A cross between a buddy show and couples therapy, CBS’ Rules of Engagement looks at the different stages of relationships—single, engaged and married–through the eyes of three men.
There is on-the-prowl single guy Russell (David Spade, Just Shoot Me) who’s about as deep as a Bud Light Super Bowl commercials. Deeper – or at least deeply in love – are Adam (Oliver Hudson, Dawson’s Creek) and Jennifer (Bianca Kajlich, Boston Public) but they fight over shallow things. And married couple Jeff (Patrick Warburton, Seinfeld) and Audrey (Megyn Price, Grounded for Life) bring out the worst in each other as their honeymoon is long over.
In an attempt to lure viewers, the network will apply some of the rules that work: 1.) Hammocking the new show—which premieres Monday at 9:30 p.m.–in a cozy timeslot between top-rated Two and a Half Men and the hit drama CSI: Miami 2.) Giving this guy-point-of-view sitcom the most male promotional platform possible, Sunday night’s Super Bowl. In fact, CBS is calling the night Super Monday in an attempt to have a supercharged start to the sweep.
Unfortunately the writers and producers of Rules didn’t break enough of them as the sitcom isn’t enough of a departure from CBS’s normal comedy lineup– including The Class, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men–shows with male leads that are watched by more women than men. Rules of Engagement is in the same vein and most likely won’t bring the disaffected, disappearing male primetime viewer away from ESPN, HBO and video games.
Part of the problem is the inclusion of a laugh track. For a show that attempts to achieve the cool factor by portraying modern romance, the canned guffaws will leave viewers cold.
The dialogue is advanced by CBS standards, but is also too standard as the show still has the construct of scripted interactions rather than the off-the-cuff manner in which real people – particularly guys talking about their love lives – would talk. In the future, the writers should sit around a barbershop – or a barroom – and take a listen.
The show faces some stiff competition in the time slot– Fox’s 24 and NBC’s Heroes –but the network should be able to maintain the season-to-date household rating of 5.5 and adults 18-49 of 3.8.
But to rewrite the rules – especially in appealing to elusive primetime males – CBS will need to take more risks. The rewards are out there: Just a quick look at both the general and media trade press shows the gap (if not the gulf) in buzz that Comedy Central has received with the debut of The Sarah Silverman Program, as pretty Sarah talks (and goofs) more like a real guy than Engagement’s three male leads combined.
By John Rash
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