"Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots 'cause it's OK to be a boy. But for a boy to look like girl is degrading, 'cause you think that being a girl is degrading. But secretly you'd love to know what it's like, wouldn't you?" —Madonna, "What It Feels Like for a Girl," 2001
By now, the vitriol has poured in. The label "The Worst Sitcom of 2012" is emblazoned barely half a week into the new year. Even the ratings, which might have ironically soared, were sour. What, exactly, makes ABC's Work It so bad it's ... still bad?
It's a fair question, particularly if you tuned in Tuesday night and chuckled in spite of yourself at the sight of Benjamin Koldyke, wigged and blush-beaten, his voice tuned to a cloying falsetto, his muscled calves flexing above power pumps, implausibly masquerading among a universally female workforce of pharmaceutical peddlers as if any fool could see that he's just one of the girls — only taller, broader, hungrier and, of course, smarter and better at business. What, indeed, could be wrong with it?
The answers might range from simple ("not funny") to political ("offensive") to academic-lite ("anachronistically ignorant of the past 100 years of discourse"), but really they all amount to the same complaint: Work It, employing a gag that did work for Some Like It Hot, Bosom Buddies and Tootsie, in 1959, 1980 and 1982, respectively, is just wholly unoriginal. From the cheesy laugh track to the kneejerk soundtrack ("My Humps," "Bootylicious"), from the finger-painted portraits of both sexes (women eat only lettuce, men eat only foot-long subs) to the accumulation of even more unsavory depictions (Puerto Ricans deal drugs, working class man equals mechanic), from Recession-pandering to Recession fabrications (women are to blame, really?!), there is not a glimmer of redemption to be found no matter what rhetorical skills, or attachments to irony, you can muster.
But for the sake of adding to the conversation, there could be a future for this show, if anyone would be so bored or so generous to stick with it. The fact is that Work It has already established itself as a gratuitous fiction, where women and men dumbly barter — for a job from their employers, for acceptance from their peers, for laughs from the audience — with their own self-respect. While we're used to that economy amounting to little more than tawdry spectacle, what if it went somewhere unexpected? What if Lee and Angel, as our cross-dressers are conveniently named, found themselves comfortable with feminity to the point of gender reassignment surgery? Just as the show reveals a botched transformation montage in flashback, after we've already seen the, ahem, finessed product, what if it took some other leap — one more fearless? What if Angel were to fall for a man? Or for Lee, as he very well could in this bizarre universe where all a man needs to become a woman is an Ace bandage and an Avon order?
Typically, in television, sensitive issues of identity get treated with either farce or sentimentality. Why not send a world, which was haphazardly imagined to the point of it being nearly unrecognizable next to our own, flying into the stratosphere with a sudden twist, and see if we can't get something both entertaining and new from old themes of gender-bending?
It's a lot to ask of an ABC comedy, but hey, there's Modern Family. And on Fox, there's Glee. Both of those shows have nudged the boundaries of gender-related issues without sacrificing high ratings. If Work It, bereft of viewership, wanted to give us a reason to watch and re-watch, all I'm saying is, it may not be too late.
Danielle Panabaker's Top Pop Picks
"I'm really into the Avett Brothers as of late."
"My girlfriends are I - we are very nerdy. We started a book club and the first book we read was Gone Girl."
"I thought it was a great film and I thought Jennifer Lawrence was incredible, you know those angry tears, I've certainly experienced that."
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