About two-thirds of the way through the pilot episode of Working the Engels, Ceil Engel, the family’s matriarch, gestures toward her hardworking daughter, Jenna, and tosses off the line, “Where does she get that bossiness from?” It’s an ordinary enough punch line, and Tony winner Andrea Martin delivers it with a wry turn, but it’s hard to know where the joke is supposed to land. It seems designed to reflect back on herself, but Ceil’s more of a busybody than a boss. Everywhere else in the show, Jenna’s competence is played as a sort of out-of-nowhere genetic quirk as her brother and sister are struggling in the game of life. Working the Engels wants its characters quirky and unique, but the pilot tended to forget their personalities for sake of low-hanging, easy jokes (maybe easy laughs, but those don’t always come).
Of course, it would be hard to jam a lot of humor into a pilot that has so much to accomplish. First, Working the Engels has to introduce the problem that will bring the family together—the deceased father who’s passing along his business and his $200,000 debt—and then the family: the well-meaning mom, the over-driven good daughter, Sandy, the pill-popping daughter who says she’s found Jesus, and Jimmy, the kleptomaniac brother who’s kind of a sleaze. Ceil decides the only way to save the family from massive debt is to jump off the roof. After she’s up there, she changes her mind, but trips and falls anyway. READ FULL STORY