Craig Robinson was the stealth comic on “The Office.” He’d slip into a scene and steal it with little more than silence.
Now, in his own series, “Mr. Robinson,” he has to be much more chatty. And, sadly, it just doesn’t work.
Like a hybrid of “School of Rock” and “Hanging with Mr. Cooper,” the NBC comedy falls flat whenever he steps out from behind his keyboard. When he’s singing wacky songs like “Mirror Mirror,” it’s sharp and fresh.
When he’s trying to get his high school students to help him woo the English teacher, it’s sadly retro.
A musician by night, Robinson’s Craig Robinson (no kidding…it’s a “Seinfeld” homage) sings with his band Nasty Delicious. They have a following of sorts and long for a recording career.
Bill, however, must be paid, so he lands a substitute gig at Studs Terkel High School where his high school squeeze (Meagan Good) is on the staff. In order to create tension, writers Mark Cullen and Robb Cullen get the band a choice gig. Mr. Robinson has to choose between school or work. The tension is thin, the resolution, even thinner.
Robinson is still appealing, but he’s surrounded by a gaggle of sitcom stereotypes. Peri Gilpin plays the rock-savvy principal, Spencer Grammer is the hot math teacher (who’s also a stripper), Ben Koldyke is the inappropriate P.E. teacher who hasn’t gotten past “The Wonder Years” and wants to be called “Magnum.”
Directed by Andy Ackerman, the show’s pilot covers a lot of territory before it wanders into “Saved by the Bell” land. The students don’t stand out, even when Mr. Robinson catches one with marijuana. Obviously, those kids are designed to play a bigger role in the education of their teacher but they don’t have the necessary oomph.
Tossing Robinson in a less Disney-friendly teaching situation might have been more conducive to his brand of comedy. Often, it becomes a matter of wading through Studs Terkel territory before landing at the keyboard kingdom.
Robinson drops plenty of music references (at one point in a tete-a-tete with Gilpin) but they frequently fall on deaf ears.
The laughs? They’re precious commodities, doled out like pens in a school supply room.
To get tenure, “Mr. Robinson” needs to change course, stat. A second teaching job (at “Community,” perhaps?) could be in order.
“Mr. Robinson” airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday on NBC.