You didn’t have to actually watch the series premiere of ABC’s new sitcom, Work It, last night to know that it wasn’t funny. While it’s important to fully understand what you’re talking about to render a thoughtful critique, you can definitely make the half-educated guess that a weird, sexist, throwback Bosom Buddies rip-off, multi-camera sitcom about two dudes dressing up like ladies at their new jobs isn’t for you. Because it isn’t. (Who it IS for is a question without an answer. Like the question “how does she do it?” We don’t know! We can’t know!) However, if you did end up watching the series premiere of ABC’s new sitcom, Work It, then you know that although you were definitely right the first time when you thought it wouldn’t be funny, that the ways in which it isn’t funny, and the depths to which it isn’t funny, were shocking even to someone as predisposed against it as you were. Or maybe I’m just talking about myself (as usuuuallll). But the point is, HOLY SHIT THIS SHOW! I was staring goggle-eyed in horrified disgust at my television and shouting NO before they even got to the central cross-dressing conceit. By the time that happened, my head had fallen off and exploded and I’d set it on fire just in case to make sure it stayed dead and kicked it into the rain gutter and punched my television in the face. If the Mayans were right and the world really is going to end this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some hieroglyph on their stone calendar that depicted two dudes in skirt suits from Filene’s Basement (R.I.P., right ladiiiiies?!).
Ostensibly, Work It is supposed to be a sitcom that touches all of our modern nerves. The two main characters, Lee and Angel, have been laid off at their jobs because of the economic crisis. Powerful stuff. Finger on the pulse. And in another world, maybe that upside down one where Kirsten Dunst lives, one could even imagine a show in which the shifting of normative gender roles and the actual challenges and/or victories of women in the workforce were dealt with in a way that was both realistic AND funny. Instead, the show sets up an impossible, offensive premise that no one could even remotely believe in the first place: that we are not struggling through a global economic crisis the likes of which hasn’t been seen in three generations, but that companies simply aren’t hiring MEN anymore. They only hire women. HUHHHHHHHHHH?! At first this stupid and dumb and idiotic and embarrassing premise is voiced by the boorish drinking buddy of our two “heroes,” who then makes a joke about eating on the toilet, so it doesn’t seem like we’re supposed to take him too seriously. But in the very next scene, when Lee gets the Glengarry leads about a job as a pharmaceutical rep and points out that he’s perfectly qualified for that job, a woman (yuck) explains the company would never hire him because he’s a man. (Haven’t they ever seen Love and Other Drugs?! Which is so awful but somehow a million times better than this show?!) But, oh, OK, so this IS supposed to be real? Right. Got it. Almost TOO real, I’m sure. It’s, like, SPOOKY how real this is.
To make matters worse–as if that’s even possible–when the woman tells Lee that the pharmaceutical company doesn’t hire men, she explains that it is because doctors don’t want to fuck male pharmaceutical reps. COOOOOOOOOOL. So the already nonsensical premise of this show, that men can’t get jobs because women get all the jobs, also claims that the only reason women get jobs in the first place is because of their fuckability? It is almost like this show is a mirror being held up to
society’s AN ASSHOLE’S face.
So Lee decides to wear women’s clothes and BOOM (no duh) he gets the job. Right. No, yeah, totally. Here, again, one could imagine a scenario in which somehow this made some kind of commentary about the shifting mores of society that a powerful pharmaceutical company would so readily hire a transgendered woman for a public relations job, because whatever they were just saying in the scene prior about how women only get hired for their fuckability couldn’t possibly apply to Lee in his dress. He looks like a linebacker and he sounds like a teenager making a prank phone call. And yet we are now supposed to believe that all of the women in his office definitely think he is also a woman just like them. How many shaky premises are going to be stacked on top of each other? And how many people will be killed when the structure comes toppling down?
At which point they aired the first commercial sponsor of the evening: a sexist ad for Crystal Light.
WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON HERE?! Or perhaps the better question is WHEN IS GOING ON HERE?!
When Lee comes home to break the exciting news to his wife that he got a new job, he invites her to go celebrate. At the shitty dive bar where he drinks with his friends. With his friends. When she declines and says she’s going to stay home, he says, “OK, I’ll just come home later and wake you up for sex,” and this is supposed to be a joke insofar as we are supposed to recognize this as a thing that we’ve all experienced and can relate to, but it’s not supposed to be him TELLING a joke. This is really the way he behaves. She gets mad and he DOESN’T UNDERSTAND WHY. It’s worth pointing out that they have a TEENAGE DAUGHTER, which implies a solid 15-20 years together (if we’re using the standard model and not the shotgun wedding model) and still he’s just a subhumanly oblivious piece of shit? Let’s root for him! At the end of the episode, he convinces his wife that he is a changed man who is more sensitive to her needs and is going to be less selfish. How does he do this? By BRINGING HER A HANDBAG. This is like that Mel Gibson movie, What Women Want, if that movie were a DOCUMENTARY.
There are, of course, a handful of scenes in which we get to learn what WOMEN are REALLY LIKE but through the EYES of a MAN. Did you know that women read books? And eat salad? It’s crazy what happens behind powder room doors. They are also bitchy to each other! And drink cosmos! Here, again, the argument seems to be that the world of women is strange and impossible for a man to navigate, which is obviously a very sexist reading of it, but has at least some bare minimum of truth to it insofar as the worlds of men and women have their differences and at certain times this can lead to a minor breakdown in communication and/or some lapses in judgement or misguided suppositions and what have you (literally the building blocks of situational comedy). But on this show the way men and women behave towards each other isn’t so much a matter of men being from Mars and women being from Venus so much as it is men being from Huh? (orbited by a Shithead Moon) and women being from Oh, Girl, No, Come On!
Example: when Lee’s best friend Angel (who at one point makes a joke about how he would be great at selling drugs because he’s Puerto Rican, because this show wants to make sure you know that it is also racist) comes in for his job interview (dressed as a lady, obviously) he blows the interview at first by telling his prospective boss that her “ass looks tight in that skirt.” What? Like, in what world would one human being say that to another human being during a professional non-exotic-dancer job interview regardless of how high one’s heels were or how deeply one had one’s dick tucked between one’s legs? That’s horrible. Two seconds later, Angel breaks the news to Lee that he doesn’t think he’s going to get hired because Lee didn’t tell him that the woman who would be interviewing him was going to be so hot, and he GOT A BIG BONER. During a job interview? At an office? As an adult?
This is insane. I feel insane just talking about it.
It seems all but inevitable that Work It will not last long. Or at least one hopes. But it’s the simple fact that it made it onto the air in the first place that is the troubling part. It’s very hard to get a television show made. It requires a lot of people signing important documents, and incredible, morally offensive amounts of money, and hard-working creative people* working long hours to put together scripts and rehearse their lines. It’s a big deal! And at any point along the way, someone can and often does stand up and say, “Nah, forget it.” Sometimes they don’t make a pilot. Sometimes they make a pilot and don’t make any episodes. Sometimes they make some episodes and then think better of it. But Work It jumped through all the hoops and everyone at ABC agreed that, yes, this is something we should keep doing and keep investing money and time and effort and good will and branding power into. This, one assumes someone at ABC said with a straight face, is something that people in America will want and enjoy, that they will find hilarious and that they will relate to. And that is probably the most offensive thing about it. That and everything else.