The Complete First Season
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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen it comes to the world of sitcoms, is there any more dependable “SNL” alumnus nowadays than David Spade?
Well, actually, yeah, in fact, there are quite a few of them. Personally, I’ve always been more of a Norm MacDonald man myself, and, come to think of it, if this were an actual survey, Spade might not even make it into my top five. But, still, you have to give the guy credit: no matter where he rears his head as a regular, whether it’s “Just Shoot Me” or “8 Simple Rules,” he’s generally good for several laughs per episode, particularly if he’s given a good ensemble off which to play. In the case of “Rules of Engagement,” however, Spade is only about halfway there.
The title of “Rules of Engagement” comes from the plot thread that runs through the series: Adam (Oliver Hudson) and Jennifer (Bianca Kajlich) have just gotten engaged, and as they proceed slowly toward the altar (no one’s necessarily rushing anyone; they don’t even have a date set) they’re discovering things about themselves and their relationship that haven’t reared their head before. Helping Adam on this voyage of exploration are his two friends, the eternally-single Russell (Spade) and the decidedly married Jeff (Patrick Warburton). Similarly, Jennifer’s learning her own lessons from Jeff’s wife, Audrey (Megyn Price), which means that both Audrey and Jeff are regularly teaching the young couple what they’re getting into, even if they’re not always doing it intentionally.
Unfortunately, the problem with “Rules of Engagement” is that the two actors who are, by virtue of the title, ostensibly the focus of the series – Hudson and Kajlich – are the members of the cast with the least comedic ability, which no doubt has a great deal to do with why their characters prove to be the least interesting part of the show.
Warburton and Pryce each have solid track records for playing part of a couple in a sitcom (Pryce during her run on the criminally underrated “Grounded for Life,” Warburton in his star-making role as Elaine’s boyfriend, Puddy, on “Seinfeld”). As such, you’re always more than ready to shove the spotlight off Adam and Jennifer and put it back onto Jeff and Audrey as they play the requisite “old married couple” like the pros they are. Spade, meanwhile, plays Russell as the unlikely stud of the series, always read to step in and remind Adam what he’s missing out on by settling down. It’s a running joke that Russell looks younger than he is, which allows him to continue to date much younger girls. There is, however, a notable exception in one episode, when he seizes the opportunity to right the one wrong in his romantic history by once again sleeping with the older woman who took his virginity from him (Jessica Walter, the matriarch on “Arrested Development”), with the hope that the experience will last a bit longer this time. It’s always a treat to watch Spade use his snappy sarcasm on Warburton and Pryce, too, since it’s never a guarantee as to who’s going to win the war of wit.
But, then, it’s back to Hudson to Kajlich, both of whom did their time in the dramatic trenches with stints on “Dawson’s Creek,” then worked in short-lived sitcoms on The WB and UPN, respectively. Neither have much in the way of comedic instincts, and Kajlich has one of those deliveries where she so unabashedly telegraphs that she’s making a joke that the result is rarely funny. Hudson, meanwhile, is totally outclassed by both Spade and Warburton, and it shows in every scene he shares with them. In fact, whenever there’s a scene where Hudson, Spade and Warburton are sitting around and just shooting the shit, you can’t really figure out why these three guys would ever have become friends, since they have precious little in common.
“Rules of Engagement” has its share of laughs (some of them involving double entendres and only-slightly-couched dirty jokes that make you wonder how they ever got the lines past Standards and Practices) but it’s dragged down by its shortcomings. No one wants to root for a couple to break up, but we’re just saying: if Adam and Jessica were to start seeing other people, it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the show if their new beaus were funnier than they are.
Special Features: The good news is that there actually are some special features, but the bad news is that they’re not that impressive. The blooper reel is, as with most blooper reels, worth a few laughs here and there, but the set tour with Oliver Hudson is two minutes long and not terribly educational. Seriously, the highlight may well be Hudson’s revelation that “I’ve never been in that chair…ever…and I probably never will,” which tells you all you need to know about how in-depth things get. The featurette entitled “From Table Reading to Taping” is liable to make you dizzy with its constant bouncing back and forth between clips of an episode in its various stages. Even the purported DVD-ROM content is negligible, unless you’re impressed by being given the opportunity to subscribe to the Sony DVD newsletter. (Wowzers!)