ABC Hacks Up 'Work It,' Which Dares To Ask: What's A Step Down From 'Wretched'? : Monkey See ABC's new Work It is not merely a terrible show, but an exceptionally terrible show that discredits the network, comedy, drag, men, women, and pharmaceutical companies.
NPR logo ABC Hacks Up 'Work It,' Which Dares To Ask: What's A Step Down From 'Wretched'?

ABC Hacks Up 'Work It,' Which Dares To Ask: What's A Step Down From 'Wretched'?

Benjamin Koldyke dresses as a woman in ABC's new very bad comedy, Work It. Eric McCandless/ABC hide caption

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Eric McCandless/ABC

Benjamin Koldyke dresses as a woman in ABC's new very bad comedy, Work It.

Eric McCandless/ABC

Would that there were an adequate way to convey just how pointless, just how devoid of the barest spark of wit, just how arid a humor desert, ABC's new sitcom Work It actually is. The story of two men who pretend to be women in order to land pharmaceutical sales jobs, Work It manages to be pointlessly crass, utterly cliched, sexist toward both men and women, and hopelessly, painfully unfunny from wire to wire.

But how to really drive the point home?

We could begin with the fact that, as a comedy about men who dress in drag, it makes the Gap Girls on Saturday Night Live look like Shakespeare In The Park. We could begin with its gobbledygook premise, in which only hot women can get jobs as pharmaceutical salespeople because they attract doctors, but in which nobody minds if the women who are hired are actually men disguised as women who look about as feminine as the Green Bay Packers. We could begin with the hippo-like grace it brings to exposition, including a character who says, "A year ago, we were sitting pretty — St. Louis Pontiac's top salesman [points at one character], head mechanic [points at another character], and nearly accident-free shuttle driver [indicates himself]. Now look at us!"

We can certainly pause to acknowledge its grotesquely sexist view of femininity, in which actual women are food-hating, flighty idiots who fail to notice that the "new girls" are not girls and look nothing like girls, and in which nothing threatens to unmask a boy-is-girl ruse quite like the boy accidentally speaking knowledgeably about cars. Because what girl knows how to fix a car? Ha ha ha!

We could speak of the bizarre behavior of Lee (Benjamin Koldyke), whose version of blending in as a woman involves loudly saying to another woman waiting for a job interview, "Thanks for the tampon!", who still believes women curtsy at work, and whose way of lamenting that men are louts is to stumble over a claim that they're always "ogling my teats." Despite being married and having a teenage daughter who cares only about her cell phone (because that's what defines teenage girls on sitcoms like this), Lee gives the impression that he is basing his performance on what he imagines women might be like based solely on reading books about them that have been translated from English to German to Japanese and back to English, resulting in the rough equivalent of incomprehensible sound system hookup instructions.

We could move on to the equally freakish display put on by Angel (Amaury Nolasco), who is interviewed by an attractive woman while dressed as a woman himself, and who says to her, "Your ass looks tight in those pants!" Now, allegedly, this is hilarious because he appears to be another woman saying this to her but he cannot hide the way his masculine self simply comes right out. But even assuming the hetero-only universe the show presumes, in which men hitting on women is normal and women hitting on women is weird, a man who hasn't learned not to say "Your ass looks tight in those pants!" to a woman during a job interview — whether he is dressed as a man, a woman, or a fan dancer — has bigger problems than pantyhose.

No one is claiming that this show was ever supposed to be capital-G "Good," or that there's anything wrong with a little goofy, not-very-cerebral fun. But while intelligence may not be a necessary condition for a funny comedy, stupidity is not a sufficient condition for it. Work It is simple network anti-intellectualism, daring you to reject it based on its brainlessness and be branded a no-fun enemy of everyone's good time. To apply any standard to it at all is allegedly to miss the point, which is that it is meant to be part of training audiences to mindlessly gnaw on the bottom of the barrel while paying no attention to how much better comedy is available elsewhere, whether you like your comedy silly or brainy.

You don't have to be looking for great depth, nor do you have to count yourself above television, to be put off by the aggressive insulting of your intelligence that's contained in this brand of creative dry rot. That so many comedies are written and pitched and left to die on the vine, while somehow Work It has managed to be dragged through the development process and has remained nominally alive like the reanimated corpse of every piece of jokeless, joyless detritus that's been canceled in the last ten years is not a tribute to how bad television is, no matter what the Throw Your Television Out The Window crowd may claim. It is instead a tribute to how flawed its process is and how bad at discriminating consistently in favor of what is not terrible.

Against all odds, good things still bubble up, even on broadcast networks. But there is no sieve, no quality control inspector of last resort, that keeps things like Work It from somehow emerging as the best thing ABC — the network that made Roots and The Wonder Years and My So-Called Life and Roseanne and that makes Modern Family — could apparently think of to do with the public airwaves between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. tonight.