"Rules of Engagement" was a mid-season replacement last season, running seven episodes, all of which seemed a bit spaced out as the series seemed to be there one week, gone the next, back the week after. The show certainly had a lot going for it: it marked the return to TV for both David Spade (Spade's former "SNL" co-star Adam Sandler's production company, Happy Madison, is one of the production companies involved) and Patrick Warburton. Additionally, behind-the-scenes talent includes "Seinfeld" writer/producers Carol Leifer and Andy Ackerman.
The series stars Warburton and Megyn Price (the very funny actress from "Grounded for Life") as Jeff and Audrey, a couple who's been married for a while and has reached the level of "been there, done or seen that." They have a comfortable relationship, but it's not without the occasional disagreements. There's also Adam (Oliver Hudson) and Jennifer (Bianca Kajlich), a younger couple who who have just gotten married and are still ironing out the occasional issue that arises in their relationship. Hovering around them all is Russell (Spade), a single guy who wants to stay that way.
The show's main flaw (you knew I was going to get around to it eventually) is Hudson and Kajlich. When the series comes back for its second season (which it will soon), I'm hoping that these two either become less of the focus or are taken out of the picture completely (for those who think that a show can't be retooled that much, I invite you to witness what Fox recently did to "The Loop" in its second and last season.) The two of them are particularly bland , and both seem out of their element in a comedy (although Hudson is the weaker of the two, as he appears to be straining to be funny, with a delivery that seems forced.) Making matters worse, they don't have a great deal of chemistry with one another. On a show with Spade, Warburton and Price, these two have to try and go above and beyond to not be swept away, and they don't - at least in this short first season.
As for the more positive aspects of the series, Spade and Warburton are as perfect together as they were when they co-starred in "Emperor's New Groove". Warburton's ultra-deadpan style manages to mix with Spade's hyperactive sarcasm superbly once again. Pryce is another bonus, as she has good chemistry with Warburton and, once again, offers another funny performance here.
My problem with the first season of the series is that it was just funny. While that doesn't sound like a problem, it is one when the series fails to meet its potential. Spade's character was barely seen and some episodes from the first season were quite inconsistent. The timing also seemed to be off, as punchlines either weren't hit and some scenes just seemed to ramble towards an end.
To my pleasant surprise, the second season of the series sees some considerable improvements over the uneven first round. The fact that Adam (Oliver Hudson) and Jennifer (Bianca Kajlich) are now moved in together and married does create things for the characters to do aside from be impressively bland - the two even get a few laughs, which is quite a difference from their being a drag on the show the first season. Warburton and Price also benefit from the show's improved writing this time around around - especially Warburton, whose laid-back style gets quite a bit closer to the level (although, not surprisingly, doesn't beat it) of his hysterical work on "Seinfeld".)
The other big benefit this time around is the fact that Spade's role has been increased mildly, and the actor has been allowed to turn up his famed snarky, sarcastic delivery up to 11. Maybe since Judy Greer ("13 Going on 30")'s sitcom "Miss Guided" has been dropped, she would be a great choice to be a guest star and play against Spade. Spade is pretty good against guest star Heather Locklear in a couple of episodes in this season. While the performances are improved across the board (and the writing is also noticably stronger), the show's timing suddenly seems much improved, as the laughs have a snap that they rarely did in the first season. Overall, "Rules of Engagement" is still no classic, but it's nice to see that some steps were clearly made to improve the show for its sophmore season.
8. 24 Sep 07 Flirting With Disaster
9. 1 Oct 07 Audrey's Sister
10. 8 Oct 07 Mr. Fix It
11. 15 Oct 07 Guy Code
12. 22 Oct 07 Bag Ladies
13. 29 Oct 07 Old School Jeff
14. 5 Nov 07 Engagement Party
15. 12 Nov 07 Fix-up & Downs
16. 19 Nov 07 A Visit from Fay
17. 14 Apr 08 Time Share
18. 21 Apr 08 Jen at Work
19. 28 Apr 08 Optimal Male
20. 5 May 08 Russell's Father's Son
21. 12 May 08 Buyer's Remorse
22. 19 May 08 Pimp My Bride
VIDEO: "Rules of Engagement" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Presentation quality is first-rate, as the picture appeared crisp and detailed throughout the episodes. A few minor instances of artifacting were spotted, but image quality for the majority of the running time appeared clean and smooth. Colors looked warm and bright, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: The show's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was purely a "comedy mix", with little in the way of noticable surround use. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue.
EXTRAS: Bloopers and minisodes (short versions of episodes) of "Newsradio" ("Look Who's Talking") and Diff'rent Strokes ("Short But Sweet".)
Final Thoughts: "Rules of Engagement" sees some considerable improvement in the second season, which is noticeably sharper and funnier than the first season. The DVD set goes short on extras, but is fine in terms of audio/video quality. Recommended.