Mr. Robinson vs. Mr. Hightower

I’m really not one to play the comparison game. Being truly original in 2015 is, admittedly, a rare thing. I think we have to appreciate originality and tolerate similarity; embrace it, even, if it’s done well. We live in the age of sequels and reboots and reworks and remakes and it can get tiring, I know. So, in talking about Mr. Robinson, I feel compelled to talk about the show it is eerily similar to. That’s The Steve Harvey Show.

Journey back with me to my formative teenager years. Back when Michigan J. Frog was my television puppet-master. Back when we were served this lovely piece of sitcom goodness: A musician in a funk band, unable to make a career out of it, becomes a school music teacher. We’ve got a best friend who’s also in the band, two fellow teachers that fall in love, and our main character secretly pining after a co-worker.

Today, the festively colored peacock gives us the following: A musician in a funk band, unable to make a career out of it, becomes a school music teacher. We’ve got a brother who’s also in the band, two fellow teachers that fall in love, and our main character secretly pining after a co-worker.

The main differences? High school vs. middle school, the actors playing the parts, and what the network censors allow. None of Harvey’s Booker T. Washington High School teachers would have openly moonlighted as exotic dancers. And they definitely would not have talked about Eskimo taints with the principal.

Even with all those taints, Craig Robinson doesn’t manage to pack the same punch with 2015 NBC that Steve Harvey did with 1996 WB. But does he really need to? It’s clear that Robinson has comedic talent, and he’s worthy of carrying his own show. It’s just not clear if this is the show he should do it with. It’s not a bad show and it’s got its funny moments, so “comedic sitcom” mission accomplished, no? I think… maybe, sort of.

One could argue that comparisons are meaningless. (That “one” is usually me.) Any show about a teacher could be compared to Welcome Back, Kotter. Was Dharma & Greg the new I Love Lucy? Or was it the new Odd Couple? If Are You There, Chelsea? was whittled down to “a show about a bar,” it would have never been up to snuff when compared to Cheers. So, two tales of two different decades housing two different musician music teachers doesn’t necessarily mean they have anything to do with each other. But are there enough differences to warrant both tales being told? That’s the important question. Again, I think maybe. Already mentioned in this here post, we’ve got:

  1. Middle school kids and high school kids are both kids, yes, but they are very different kinds of kids. So, there’s that.
  2. Craig’s humor is definitely not Steve’s humor. Whether that’s a plus or minus is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I’m not mad at an Eskimo taint, but it probably would’ve made me feel icky if Steve Harvey talked about it.

Other than that, we’ve got more characters to get to know on Mr. Robinson. Steve’s best friend, who is his band mate and the school gym teacher, comparably is Craig’s brother and band mate, played by Brandon T. Jackson, and is not the gym teacher, played by Ben Koldyke (who, by the way, has some killer thighs in them short shorts). The object of Steve’s affections also happens to be his boss, whereas Craig’s is a fellow teacher, his equal, who both have to answer to the principal, played brilliantly (in my humble opinion) by Peri Gilpin. There’s also another offshoot of Cedric the Entertainer‘s character who falls for the female comic relief (Mr. Robinson‘s Lovita, if you will).

In general, I think Craig pulled the short end of the stick. I have not seen the original pilot, but it was created by people who did not run the series and it starred numerous actors who were replaced. This, to me, means lots of network interference. Then, it was put on the air for three weeks near the end of the summer schedule. That means “burn off.” So, NBC swoops in, changes everything, then doesn’t have enough faith in their creation to give it a real shot. I think Craig absolutely deserves a show. If he’s stuck with this one, I hope he gets a second season and I hope he’s able to control it a bit more. But if season two is not in the works, I’d be okay with that as well. The Steve Harvey Show came back into syndication this year, so we’ve at least got that. No Eskimo taints, I’m afraid.

(I really wanted to see how many times I could fit “Eskimo taint” into a review. I feel good about it.)

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