The last episode of the long-running series aired in May 2013, and many people still watch Rules of Engagement online and in syndication on various networks. The show was never a critical success, and its best-rated episode came after the 2007 Super Bowl during which the show was heavily promoted. The characters are well-defined and predictable, yet the laughs come at unexpected moments. Despite the lack of critical acclaim, the show aired over seven seasons and consisted of 100 episodes. Used to fill schedules and as a mid-season replacement for poor performers, Rules of Engagement was a reliable product for CBS. It fits well with mid-week comedy line-ups, and the network briefly featured it as a Saturday night prime time comedy.
The Main Rule is Laughter
The cast consists of six main characters, two couples and two single men. There is a married couple and one in a committed relationship. The single men are a wealthy business man known for unscrupulous behavior and his personal assistant. The style of comedy is the verbal pratfall, and there are images filled with sexual overtones. The subjects are sometimes serious, such as surrogate parenting, the need for truth in relationships and faithfulness. However, the treatment is never serious. The laughs can build from a trickle to a cascade as characters fall deeper into the errors they try to avoid. The essential premise of Rules of Engagement is that whether single or married, all is fair in love and relationships. We can imagine or invent rules, but in the course of relationships, they will do little to change things.
The Original Rules of Engagement Characters
Jeff, played by Patrick Warburton, is married to Audrey, played by Megan Price. Jeff is a successful stock broker and is notoriously cheap. Oliver Hudson and Bianca Kajlich play the roles of the young, next door neighbors Adam and Jennifer. They live together and plan to marry. Russell Dunbar is a rich businessman played by David Spade. He is a genuinely despicable character whose sometimes riotous attempts to get his way backfire spectacularly. In Season 3, the show introduced an Ivy League educated character as a personal assistant to Russell Dunbar. Dunbar is a multi-dimensional character. At times, he reveals enormous talents; he could be described as a Renaissance man. His preference, though, seems to be the low road. Audrey and Jennifer, the main female characters, bring a sense of reality to the proceedings and demand little more than courtesy, respect and romantic attention.
Playing by the Rules of Engagement
The characters offered extreme contrasts. Jeff, played by Patrick Warburton, was a prototypical dominant male. His football player physique and commanding voice all reflected the Alpha-male ideal. By contrast, Adam Rhodes was a soft-spoken male with prototypical feminine qualities, such as a youthful, cute appearance and prissy habits. In many plot lines, Adam falls under the pressure to act in a more manly way, which always made the situation worse rather than better. Russell Dunbar is a hybrid between Jeff and Adam, embodying a laugh-provoking combination of male weaknesses. He is vain and sneaky; he has no scruples and will do anything to get his way. He is physically short, unimposing and slight; he is over-aggressive as if in compensation for physical shortcomings. He is shallow and takes pride in his purely physical approach to relationships. His limited view of women and relationships are a constant source of insulting banter against Russell from Audrey, Jeff, Adam and Jennifer. Often seated at a neighborhood restaurant called The Island, the biting remarks fly, and the humorous exaggeration sets the stage for later developments.
A Big Addition
For many fans, the laughs became bigger and more frequent when the cast added a personal assistant for David Spade’s despicable character. The character is an Indian man with a very formal style of speech. The character Timir Patel is affectionately called Timmy. This straight-laced product of an elite education made a deep contrast with his boss’ low, scheming approach to everything within reach. Brutalized by the hours and demeaning tasks demanded by Dunbar, Timmy endures all with class and biting sarcasm. The dynamics of the show changed with the addition of Timmy. As a counterpoint to his Boss, he offers the better moral choices. The conversations between Dunbar and Timmy are remarkable for their humor and insights.
Rules of Engagement
The show enjoys extensive international broadcasts and syndication, and many overseas viewers watch Rules of Engagement online. It aired across Western Europe, much of South America and many Asian countries. The strongly defined and predictable characters made translation of its comedy easier across cultures and languages. There were many verbal comedy cues in the scripts, but there were also many physical cues; the physical cues aided in international acceptance.
Living by the Rules of Engagement
Fun is the real premise of this laugh-filled look at romance and relationships. The bottom line seems to be that people will do nearly anything to feel they are in control of their love life, but in reality, no one is. Here, the laughs tell the real story. The harder one tries to impose one’s will, the funnier the failures that result. There are lessons about life, love and getting along in a relationship. Perhaps the enduring lesson from Rules of Engagement is that laughter is a language everyone understands.