Review: Men at Work (TBS) 1×1-1×2

Better than you'd think… just

Men At Work

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, TBS

Oh no. Just as you thought it was all over, a cable also-ran has decided to fan the embers of a dying trend. You may recall that the big trend of the Fall 2011 was “sitcoms that deal with the (alleged) difficulty of being a man in the 21st century”. We started with the rapidly cancelled How To Be A Gentleman (which CBS is currently burning off), before slowly moving down through the various circles of Hell that were Last Man Standing and the rapidly cancelled Man Up!. Eventually, we hit rock bottom with ABC’s rapidly cancelled Work It, with unemployed men dressing as women to get jobs (rather than getting additional qualifications at evening classes, etc).

Now we have Men At Work, which follows the misadventures of four “hip young professionals” who work together – “the four serve as each other’s wingmen as they help each other navigate work, friendship and women.”

“Give me strength,” you might think. You might think you need a wingman, too, to help you navigate through lame sitcom ideas.

But, as we run through Men at Work‘s qualifications, our hearts can only sink more. For starters, it’s on TBS, the only channel the tagline of which needs to be said in a sarcastic tone of voice: “Very funny.” In case you don’t believe me on that, you clearly watched neither Glory Daze nor 10 Items or Less (although I understand some of you might have liked My Boys for some reason).

Then there’s the writer/creator. It’s Breckin Meyer, who was of course the stoner in Clueless and is one of the stars of TNT’s misogynistic Franklin and Bash. And certainly, Men At Work has shares that show’s poor attitude towards women. It even has a new vocabulary to abuse women with. How innovative.

But despite all this, the first two episodes of the show weren’t actually that bad. In fact, in a couple of places it was quite clever and made me laugh.

I’m still not watching any more of it because it’s a misogynist buddy comedy, but colour me surprised all the same.

Here’s a trailer. Incidentally, it’s all set at a magazine and is mainly about journalist. I wonder if I’ll have anything to say about that as well after the jump.

Men at Work follows the misadventures of four buddies who work together at a magazine. Danny Masterson plays the recently dumped Milo, whose friends are determined to help him get back in the game. James Lesure is Gibbs, a photographer and successful ladies man. Michael Cassidy plays Tyler, a features writer who brings a dose of style and sophistication to the group. Adam Busch is Neal, a somewhat nebbish reporter and the only one in the group with a steady girlfriend. Together, the four serve as each other’s wingmen as they help each other navigate work, friendship and women.

Is it any good?
Not really. Better than expected, with some actual clever observations at some points. But largely, this is standard sitcom fare, with a bunch of dicks being dicks, particularly towards women.

So let’s get the magazine side of things out of the way. Now, in some ways, there is a slight, passing resemblance between magazine journalism as we know it and what we see here. The resemblances are fleeting, but just occasionally, there’s the odd glimmer of truth – although it’s basic, the difference between a bland feature article and a run-of-the-mill feature are explained. But no one’s gone to journalism school to learn this fact, apparently.

Other than these few glimmers, though, the show has more in common with the Just Shoot Me school of magazine journalism. It’s got the same sort of office – you know, the kind that’s easy to shoot round, rather than the cramped kind where all the desks are in one clump facing one another like you find in the real world. Reporters are suggesting ways to cut production costs – and if you’re expecting free coffee at a magazine or the ability to claim your packed lunch on expenses, welcome to the year 2012: how were the 1970s? Good for you?

There are no sub/copy editors, no editor as far as I can see, the publisher might be the owner as well, and there are no ad sales people. The reporters get to decide the production process without the editor and they even agree to have the typeface size reduced to ‘practically unreadable’ without a designer’s input.

Documentary this is not.

Then we get onto the thorny issue of women. Now, this may all be set in a men’s magazine – a GQ style one, rather than a pornographic one – but guess what: a whole lot of those magazines have women on staff. And while Men At Work does have a few women lurking in the back of scenes, chatting away (no one sits at desks to work, even when they’re writing articles), none of them have a main role or even a speaking role. Or even a role in which they walk up to one of the cast and hand them something without saying a word – there are a couple of guys who get to do that. Apparently, only men work in Men At Work; women don’t.

In common with a lot of sitcoms about men and men’s concerns, women are there to have sex with. Men can be shlubby like Danny Masterton (best known as the conspiracy theorist from That ’70s Show) but he can get Amy Smart as a girlfriend (even if she does dump him in the first episode). Yes, former model Amy bloody Smart from SmithAli Larter’s best friend no less! Ditto Adam Busch – yes Warren the robot-building nerd from Buffy – who’s somehow ended up with the boss’s rich, beautiful and highly sexed daughter.

And they’re the nice guys. The other two – Michael Cassidy (from Hidden Palms and Privileged) and James Lesure – are handsome so naturally treat women like dirt, disposable items to be used then thrown away without remembering their names. If there’s a message here, I’m not sure it’s deliberate unless it’s “only nerds are nice to girls and they’ll get treated like crap if they do. So don’t be like that.”

Indeed, Men At Work has its own lexicon for maltreating women with. How about ‘Whorange’, “the unfortunate skin tone of a girl who spends a lot of time on her back… in a tanning bed”. It even comes up on-screen in case you couldn’t concentrate on the profundity of the dialogue:

Whorange Men At Work

The plots themselves, while they do revolve around this latent fear and objectification of women, do at least hurtle along at a decent pace. Meyer, who wrote the first two episodes, is a surprisingly good writer – better than many a professional network TV writer in many respects: he does do the occasionally unexpected and clever, making observations and spinning stories in directions you didn’t expect. You will laugh – sometimes.

But this is a workplace sitcom that doesn’t understand its workplace; it’s a relationship comedy that doesn’t understand relationships; and fundamentally it’s about four, not especially pleasant guys being buddies and putting ‘bros before hos’ as the saying goes.

So despite that occasional hint of originality, don’t watch this. It’s nasty and you might encourage them.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.