Monday, October 29th, 2012

The Short, Incredibly Misguided Life of 'Work It'

Sometimes TV shows drag their unfunny, uninteresting, yet highly rated feet across our living rooms for years. “Who let this happen?” we ponder as our foreheads turn red from frequent smacks. Other times, the powers that be get things right. That’s where “Brilliantly Canceled” comes in, looking at the shows that didn’t pass their pilot and saved us all a ton of grief.

Where would TV be without convention? There would be no Fred Flintstone, Archie Bunker, or Homer Simpson. Three fat idiots honed for comic perfection. But there are a few tropes TV writers desperately cling to, whether they still work or not. They are: a size disproportionate relationships (fat guy, skinny wife) and a man in a dress are always funny. From here, players of TV Ad-libs can fill in the rest.

In what must have been the biggest marketing blunder of the new millennium, the new ABC comedy, Work It, got the axe after two episodes. Two episodes. Two. Think about that. In the year 2012, a show about a man wearing his wife’s clothes to get a job failed. Don’t audiences know that that’s always funny? Can a paint by numbers sitcom about the global financial crisis and chauvinistic male characters really not jive with modern viewers?

Apparently not. Work It is really a relic from another time, a sitcom left over from the 70s, when the sexual revolution made it OK for men to wear dresses as long as they asserted their masculinity in them. Or, at the very least, Work It is a failed Bosom Buddies reboot. It updates old formulas to fit modern times, but still manages to feel anachronistic.

The show's opening is a long one. Lee Standish (Benjamin Koldyke), all around normal guy, laments at a bar over some $9 beers about his inability to find work, provide his daughter with a cell phone contract, and take his wife out to eat. He, along with his other male friends, are broke, jobless, and at the end of their rope. "It's a 'man-cession,' his buddy Brian (John Caparulo) complains. "All the women are taking our jobs." In an effort to rally troops for the oncoming gender war, Work It claims the most ignorant basis for a sitcom ever.

The thing about not having a job or insurance is that people can still get sick, a sad fact Lee learns after getting smacked with $900 doctor's bill. Left with no options other than stealing from his loved ones, he creeps into his wife's jewelry chest and picks up two sterling earrings. As he turns to leave, he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror, which his wife's dress hangs in front of. There he stands examining how his head pops awkwardly from the neck-hole of the dress and how he looks pretty good.

Thinking back to what his friend said, Lee applies at a local pharmaceutical company and gets a job as a sales rep; though, not as Lee, but rather as “Lee,” a female salesperson. Lee Doubtfires the hell out of that hiring manager and can, once again, bring home the bacon. But all is not well, because what's a sitcom that doesn't push a bad joke to the very limit. Lee made a promise to an old work buddy named Angel that if Lee's working, Angel's working — if he's game, that is.

And of course, he is. The rest of the episode follows their first days of work. Lee learns what it's like to be a woman and pushes his interpretation of femininity upon his female coworkers. At lunch, he eats a piece of lettuce, borrows a tampon, and makes overt references to his penis. Angel, meanwhile, sexually harasses his boss but gets away with telling her that her ass looks tight in those pants, because, of course, he is a woman, and no woman could ever say that. All of this done in that type of sitcom yell-talk delivery, which never gets annoying or stale.

But let’s move away from the awful plotting, dialogue, and acting, because there are still a number of problems with the show. The lapses in logic appear far too often to take any of this seriously, let alone relate to these characters. Lee is equal parts stupid and resourceful, making his place as the protagonist and all-around likable guy hard to stomach. He has enough self-awareness to recognize that he’s a neglectful, ignorant husband, why can’t he recognize that this is a dumb idea?

The conspicuousness of Lee’s charade makes buying into anyone difficult. His coworkers seem foolish to not pickup on Lee’s overt masculinity, and that’s not even in reference to his stature; all of Lee’s jokes include a reference to him being a man. It’s as if he wants them to find out. Angel isn’t much better. His incessant need to hit on every woman in the room — he does portray a fiery Puerto Rican stereotype, after all — is demeaning to just about everyone. And most seemed to think so; aside from the two million viewers who dropped from episode one to two, the LGBT and Puerto Rican community criticized the show heavily, and with good reason.

Ultimately, the show’s politics were just too frighteningly dated, and it probably scared everyone away. The premise, stolen from a wealth of sources (least of all, the aforementioned Bosom Buddies and more obviously Tootsie) and forced into a modern context, creates a whole wealth of problems. Sure, it’s a normal practice to shoehorn genres and re-contextualize them, but Work It feels like it was written several decades ago, with some added notes about the recession. It just goes to show, there are few sure things in this world. Let’s just hope that in Work It’s wake, man falling down continues to equal funny.

Here’s the show's trailer:

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  • ArchieOogley

    I couldn't wait for this to air, its reputation preceding it with Sandy-like force. And my friends and I, all 'Bad TV' aficionados, hit on a very-generous-if-not-terribly-brilliant alternate reading: This is a not a comedy about two straight men in the workplace, succeeding or failing at convincing their new co-workers that they're actually biological women; instead, this is a comedy about two in-transition trans women, making those first stumbling steps towards coming out in the workplace.

    Think about it. Unlike 'Some Like It Hot,' 'Tootsie' and (especially) 'Bosom Buddies,' both the female and male co-workers are *absolutely aware* that these are men in drag. Their incredulousness is apparent in pretty much every scene, and most of the humor in those scenes comes from them being unable to accept the I'm-A-Woman narrative being presented. And in that, 'Work It' is nothing like those previously mentioned comedies. BECAUSE NOBODY AT THEIR NEW JOB WAS FOOLED.

    It's far more realistic (for the viewer) to imagine a scenario where HR, Sales, co-workers, etc are baffled by these men's insistence that they're women than to accept that they *do* buy it, and are just put off by these women's conflicting feminine/unfeminine mannerisms. Eh, maybe I'm biased because I live in Portland, OR and see trans bus drivers, bank tellers and grocery clerks pretty often, but 'Work It' seemed realistic enough if read as a shitty sitcom about Trans women and not straight guys in drag.

  • Michael Whittier

    There's so much horror in the world.

  • Michael Bagamery

    From that absurd trailer alone, it’s hard to believe something like Work It could ever have existed. Did its creators try to Poe people or some such?