ABC's new Tuesday night entry "Work It" is horrible. In fact, it's so remarkably thorough in its horribleness, it must stand as something of an achievement. Not a proud one, but an achievement nonetheless.
I can't remember the last time I watched a sitcom -- or any scripted series of any sort -- that made me cringe as much as this one. (And I'm including "2 Broke Girls," with its tossed-off racial and sexual humor, in the mix.) That this disaster comes from people who should all know how to make a better sitcom than this (Ted Cohen and Andrew Reich, with writing credits on shows like "Friends," are the creators; Beth McCarthy-Miller, an Emmy-nominated director for her work on "30 Rock" and "Saturday Night Live," directed the pilot) merely adds to the insult.
"Work It" is the story of two manly men, married-with-teenage-daughter Lee (played by Ben Koldyke) and perpetual bachelor Angel (Amaury Nolasco), who have both been out of work since the St. Louis auto dealership they worked at closed for good a year prior. Lee was the top salesman at the business, the show's expository dialogue tells us, while Angel was the number one mechanic.
Now they sit at their favorite bar at the end of the day and commiserate with their drinking buddy Brian over their inability to find work. Brian spews a font of bile, particularly towards women, whom he essentially blames for their collective unemployment. "It's not a recession," he says to an approving laugh track. "It's a man-cession." His dialogue somehow gets more misogynistic and paranoid from there, while the canned laughter keeps on coming, seeming to signal that we're supposed to see him as a wacky sidekick and not a monster.
Lee finds a lead on a job at his doctor's office -- a pharmaceutical company's rep is bragging about her recent sales successes. He thinks it would be a perfect job for him, but the young woman advises him that her company doesn't generally hire men for the sales positions. Why? "The doctors want to sleep with them less," she replies. (Ah, the hilarity!)
Needing to pay a $900 doctor's bill, Lee goes home, looks in his wife's jewelry box and pulls out a pair of her earrings. Then -- wonder of wonders! -- he turns and catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror that just happens to be partially (and perfectly) covered by one of his wife's dresses.
And before you can say "ludicrously convoluted," Lee is in a skirt and high heels, getting hired by that very drug company, even though he doesn't have any qualities that could be seen -- even accidentally -- as feminine. Soon after, an initially less-than-enthusiastic (and not-at-all qualified) Angel is also working at the company, for no other reason than this is supposed to be a buddy comedy, and two clearly masculine figures in dresses way-too-easily passing as female to every other character apparently equals two times the laff riot on the Ridiculous Sitcom Plot Chart. (The second episode's B-plot, where Angel is pursued by a smitten doctor, is no longer on the chart, mainly because that part wore out from overuse and fell off.)
Look, I can suspend disbelief with the best of them. Therefore, I can accept that a man, desperate for a way to help support his family, could dress up as a woman to get hired for a job that he'd be qualified for even if he didn't have to swap out his wardrobe. I can accept that his best friend, although opposed to wearing women's clothing, would be willing to do the same in order to secure his own employment. I can even accept that some people could be fooled for a while, even a great while.
It's a little tougher to accept that a grown adult man -- with a wife and teenage daughter, no less -- has absolutely no idea how women behave on a day-to-day basis. Even tougher to accept is that not one of the female characters seem to even remotely entertain the thought that their new co-workers might not actually be women.
The toughest thing to accept, however, is that when the writers pitched this idea to the network -- or when the director read the script or when agents and managers showed it to the actors -- that somebody along the line didn't read some of the truly offensive passages of woman-hating dialogue spouted in the pilot, retch at it, and decide that major changes were in order. (Of course, if this was the improved version, that's all the more depressing.)
"Work It" longs to be a comedy like the Oscar-winning "Tootsie" -- or even the long-gone Tom Hanks-Peter Scolari sitcom "Bosom Buddies" -- but neither of those had the sad and disturbing anti-woman (and strangely enough, anti-man) message running through them that "Work It" does. Stay far, far away from this one. Zero stars (out of four).