Preview: Rules of Engagement

In case you don’t know, screeners are what the press get given so they can preview shows that are either going to air or the networks are thinking about airing. Despite the first ever entry on this blog being about US screeners, this year I haven’t reviewed any. Sorry.

But I’ve now had a chance to watch a couple (busy, busy, busy). Tomorrow, I’ll review Hidden Palms, but today, let’s start with Rules of Engagement.

Rules of Engagement

Ah, time capsules. They’re so fun. You look inside and you get a glimpse into a distant past that you’d almost forgotten. My, how different everything was then! Wait. What’s this? Rules of Engagement was made this year? So why does it look so tired and old?

Here’s the set-up for this 30-minute, 4:3, studio sitcom with canned laughter (mmm, smell the 70s): a young guy proposes to his girlfriend of seven months and starts to worry about his decision. His girlfriend’s already picking out the wedding gifts from the catalogue, just a day after his proposal. And there’s nowhere for his Mets poster now he’s moved in with her!

If he’s going to make it work, he needs to know the ‘Rules of Engagement’. Oh! Do you see what they did there? They’ve made the show’s title explain the entire set-up for you in just three words. How clever.

Fortunately, there are people on hand to provide ‘advice’. Next door to his girlfriend live a married couple who have been together for years. Jeff, the husband, is bitter about all the compromises he’s made over the years and is happy to point out the problems with marriage. And there’s young guy’s wild single friend who gets to highlight all the things he’ll miss by being married, such as constant one-night stands and acting like a frat boy.

Gosh, if only everyone’s social calendar were so evenly balanced between archetypes at various points in the relationship cycle. No people living together happily. No single friends miserable they’re single. Just useful people who can illustrate situations and provide dilemmas and neuroses for our hero. It’s almost like they’re in some television show where everything has been written according to a strict formula, where the guy is a clueless idiot when it comes to women and relationships, the woman is wise yet willing to confess her own vulnerabilities, and every problem is solved by the end of the show in a touching scene where the two lovers reconcile their previous concerns.

It’s not all bad. Jeff, the next-door neighbour, has a nice line in world-weary dialogue, I guess.

But that’s it. Everything else is by-the-book predictable. No one acts or talks like a normal human being – there’s even the classic ‘insightful’ line, “If you don’t know what’s wrong, I’m not going to tell you.” Everyone makes the same classic sitcom mistakes that no one ever actually makes in real life. Nothing happens the way it would outside sitcom world. Salient example: the three heroes discuss young guy’s only having had three girlfriends – except they use code, of course, since this is primetime network TV and no one can actually discuss relationships using adult language. Single guy reveals that actually they’d ‘hired’ girlfriend number three for him. “But I dated her for six months!” Course you did. That’s exactly what would have happened. And you’d never have realised the whole time, would you?

Sigh. This will make it to a series. Of course it will. It’ll die within three episodes, but there you go.

PS If you wanted further proof that Joey isn’t coming back, the star of Rules of Engagement is Paulo Costanzo, who plays Joey’s nephew.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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