July 11, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Working the Engels”


WORKING THE ENGELS:  Thursday 9:30PM on NBC – Change the Channel

As summer sitcoms go, WORKING THE ENGELS makes Undateable look like the return of Seinfeld. It’s an inert pile of unfunny cliches, dysfunctional family division.

The contrivance (calling it a “premise” would give it too much dignity) is that Papa Engel, a lawyer, has died, and left his family $200K in debt.  The surviving members of the clan were flailing enough even without this news.  Mom Ceil (Andrea Martin) is a wacky, wine drinking scatterbrain (when she’s upset, she drinks from her glass and her guest’s), whose decision to back off a half-hearted suicide attempt sends her off the garage roof anyway–luckily, it’s one story high, and she just sprains an ankle.  Nevertheless, her kids come running:  Jimmy (Benjamin Arthur), an inept hustler whose one successful crime was embezzling from his dad; Sandy (Azure Skye), a former pill-popper who’s now born again (jokes about “Judas the Hutt” abound); and Jenna (Kacey Rohl), the good girl, a doormat young lawyer in an abusive firm.  When Jenna decides impulsively to change her life and save the family by taking over her father’s practice to pay down the debt, Mom and the siblings decide to join in, as respectively the firm paralegal, receptionist and investigator, and this being an idiot sitcom, no one stops them.

In theory, anything can be funny in the right hands, but series creators Jane Cooper Ford and Katie Ford don’t possess those hands.  The pilot script encourages shrillness, and director Mel Damski didn’t restrain anyone; Andrea Martin has a track record that proves she can be absolutely brilliant, but here you wish the camera would back off from her attempts to play to a nonexistent balcony.  (Her SCTV cohorts Martin Short and Eugene Levy are due to show up at some point, but they’re not in the pilot.)  Rohl is allowed to be the most semi-human of the protagonists, but she seems to be playing a parody of a sitcom lead (she even has dumb voiceover narration), and Skye and Arthur might as well be in SNL sketches–and not the good kind.

There’s not a laugh to be had in the Working the Engels pilot, nor a character you’d want to watch again.  It’s the kind of show where a character denies that she doesn’t need the crutches she’s using–then drops them to run down the street 3 seconds later, and the kind where the word “chlamydia” is used as an instant punchline.  This is summer, sure, but still a network should have some kind of standards.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."