Sunday, January 08, 2012

TV: The misguided Water Cooler Set

Work It debuted Tuesday on ABC. The reviews are awful. Therefore, the show should get the axe, right? Wrong.


ABC hasn't had a sitcom that brought out this much critical hatred in a I-am-so-much-better-than-this-show manner since 1977 when Three's Company premiered.

Along with the critics, others slamming the show include some trans-groups. We'd suggest they rethink that. Lee and Angel are two straight men who are out of work and end up dressing as women to find employment. Lee and Angel are not transvestites, they are not transsexuals. They are two not-so-bright men wearing dresses. If the trans community can't grasp that, this won't be a very good decade.

Ben (Lee Standish) is married to Connie (Beth Lacke) who is the sole provider for the family since Ben lost his job. He spends a great deal of time with his friend Angel (Amaury Nolasco) who also is out of work. Connie reminds Ben he needs to get a physical before his insurance lapses. At the doctor's office, after the check up, he learns it has lapsed and they want to be paid. Also at the office, he hears of a pharmaceutical sales job and, having been a wiz in sales, he approaches the woman talking about the opening only to be turned down because her employer doesn't hire men. Telling no one, Ben dresses as a woman and gets hired.

It's an alternative world that doesn't resemble reality in the least. The real world's far, far ahead of it just as they were far, far ahead of the 'shock' Stanley Roper had over Chrissy, Jack and Janet sharing an apartment.

Along with critics and some segments of the trans community, there's been a few protests from Latino groups. Why? Angel is Puerto Rican. He wants a job and wants Ben to do him a favor. Ben tries to brush him off and says he wouldn't be right for the job, it's selling drugs. To which Angel replies, "But I'm Puerto Rican -- I'll be great at selling drugs."

This led to some protests by Puerto Ricans wanting to inform ABC that they are not drug dealers.

You know what Puerto Ricans really weren't in fall 2011?

On ABC, NBC and CBS prime time TV.

And in this environment, they want to attack a Puerto Rican actor over one joke?


No wonder TV's fall 2011 rolled out with so little Latino actors and actresses.

On the issue of employment, Lee and Angel work at a drug company. The company wants women because, they insist, doctors are more willing to purchase drugs from female sales persons. This is said in a leering manner (by the female boss) suggesting the world is one of male doctors only and no female doctors are attempting to help the sisterhood by purchasing their drugs from women. If you take it seriously, it falls apart. If you take it seriously, you'd probably realize that the women wouldn't be sitting at desks all day, they'd be out in the field selling drugs. And Lee and Angel being new, they'd be paired up with other women for the first few weeks so they could learn the ropes.

It's a fantasy world. It is not Bossom Buddies (though Peter Scolari offered his take on the show at Entertainment Weekly), it's not Some Like It Hot, it's not Tootsie, it's not Victor/Victoria though it does owe debts to all of them and more.

At its best, it's like Home Alone. Many movie goers found that first film entertaining and fresh. Those with a sense of film history were more likely to notice the huge debt the film owed to so many films that came before.

At its best, the series can get lost on its own silly giddy high. At its worst, there's John Caparulo in a tight shot. It's not just that he's unattractive, it's not just that his voice is too high for the lines he's given, it's not just that he's rushing the comedy rhythm, it's that everything about him screams reality and brings the frothy confection to a halt.

One of the constant complaints from the Water Cooler Set is that the Lee and Angel (dressed as women for their jobs) do not look like women. Angel looks like a very pretty woman. Maybe the Water Cooler Set is afraid to admit that? Lee is far less successful. But Jack Lemmon didn't look like a woman -- and that's after Billy Wilder made the decision to shoot in black and white because he knew Lemmon and Tony Curtis would look even less feminine in color. Scolari and Tom Hanks didn't look like women. Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes didn't look like women in To Wong Fu, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. Most of the time, with these types of films and TV shows, they wouldn't pass for the opposite sex. But you're supposed to get the fantasy aspect of it.

Angel in male clothes is the Amaury we're more familiar with. But when Amaury Nolasco has on the wig and the dress, the fantasy's so believable because he's so charming. He radiates. He's often been good but never this good before. In some ways, it reminds us of Dustin Hoffman. Dustin's a strong actor and we frequently see his films but there was something that Dorothy Michaels brought out in him, something so amazing that we'd gladly give up our enjoyment of every film he made after Tootsie just for a second installment of Dorothy Michaels. We're not comparing the two characters. Dorothy Michaels was a full grown woman with real concerns. Angel (in female clothes) by contrast is more of a party girl who hasn't yet had to struggle with too many deep thoughts -- think Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers' Three's Company role). But we are saying that the roles free up something in both actors that provides a loopy energy perfect for comedy.

The thing that upsets us the most about the attacks is that Amaury Nolasco should be nominated for this role, should win an Emmy for this role. If anything's going to help Latinos get more TV airtime, it's going to be breakout roles (like Angel) and standout performances (like Nolasco) because all TV does 98% of the time is copy. Especially when it comes to men. So Nolasco getting some space to breathe and really create the character would likely mean that next fall would see efforts to copy that with other shows.

Now there's a good chance we won't see that.

And there were real media issues last week -- not that any of the brave Water Cooler Set could tell you about it.

Last Sunday, Andrea Mitchell did a report for the Sunday edition of Nightly News in which she interviewed Republican political strategist Mike Murphy and stated, "The rap on Iowa -- it doesn't represent the rest of the country -- too White, too evangelical, too rural."

No, we're not joining the Andrea pile on. Mitchell was raising the reputation Iowa had, she wasn't offering her own opinion.

But for two days, you had all these idiots weighing in like Peter Grier of The Christian Science Monitor who pretended not to understand what Mitchell was doing and pretended to be deeply, deeply troubled by racism in the US.


They ended their conversations late Tuesday.

Is NPR too White?

With everyone fretting for two solid days about Whiteness, you might think someone would have noted that Tuesday's All Things Considered was a live broadcast of many hours, covering Iowa. Well over six hours of Iowa coverage and no one was supposed to notice that there wasn't one guest of color? No African-American, no Latino, just White, White, White. Guests? How about staff. The whole coverage was anchored by Robert Siegel.

White and male. That's Robet, yes.

And that was pretty much the entire line up. For news reports, there was Mara Liasson . . . and Ari Shapiro and Ron Elving and . . . For commentary, there was . . .

Well no woman, really.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz was on, the only woman other than Mara (and an Iowa public radio employee who was on twice, we'll come back to her). Debbie went into a lengthy rant about how awful the Republicans were. You'd have thought, since she's supposed to be helping Democratic re-election efforts, she would have used her time more wisely. But, judging by Debs, the Democrats have nothing to tout, nothing that says "Vote for us!" So, apparently, better to spend forever spewing hate at Republicans.

Was she attempting to portray the Democratic Party as being responsible for gridlock in DC? We ask because that's how she came off.

Through out the night, numerous Repulicans with the various campaigns were on. All men. And then there was Debbie.

When we were using the term "commentary," we meant commentary. Like the 2 conservatives that were matched up for the first hour (males), or E. J. Dionne. Or the man from PEW. And E.J. Dionne. Or . . .

Well it just never ended, now did it?

Maybe that pathetic reporter from Iowa public radio, the only woman besides Mara or Debbie, was attempting to comment on the absence of women offering opinion when she decided to 'add' to her report giggles about how poorly Michele Bachmann was doing?

Was that what it was?

Was that how that made it on to NPR and why host Robert never called it out?

He was too busy portraying Michele as the last place candidate to notice.

But Michele wasn't last placed. Jon Huntsman was. The fact that he saw the writing on the wall and decided to focus on other states doesn't change the fact that his name was on the ballot. So, no, Robert, we weren't "listening to last placed Bachmann."

Nor, Robert, is she a man.

How many times does NPR think it's appropriate to refer to Bachmann in the broadcast as "Congressman"? Granted, after doing this repeatedly for hours, Robert did correct himself sort of, he said "Congressman Bachmann" and then stammered before saying "Representative Bachmann."

Maybe if NPR included women on air, they wouldn't have those embarrassing moments?

What was provided was one embarrassment after another. An all White group of people discussing issues and results for hours. A predominately all male group. And this after the media watchers pretended for two days to be interested in issues of race and diversity?

There were many things for media watchers to call out last week, serious issues. How sad but telling that they were more comfortable attacking a sitcom and looking the other way while NPR served up a broadcast far more offensive than the sitcom ever could offer.
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