Mr. Robinson isn’t a show for everyone, which is largely a function of the fact that Welcome Back, Kotter wasn’t for everyone, and owed a lot of the success it had to limited alternatives.
Don’t get me wrong, Welcome Back, Kotter was not only a great show, but it managed a surprising amount of influence on the landscape of television for decades… it just wasn’t for everyone.
Mr. Robinson stars Craig Robinson as a part-time substitute/part-time singer who runs into an old flame and hopes to rekindle things. When he learns that she now teaches at their old High School, he takes the first chance he gets to substitute there.
Mr. Robinson is laid-back almost to a fault… well, probably to a fault. He quickly hints that he wasn’t very serious about school, and hasn’t been very serious about anything since, but he managed to at least make it to a place where his life is not as difficult as might have been expected.
It’s actually easier to work through the plot using Kotter-speak, which is probably both a positive and negative for the show. You can’t get far in today’s world with actual Sweathogs, because the show would spin away from the family-friendly world, but Mr. Robinson catches one of his students with marijuana, and he introduces himself to his class as not being like their other teachers, because he’s “one of you.” He follows that up by making sure we know that his methods aren’t going to be the norm, and he’s more interested in being his students buddy than your average teacher.
Mr. Woodman is taken over by Principal Taylor (Peri Gilpin), who is as by the book as you could want, but instead of Mr. Robinson having to continually get over on her, we introduce Supervisor Dalton (Tim Bagley), who is a big fan of Robinson’s musical alter-ego Nasty Delicious.
The show also gives us P.E. teacher Jimmy Hooper (Ben Koldyke), who basically takes over for all the screwy, zany things that would have come from the Sweathogs. This seems to be because we don’t want the kids to go very far toward the negative. They are at worst, mildly inattentive, and even then, it doesn’t last long.
The update doesn’t really need to overly focus on the kids, because Mr. Robinson provides enough drama. At something of a mid-life crisis stage in his life, he’s torn between a budding love of teaching, and the “easy” and paperwork-free life of a musician. His own inability to figure out responsibility is enough to move the show along.
Like Kotter, the show needs you to not only like Robinson, but jump on board for his brand of comedy. If you’re a fan of his, and the show ultimately spends more time with the students, you’re going to like it. If not, the show doesn’t have much chance. It has a rocky enough establishment, which works on the theory that you already wanted to see him in more television, and it doesn’t have time to convince you.
Robinson, just as he was on The Office, is not only funny, but radiates a special “fun” charisma that makes you wish you got to hang out with him. The screwball comedy of some of the other characters is a little hit or miss, and the dance between family-friendly and Nasty Delicious “getting his funk on,” makes for an odd high-wire walk.
Still, while the show may not have you rolling, or get you to fall in love instantly, it’ll grow on you, and the throwback feel is probably going to be a welcome change for a lot of viewers.
As lead singer and keyboardist of the funk band Nasty Delicious, Craig (Craig Robinson, “The Office”) knows a thing or two about working the crowd, but his day job is where he really makes the grade.
Every struggling artist knows the drill: You’ve got to pay the bills while you wait for that big break. So when Craig finds himself short on cash, he takes a job as a substitute high school music teacher. It’s an easy gig, right? Yet when he realizes that the kids think his class is an easy A, Craig’s moved to inspire his students.
The school principal (Peri Gilpin, “Frasier”) believes that rules were made to be strictly upheld. She’s none too fond of Craig’s unorthodox teaching style, or his crush on the pretty English teacher (recurring guest star Meagan Good, “Think Like A Man”). It’s a constant struggle for Craig, having one foot in the music world with his band, Nasty Delicious, and having one foot in the teaching world. But if Craig wants to get the girl of his dreams and teach these kids the joys of music, he’ll have to buckle down, shape up and get the funk out.
Writers Mark Cullen & Robb Cullen (“Back in the Game,” “Lucky”) serve as executive producers with Howard Klein (“Parks and Recreation”), Mark Schulman (“Chelsea Lately”) and Andy Ackerman (“Seinfeld”).