Is this the best American TV can do?
Rob Schneider is marrying into a Mexican-American family on CBS' new sitcom, Rob, on Thursday nights, but considering the backlash ABC's Work It has received over their controversial joke about Puerto Ricans, Latinos will likely be keeping an eye out for other tasteless stereotypes.
That seems to be the way television depicts one of the fastest-growing demographics in the nation today, with an array of ethnic punchlines and cliche-laden attempts at humor. Come on, people. Get with it.
Case in point: Puerto Rican actor Amaury Nolasco in Work It, a comedy about two men facing a "mancession" who dress up as women to get jobs as pharmaceutical sales reps, tries to convince his friend to let him in on a job opportunity because, as his character states, "I'm Puerto Rican. I would be great at selling drugs."
Time and time again, Latino characters on television have been marginalized in stereotypical roles such as drug dealers, feisty Latinas, maids, so-called Latin lovers, and, probably the most controversial, the lazy Mexican.
A primary concern among Latinos is how CBS will tackle these notorious Latino stereotypes on Rob.
"I don't think you want to stay away from the stereotypes, I think you want to confront them and deal with them," said Cheech Marin, who plays Fernando, Rob's father in law, on Wednesday at the Television Critics Association Winter Session in Pasadena, according to Access Hollywood.
Dealing with stereotypes and exploiting them are two different things, Cheech.
For his part, Schneider stated: "I think we want to do things that are funny and I think if we can shed some light on it, and in a way that could be fun and people can relate to, it's fun, but we're not going out of our way to do anything disrespectful."
Rob was partially inspired by Schneider's Mexican wife, a television producer who, according to Schneider, will "keep the show in check" and wouldn’t let him do anything "overly offensive."
But are there degrees of offensiveness? Offensive is offensive.
Let's hope Schneider's wife keeps the second episode in check because last night's pilot has already set off critics at The Washington Post, who warned potential audience members could be "horrified and nauseated, but definitely not surprised" by Rob.
The review went on to say, "Like an uncomfortable stand-up routine that keeps getting worse, Rob spirals downward as Rob tries to make a good impression on his new in-laws" but keeps getting worse when Rob says, "Big family --now I know what's going on during all those siestas." Huh?
Critics at The Daily Beast proclaimed the it "TV's Worst New Show," calling it "racist and unfunny" and stating that both "Rob and Work It are deeply offensive in their own ways, but the real crime is that Rob... and its ABC sibling lack any real sense of humor."
For instance, Cheech Marin jokes that between his "100 illegal immigrants" he thinks they "have, like, three Social Security numbers," and his co-star, Diana Maria Riva, who plays Rob Schneider's mother-in-law, says in the trailer, "Some people call it noisy.. in too much business but that’s how we Latinos are."
Rob and Work It aren't the only shows coming under scrutiny. Modern Family also has its critics.
Stephen Palacios, Executive Vice President at Cheskin Added Value, writes how Benjamin Bratt's character on Modern Family, Javier Delgado (Sofia Vergara's ex-husband), is regressing and how it may represent a step back for Hispanics on television.
Some of it hits home with Hispanics in a positive way. They recognize the superstitions and have first hand experience with mispronunciations. It can be really funny. But to see Ben Bratt, who in the 1990s was repeatedly Emmy nominated for his portrayal of a determined and moral detective, adopt the Ricky Ricardo accent and portray his character as someone who can "see the soul of the horse in his eyes," feels, well, regressive.
Some people will argue that Latinos shouldn't complain because at least they are being represented. Others would rather keep fighting for a more realistic representation of Latinos rather than stoop to levels that hurt their overall image.
If their jokes do backfire, CBS should prepare itself for criticism from the Latino community as was the case with Work It, which received prompted a demonstration by activists outside ABC studios in Manhattan.
As Palacios noted, "Television programming is primarily produced by commercial industries with capitalist interests. The symbolic products of these systems generally represent the ideas and values of mainstream corporate society or the views of dominant groups in U.S. culture" (Fiske 1987, Lembo 1992)."
The racial stereotypes don't seem to end.
Rob starring Rob Schneider and Cheech Marin airs Thursdays at 8:30pm on CBS.
CHECK OUT OTHER TV CHARACTERS WHICH HAVE PLAYED TO LATINO STEREOTYPES: