized bed Adam retrieves out of storage, a bed he purchased with a previous girlfriend. Jennifer insists she can't sleep in it, then notes that it's great that though she can't deal with that ex-girlfriend, he can deal with "all of the guys" in her past. Oops. Poor Adam, his fragile ego can barely stand the numberless male masses looming before him in his imagination. Jennifer, as Jeff and Russell repeatedly remind him, got game.

Rules allows sexual agency for women, but tends to rescind that possibility in its marriage-promotion message. If girls in Rules of Engagement want to maintain autonomy, sexual and otherwise, they'd best not get engaged.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.