For a time it seemed that Tolstoy’s famous admonition about the relative happiness of families might apply to television as well. But the truth is more depressing: There are many bad TV shows, but most of them are terrible in the same dispiriting ways. Few, of course, are as jaw-droppingly horrendous as Work It, a retrograde shame-spiral of a series that hates women nearly as much as its viewers will hate themselves. But this detestable disasterpiece doesn’t even have the courtesy to be interesting in its inanity; it’s merely the latest (and, hopefully, the last) in a head-scratching run of new network shows aimed at what is apparently America’s least served demographic: misogynists.
Earlier in the season this micro-trend, cleverly dubbed “manxiety” by Time’s James Poniewozik, brought us ABC’s limp Man Up! and CBS’s flaccid How to Be a Gentleman. Both shows bemoaned the feminization of the American male and celebrated the macho glories of Xbox Live and Kevin Dillon. Both were also quickly and mercifully castrated. ABC’s Last Man Standing, the only manxious show likely to earn a second season, features Tim Allen rattling around like a cranky extra from Terra Nova, complaining about how the world has left him behind while it runs off in search of a gay pride parade. Work It, to its dubious credit, doesn’t beat around the proverbial bush. The series, about downsized dudes cross-dressing their way to success, isn’t distracted by straw (girly) men like metrosexuals and multiculturalists. Rather, it places the blame for its protagonists’ problems squarely where it feels they belong: on the shoulder-padded shoulders of working women. Actually, Work It takes it one step further, blaming the fairer sex not only for the predicament of its laid-off lunkheads but for the entire great recession. “Women are taking over the workforce,” bellows Brian, a slug-like friend appendage to Lee and Angel, our soon-to-be mascara-ed heroes, before devolving into a beery digression about how soon these monstrous creatures will “make pride illegal” and force males into a nightmarish hellscape of “kissing, cuddling, and listening.”
Brian, despite all appearances to the contrary, is a clever construct by show creators Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen. By placing Brian (the former “nearly accident-free courtesy shuttle driver” at the defunct local Pontiac dealership) to the extreme of its extremely loathsome leads, Work It attempts to distance itself from the swill it’s peddling. No such luck; this thing is rotten to the core. Lee may compare a prostate exam to gang rape and amuse himself by ace bandaging his johnson to his inner thigh, but the wife and daughter he desperately tries to avoid are no better: The former is a vacant-eyed snark machine yet to be filmed outside of the kitchen and the latter appears single-minded in her pursuit of a rich boyfriend who will restore her text messaging plan. Even worse are the clueless females who witlessly accept these trannie transgressors into their workplace. They’re a gaggle of pharmaceutical reps who “think clinical trials are the things Lindsay Lohan has to go to” and keep their jobs not owing to ingenuity or talent but because doctors want to nail them. Compared to this tired swill, Bosom Buddies was executive produced by Betty Freidan.
Ultimately, what rankles most about Work It isn’t the chauvinism, the decades-old premise and punchlines, or the ham-fisted attempt to wring laughs out of economic crisis. Indeed, Last Man Standing has evolved into an adequate sitcom about a dopey dad and Raising Hope and The Middle prove that not all comedies need to focus on the relationship foibles of the one percent. No, the problem with Work It is how thoroughly contemporary it feels with its commitment to cynicism and scapegoating. Angel and Lee seem utterly plausible not because they’re willing to don falsies and inquire about panty lines but because they’re the perfect blend of ignorance and entitlement. Angel would rather rock a pashmina than spend another day working in the service industry. As for Lee, the one thing bigger than his debt is his house — yet the only time he looks in the mirror is to try on a pair of his wife’s earrings. In the boozy testosterone bubble they share with Brian, everything is always someone else’s fault, particularly if that someone else is a vacuous appletini receptacle who belongs to a book club. Sure, we could laugh about how Work It was made in 2012 — it would certainly be the only laugh associated with it! — but it’s more worrisome to think about how appropriate it is in this fear-mongering, responsibility-avoiding election year. It’s a show about hard times committed to taking the easy way out.
Andy Greenwald is a Grantland staff writer.