So, do television executives sit around a big room and brainstorm stereotypes about Latinos? Because from the looks of it, the latest crop of mainstream sitcoms that are either Latino-themed or feature Latino actors are not having a good month.
Yes, everyone by now knows about ABC's "Work It" Puerto Rican Drug Dealer Joke fiasco, the silence of ABC even as a grassroots group called Boricuas for a Positive Image is preparing for a Thursday afternoon demonstration in New York City, and the-tweet-that-was-an-apology-but-not-everyone-agrees-apology by Puerto Rican actor Amaury Nolasco.
Tonight, the new Rob Schneider comedy ¡Rob! premieres and from the looks of it, the show is already dead on arrival. From the looks of the reviews, Nolasco's troubles might soon transfer over to Latino legend Cheech Marin, and fellow cast members Diana María Riva, Claudia Bassols, Eugenio Derbez, and Lupe Ontiveros.
Here is what the press is saying:
"Then [CBS] presented its newest sitcom, ¡Rob!, starring Rob Schneider, who plays a man who marries into a Mexican American family, upon which “hilarity”—which is to say a bunch of leaf-blower and illegal-immigrant jokes—ensues. The network spin on this one: Schneider’s character is the new Archie Bunker. It’s true, in the sense that both characters are or were on CBS sitcoms. It’s true, that is, in the same sense that Julie Chen is the new Walter Cronkite…
When a show like ¡Rob! makes gardener jokes or 2 Broke Girls makes its Asian manager a nerd who mangles English, on the other hand, they’re not drawing on any real experience of life as it exists today. In fact, they’re going out of their way not to: the whole point of this kind of easy, hack-y joke is that you write them so that a viewer can get the jokes without knowing anything about another culture beyond decades-old clichés, based on other TV shows. You don’t have to know anything about what’s changed in America since All in the Family; you don’t have to have any awareness of Latinos since Chico and the Man."
No doubt there is a grain of truth in the absurd tensions that fuel "Rob" — the overwhelming and sometimes invasive tendencies of a large family, the real cultural differences "mixed" couples encounter, the revelations of early marriage — but Schneider clearly does not think his audience is sophisticated enough to deal with anything more nuanced than Frito-Bandito slapstick.
What with Maggie's henpecked father (a shamefully wasted Cheech Marin), her absurdly controlling mother (a shamefully wasted Diana Maria Riva), her larcenous uncle Hector, (a shamefully wasted Eugenio Derbez, who is actually the funniest thing in the pilot), "Rob" plays like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" after seven or eight tequila shots.
Maybe someone should do a show about an Anglo man who must face his Mexican American in-laws after he's done a terrible show about them. That might be funny.
The show revels in racial stereotypes – it's filled with jokes about guacamole and illegal immigration – and makes no excuses for it.
"I don't think you want to stay away from the stereotypes," [Cheech] Marin said. "I think you want to confront them and deal with them."
The show is based on Schneider's real life, and – despite the racial jokes – Schneider insists no offense is intended.
"My wife is not going to let me do anything overly offensive,I guarantee you," he said. "I have to go home to my wife. She'll let me know.
"Nobody here is going to do anything disrespectful," Schneider continued. "I think we want to do things that are funny, and I think, if we could shed some light on it in a way that could be fun and people can relate to it, it's fine."
It's probably time that US Latinos audiences just start walking away from the big networks and move to more original authentic web shows that are wittier and more entertaining.