When you see a bunch of TV
shows premiering at the same time that all seem a lot alike, here's the basic breakdown of how a theme or an idea becomes a trend:
Let's say that 24 months ago, thousands of unemployed writers were independently watching CNN and they saw a segment on something a glib economist was calling a "mancession," a set of indicators suggesting that in our down economy, men were losing jobs at the statistical expense of women. Hundreds of those writers responded speciously, "Ha. After all of those years of women complaining that men were getting better jobs and getting paid better, the shoe is finally on the other foot. There's a script in that." A couple dozen actually sat down and wrote their scripts and then 15 months ago, maybe a dozen of them sold to networks. Maybe six or seven of them went to pilot in the spring of 2011. And ABC
, eager to pounce all over that possible zeitgeist, picked up three different shows about the plight of the white male, scheduling two -- "Last Man Standing" and "Man Up" for a fall comedy block -- and saving the most thematically explicit, "Work It
," for a threatening midseason slot.
"Last Man Standing" began course-correcting almost immediately and it has mostly become an innocuous sitcom about an old-fashioned man with old-fashioned values living in a house surrounded by women. Tim Allen's character occasionally laments the state of contemporary masculinity, but he's just the latest iteration of that beloved sitcom trope: The well-meaning, but in-over-his-head dad. I've kept watching "Last Man Standing" because it makes me chuckle once or twice a week and because my DVR isn't over-taxed on Tuesdays.
"Man Up" never returned to the over-articulated thematics of its pilot and it eventually began to just illustrate the ordinary lives of a few ordinary men and if they happened to be struggling with their masculine identities, that was part of the background of the story. The premise soft-pedaling didn't particularly matter, since "Man Up" never was able to hold onto its lead-in audience and the freshman comedy has ceased to exist on ABC's schedule.
Whether it ultimately works or ultimately doesn't work, if what birthed your show is a trend of questionable veracity, it really, really helps to have a premise that allows you room to backpedal.
"Work It," which inexplicably sees the light of day on Tuesday (January 3) night, has no room to backpedal. It's the story of two men who dress up as women because women have stolen all of the jobs from men and there really isn't much that the writers are going to be able to do to change that. So "Work It" is stuck with a genuinely stupid, somewhat offensive and entirely factually fantastical premise, which is a bad thing, but not nearly as bad as the execution, which is uninspired and amateurish to an impressive extreme.
Like the mancession itself, I'd expect "Work It" to be a statistical blip, living on only in TV critic punchlines and as somewhat awkward conversation starters with the show's not-untalented cast.
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