THE SERIES "Mr. Robinson"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres tonight at 9 on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Craig (Craig Robinson, "The Office") is a musician who needs a better-paying gig, and one presents itself as substitute teacher at a Chicago high school. It suits him fine as he says when he lands the gig: "High school teacher by day, funk master by night. Kind of like if Bootsy Collins could give you detention."

Principal Taylor (Peri Gilpin, "Frasier") gives him a hard time, but her boss (Tim Bagley, "Will & Grace") is a fan of his famed Chicago band, Nasty Delicious, which is the real name of Robinson's R&B band. Craig has another reason for getting this gig -- he wants to make amends with an old girlfriend, Victoria (Meagan Good, "Anchorman 2") who's an English teacher at the school.

MY SAY Craig Robinson is a talented musician who once starred in a classic series and has now wandered into a bad sitcom. The worse news -- his name is on it.

"Mr. Robinson"" is one of those series that force armchair TV critics -- at least this one -- to sit back in their armchairs, and start to puzzle through (hmmm, what could they have done differently?). For this show, my free advice: Make the writing funnier, or funny. Make Good more prominent, or at least coequal with the lead. Her glamour is a nice counterpart to his anti-glamour. Next: Figure out what to do with Gilpin. She's a once-beloved sitcom actress who makes viewers (or one viewer, me) happy whenever she's onscreen. She deserves good lines or lines that make that talent shine. She doesn't get 'em here.

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After that, lose the cheap '80s sitcom jokes about drugs, or the one-off puns about sex. They're awful, for the most part. Television comedy has advanced, or should have advanced past this stuff.

Finally, and foremost, give Robinson material he's worthy of. This guy is funny, and there are fleeting reminders of that -- a glance, or double-take, or basic ability to ground a show when nonsense abounds. The best parts in "Mr. Robinson" are the opening moments -- those jokey songs that make you smile.

Then it all goes sour, and flat. The smile disappears.

GRADE C-