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'Men at Work' isn't very ambitious

The new TBS sitcom 'Men at Work' centers on four guy friends who work at a magazine while they try to work on life issues. The series has moments of charm that break through the conventional story line.

May 24, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Michael Cassidy, left, Danny Masterson and James Lesure in a scene from the TBS comedy "Men at Work."
Michael Cassidy, left, Danny Masterson and James Lesure in a scene from… (Doug Hyun, TBS )

TBS, whose slogan is "Very Funny," has built its house out of sitcoms — most of them reruns (currently including "Seinfeld," "The Office," "Friends," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "The Big Bang Theory"), but with an increasing emphasis on the new. (It's also acquired "Cougar Town" from ABC.) It's like TV Land for viewers whose sense of nostalgia is rooted in the '80s, '90s and early '00s: a demographic that includes the characters in its new original series, "Men at Work."

"Men at Work," which premieres Thursday, was created by Breckin Meyer, who as an actor stars in TNT's legal buddy dramedy "Franklin & Bash," and as a writer was Emmy-nominated for Adult Swim's sparky, ironic animated-action-figure sketch comedy, "Robot Chicken." It's surprising, then, that his situation comedy, in which he does not appear, is so conventional — almost as if it were afraid to offend the sitcom gods.

A four-way bromance, it begins, as many series before it, with a breakup. (See: "New Girl,""Happy Endings,""Friends," and the Charlie Sheen and Ashton Kutcher editions of "Two and a Half Men.") Nice guy Milo, played by Danny Masterson ("That '70s Show"), is the abandoned party here; his crisis lets us see his friends as supportive and connected and unleashes the sex jokes that form the central pillars and flying buttresses of their cathedral.

All of them work at the same magazine — print journalism is still alive and well on television — though there is not much work being done, the series' title notwithstanding. (Perhaps it's life that's work, which is to say, women.) They hang out in their office, but also in a bar and at a diner, as sitcom people do.

Tyler (Michael Cassidy) is the slightly mad gnomic one. Only Neal (Adam Busch) has a girlfriend, one so sexually ravenous that he fakes sleep to get a little rest. ("I'm not gay," it is found necessary to have him add.) The radical move here is that he's the timid one. Gibbs (James Lesure) is a ladies' man: He sleeps with Tyler's large-breasted Scandinavian maid in the pilot, though he is finally made to see that this was not bro-like behavior. "My bad," he says, which is a thing dudes do, often just before they bump fists.

Still, rays of charm do break through the haze of the ordinary and obvious, even if just for a line or a line reading. Masterson and Lesure are especially relaxed actors, each in his way, and easy to watch.

'Men at Work'

Where: TBS

When: 10 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sexual situations)

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