Thank goodness ABC’s humiliating Work It premiered to ratings worse than the now-canceled show it replaced. It still doesn’t restore my faith in humanity that the so-called comedy beat Parenthood, but I’m narrowly relieved that it’s not an instant hit. Work It made me sadder than anything I’ve watched in a long time, sad enough that it’s proved difficult for me to muster up the same level of outrage as some of my colleagues.
It makes me sad that anyone would feel so vulnerable that they’d start darkly speculating bars, as a friend of main characters Lee and Angel, that “It’s not a recession, it’s a mancession. Women are taking over the workforce. Soon, they’ll start getting rid of men. They’ll just keep a few of us around as sex slaves…Not the kind of sex you like, Angel. Just kissing, and cuddling, and listening.” It’s not just that the mancession has been manifestly debunked, and men are doing better in the recovery of women. It’s the idea that people feel that lost and angry, that the idea that for women to succeed men have to lose, and lose badly, still has currency. It makes me sad to think that there are women anywhere who are waiting for men to buy them things but are doing for self because “none of them have any money.” It makes me sad to think that men and women know so little about each other that women find car maintenance mysterious and men think that the essence of femininity is nibbling on lettuce. And while I don’t normally like to complain about television networks being out of touch, because it’s not like market research doesn’t exist, it makes me profoundly sad that anyone, anywhere, would look at this show and think that audiences would see themselves in it.
Work It‘s approach to revelation via gender-switching is particularly grating given that Up All Night is doing the same thing, with vastly more tenderness and perceptiveness. It’s particularly ugly to see Lee pretend to have been sexually harassed at his old job, telling his new potential boss at the pharmaceutical sales company where he goes to work that “The guys were always sassing me, or patting my fanny, or ogling my teats.” In pretending to understand female experience, he’s demonstrating his ignorance of it in a way that minimizes sexual harassment, making it cutesy and adorable. The same thing happens when he goes to the taco shop where Angel works to try to convince him to join the masquerade. His complaint that “My eyes are up here” is glib, rather than revealing new understanding of how uncomfortable it can be to be ogled.