There are stereotypes in triplicate in Rules of Engagement, the otherwise engaging and - praise the lord - generally funny new CBS sitcom premiering Monday, Feb. 5 at 9:30 p.m.
The show revolves around two couples -- one who've been together long enough that they've "wrapped up the sex portion of the marriage" and replaced it with Letterman, and one who are newly engaged and navigating new relationship territory -- -and one bachelor ladies man.
Married couple Jeff (Patrick Warburton, The Tick and Puddy on Seinfeld) and Audrey (Megyn Price, Grounded for Life) try to act as role models for young lovers Adam (Oliver Hudson, The Mountain) and Jennifer (Bianca Kajlich, Rock Me Baby), who have moved in together and gotten engaged a mere seven months after first meeting.
Jeff doesn't quite get that his wife means they should be positive role models, and gives Adam life lessons such as: "We compromise all the time. Like when we got our first apartment, she wanted to get a cat. I didn't want to get a cat. So we compromised and got a cat."
David Spade (Just Shoot Me) unfortunately plays Russell, Adam's bachelor pal who's appalled that he'd want to limit his options to one woman. He brings his usual persona to the role, and it still stretches credibility beyond all belief to see him as a hot-young-chick magnet. Still, I suppose it's fitting that the only two remotely appealing male characters in the series are in serious relationships, and Russell does get a few good moments, especially when he's poking fun at Warburton's gentle giant Jeff ("I like Jeff. He's enormous." "Mongo like art.")
The constant jokes about the hells of marriage might get old, and the wide-eyed innocence of the newly engaged is going to have to morph into something more sustainable, but in the first three episodes of Rules of Engagement, the series got more consistently funny and better defined characters.
The married couple are by far the most fun, and also inject some warmth into the show. Because while they demonstrate all the typical marital frustrations you'd expect from a fairly stale premise, they also have an obvious affection for each other. Price is appealingly no-nonsense and wry, while Warburton is both thick-headed and sweet, and his deadpan voice and expression make even lukewarm-funny lines hilarious.
Hudson, brother of Kate, son of Goldie Hawn, is a bit too smirky and stiff as Adam, and Kajlich didn't make much of an impression at first. But the engaged couple showed the most progress from bland near-caricatures to more rounded characters by the third episode.
Rules of Engagement plays with relationship and gender stereotypes without getting too terribly mired in the predictable. As long as you're not expecting cutting-edge jokes or a revolutionary premise, the show is well worth a look Mondays at 9:30 on CBS.