The old-fashioned workplace comedy is not much in evidence these days. Perhaps we are growing too sick of work to want to spend our off-time watching it on television. I can understand that.
Still, it's a useful form, and not only because most of us have known a workplace or two. At bottom, it's not so much about the work as the place, and the place is really just a box to fill with characters. It gives the writer an opportunity to gather together personalities who otherwise would have nothing to do with one another and to place them in hierarchical relationships that may or may not reflect the number of lines each gets.
So it is with “Do Not Disturb,” the fall season's sole new traditional workplace sitcom, which premieres tonight on Fox. Creator Abraham Higginbotham, a veteran of "Arrested Development" and last season's since-canceled newsroom comedy "Back to You," imagined a New York boutique hotel and stocked it with an assortment of types, as you would fill a box of candy at a candy counter. They come in distinct shapes and flavors, colors and textures: There's a big girl, a skinny girl, a gay guy, a weedy guy, a muscled guy -- their actual jobs (reservations, reception, head of housekeeping, bellboy, head of security) are secondary to their carriage, their tone. Contrary to appearances, television is rarely about what people do; it's about how they are.
Headlining this show are Niecy Nash’s Rhonda (short, curvy, sassy) and Jerry O’Connell’s Neal (tall, good-looking, self-satisfied). He's the general manager and face of the place, who works the lobby and above, where the guests are; she's the head of human resources, which in this context means she's the boss of them all. (Higginbotham wrote the series as a vehicle for Nash.) Rhonda and Neal bicker and fence, because that's what characters in their situation are required to do.
Tonight's opening episode (swapped for the pilot episode), is titled "Work Sex," and that's pretty much what it's about. Rhonda chides Neal for using the hotel as his personal dating pool, even as she succumbs (repeatedly) to the advances of security head Billy (RonReaco Lee, the muscled guy, and not a regular member of the cast). Larry (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the gay guy) wonders where his sex vibes went. (They have been dampened by successful domesticity.)
Bellboy Gus (Dave Franco, younger brother of James and like something from an old Dead End Kids movie) advises Larry to go out and flirt. Nicole (skinny girl Molly Stanton) is mostly a vehicle for eating disorder jokes, and Molly (large girl Jolene Purdy) did not have that much to do in this episode, although it turns out in the end that she's the sex-maddest of them all. (And this is a joke not only because she's large but because she's sweet.)
As preening hunks go, O'Connell is no "Ted Danson as Sam Malone," but he's not the worst hunk who ever preened. The entire cast is fine; each had at least one funny line to say and/or reaction to enact. (There could have been a lot more of both, but I don't blame the messengers.) Still, Nash, of the Style Network makeover show “Clean House” and Comedy Central's "Reno 911!," is the only one to make a significant impression -- not surprising, perhaps, since the show was built around her.
Overall, it's serviceable -- more Holiday Inn than the Four Seasons, but roach free and with no curious stains on the carpet. While there's nothing particularly wrong with "Do Not Disturb," neither is there anything so inspired as to make you leap to your feet, crying, "Yes! This is what television needs! More workplace comedies! More hotels!"
'Do Not Disturb'
When: 9:30 tonight
Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)