Word has it the sitcom genre is primed for a big comeback this fall, but if the first episode of TBS’s Thursday night sitcom “Men at Work” is any indication of what lies ahead, then they can keep it. This woefully flat riff on modern manhood might be cleverly sprinkled with derogatory references to Dane Cook, fake-tan “whorange” skin color and other assorted modern afflictions, but you’d swear it had been discovered in a box of old VHS cassettes marked “miscellaneous.”
Danny Masterson — formerly of “That ’70s Show,” resurfacing here in this ’90s show, which is nevertheless a ’10s show — stars as Milo, a writer who has just been dumped by his girlfriend.
He’s got three solid bros to lean on for support: a sharp-witted smoothie (Michael Cassidy), an overconfident lothario (James Lesure) and a neurotic accountant (Adam Busch). “Tonight,” one of the guys tells Milo,“we take your new, single penis out for a test drive.” The laughter is so badly canned, it’ll give you botulism.
Collectively, the four men are derived from a hundred other canceled sitcoms about men being men while trying to navigate the single life. The only discernible difference is that these guys are on a cable network, so their language can be a tad more randy. Which means any word you want to use for breasts, besides breasts, is fine.
In what I consider a sad display of sitcom laziness, the men in “Men at Work” all work together at a magazine. Yep, a magazine, with, like, pages that need to be proofed and pictures that are taken with Nikons. Just like (Suddenly) Susan and many, many other make-believe citizens of sitcomville did before them. Couldn’t the “Men at Work” writers at least have dreamed up a relevant workplace? What if these men were employed by, I dunno, a Groupon-like copywriting sweatshop?
What if they didn’t reside in the usual giant loft apartments with $3,000 sectional sofas that sitcom urbanites always have? What if the table for four wasn’t always available at their “usual” corner diner whenever they need it?
It’s as if everyone behind “Men at Work” missed a recent evolution in TV comedy. They never saw “Scrubs,” “Community,” “Cougar Town,” “Happy Endings” or “Modern Family” — shows that have made watching multicamera, laugh-track sitcoms almost unbearable for us thinkin’ people. Even if old-school sitcom is their preferred format, then it seems they also missed “How I Met Your Mother” or, especially, “The Big Bang Theory,” which has a whole lot more to tell us about the warpy minds of today’s men. You’d think the only television the makers of “Men at Work” have seen lately include half a season of “Entourage” and a whole lot of “Two and a Half Men” reruns.
Stranger still, the pilot episode has a creepy age-avoidance issue. Are Milo and his friends supposed to be 25-ish and just starting out in life? Thirty and sensing despair? Thirty-five and simply regressive? Forty and holding? The actors average out to a ripe 34, but what their characters worry and stress about — How can I learn to talk dirty in bed? How can I get over my ex-girlfriend? — completes a loop of uninspired redundancy.
(30 minutes) premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on TBS.