As fun as it is for anyone (critic, fan or casual viewer) to come into watching a DVD with little or no preconceived notions about it and finding a undiscovered gem, the converse of that (when you don't know anything about a disc and it's deficient) is disappointing. But there is so much annoying circumstance with Rules of Engagement that I'm not sure where to start. At first I honestly thought that it was yet another redoing of a previous David Spade vehicle in 8 Simple Rules, but upon further review it turned out to hold a solid programming spot behind Two and a Half Men on the CBS Monday night lineup, but has since been moved to a Thursday slot behind The Big Bang Theory. So in essence it's the broadcasting equivalent of a remora, leeching on to whatever popularity these shows have and creating an existence for itself, yet when one looks at Rules of Engagement on its own, there is little if anything there.
The show's setup follows five friends in New York City (sound familiar?): Spade (Grown Ups) plays Russell, the only still-single friend of the bunch, tormenting his assistant Timmy (Adhir Kalyan, Youth in Revolt). Russell's friend Jeff (Patrick Warburton, Family Guy) has been married to Audrey (Megyn Price, American Dad!) for a long time, but their friends Adam (Oliver Hudson, Black Christmas) and Jennifer (Bianca Kajlich, Halloween: Resurrection) have only recently gotten engaged. In its fourth season, the thirteen episode run follows their adventures and experiences, some good, some bad, almost all not funny.
Did I say almost? I meant all of it is not funny. There are moments of an isolated smile here and there, but to borrow a saying from a friend of mine, I don't think I showed my teeth at the series once when watching Season Four. In fact I'd go as far as saying the show seems to be the best possible exercise in apathy. It hides behind other shows and relies on peoples' laziness to not change the channel, and it's mysteriously worked to this point, based on performance that are lazy from its established comic presences and one-dimensional ones from performers like Hudson and Kajllich. And through the season's run, the show barely paid any attention to worthwhile character advancement. The old couple is trying to have a baby, the young couple is slowly going through the planning stages of the wedding, the single guy wants to maybe enter a long-lasting, worthwhile relationship. It's so blatant and yet executed so poorly that every move in Rules of Engagement is horrible telegraphed, predictable and without emotion.
It's a shame, because people like Warburton and Spade who have been around the entertainment track once or twice should really know better and put together some sort of effort. The few scenes they have at the diner where the group frequents (another familiar-sounding crutch) are the ones where I found the closest thing to comedy, but the more these scenes occurred, I saw a couple of guys perfectly willing to rest on whatever achievements they've had over the years, and the show transpires in such a way that there's little chance for them to elevate their supporting cast. Hudson and Kajlich have very little original chemistry with one another, and I'm not entirely sure what Price is trying to realize with her performance, she's too old to be the dynamic comedic foil to Warburton and not old enough to possess the type of sitcom gravitas a Patricia Heaton (or someone else) could carry.
The subsequent result is less about entertainment; in fact I'd suggest Rules of Engagement becomes a larger philosophical question. There is an element of working under the radar that cast and crew presumably enjoy, but if a show that's supposed to be funny and isn't, and keeps making shows in the process, does the show exist? I'll answer that now actually; it does, and it stole four hours of my life that I'm never going to get back.The Discs:
1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen for all episodes (the 13 episodes are spread out over two discs), presumably consistent with an original high-definition broadcast airing for the show. I couldn't find much to complain about when watching the show, it looks good, the source material is pristine and little to be found in edge enhancement or image noise. When I think back on watching Rules of Engagement I'll consider it an unpalatable meal served on really nice plates.Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for all episodes which I wasn't surprised by, in fact the shows musical segues serve the front and rear channels nicely, and it is a more robust-sounding show on DVD than others I have listened to, but the bumpers are so strong the dialogue sounds weak in comparison, though clear and in the centered channel. It can prove to be an occasional jarring experience or two, but the show's production value shows off on the discs, for sure.Extras:
Nada. I didn't enjoy watching this show much and you'd think with two mildly funny people in it there would be an outtake or two, but nooo....Final Thoughts:
If Friends involved people who weren't as attractive, older, slightly pudgier and without any of the charm, charisma or humor that that cast had, you'd have Rules of Engagement in a nutshell. I'm still wondering how the show's managed to last as long as it has. Maybe it's the stunned silence viewers have when watching its broadcast lead-ins that's doing it, I don't know, but there are other shows that have tried what Rules tries and has realized success with it, so it's better to watch those and forget about Rules of Engagement as quickly as possible.