"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 20 October 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
If You Can Get It



Despite the silly rants of Bob

Black and his pack of armchair

couch potatoes, work seems to

have enjoyed a pretty good

reputation historically. At its

best, it's fulfilling and

meaningful and changes the world

for the better. At worst, it

pays the bills - and that's

better than not paying the

bills, we can assure you. The

sad fate a decade ago of Pee Wee

Herman proves that if you don't

find work, it'll find you: Idle

hands are the devil's workshop,



Consider Working, NBC's new

sitcom starring Fred Savage: A

twenty-something peon wrestles

with his first "real job." While

TV has always exploited the

workplace as a setting for wacky

hijinks and poignant drama,

Working tries to cover that same

ground with the special

ambivalence (formerly known as

"cynicism," "angst," and

"post-irony") of the entry-level

Gen Xer.


We're especially gratified that

Fred got the job. We'd almost

forgotten him as the bright

little protagonist of The Wonder

Years, that clever snapshot of

our own childhood in the

purgatory of the suburban '60s

and early '70s. Tiresome

narrator notwithstanding, the

show was the first in a long run

of sitcoms and dramas to

acknowledge the twenty-something

demographic, and pandered to us

with a laundry list of

touchstones from the

bicentennial era. For the first

time, kids who were born in the

late '60s got to see themselves

on the tube. Just so, we're all

relieved to see that Fred grew

up like the rest of us and got a

job outside the service sector.



In his new series, Fred plays

the role of Matt Peyson, a young

pre-professional who's just been

hired at a prestigious but

nonspecific big-city

corporation. Ever the tabula

rasa, our noble Savage comes to

grips with the deep hypocrisies

and ambiguities of corporate

America (selling your soul for a

tidy profit, manufacturing

demand for frivolities, and so

on) and finds that work is not

only exciting, interesting, and

profitable; it's pretty damn

funny, too!


In Working, the basic joke (and

one that's been kicking around,

incidentally, since well before

Hegel penned "Master and Slave"

nearly 200 years ago) is that

management is composed of a

class of incompetent asses,

while the smart, beautiful,

funny, and gifted people are all

grunts. Working is rife with

cheap shots at the inevitable

incompetence of the ruling

corporate class, so much so that

the joke starts to grate, and

you begin to suspect the

characters doth protest too




So the perks and privileges of

management are wasted on idiots.

Not only is this not news, it's

not really very funny. The fact

that TV executives have found a

way to mainstream middle-class

rage against people like

themselves is about as

provocative as the X-Games or the

Sports Illustrated swimsuit

issue. Even so, back at his

desk, our man Fred decides to

prove to anyone who's interested

that he'll grab the brass ring

of management anyway, and he'll

do it the old-fashioned way: by

earning it. "Ha ha ha," say his

boss, his co-workers, the

audience, the advertisers, and

the network bosses. Ha ha ha!


Working is apparently NBC's

attempt to graft the phenomenal

success of "Dilbert" to the

little screen without actually

having to pit Scott Adams

against Matt Groening. While

we'd pay for front-row tickets

to see a tag-team match between

Homer, Bart, Dilbert, and

Dogbert, there's no doubt who'd

be reduced to spare cartoon

parts - an easy enough job, as

that's how the strip reads even

now: a collection of well-worn

gags whose column A, column B

approach to humor is funny by

accident. And while there are

few fonder of beating a dead

horse than we, our respect for

Adams has less to do with wit

than his hoodwinking The Wall

Street Journal into printing

reruns that are still

outrageously not funny, even the

second time 'round.



Besides, there are other

important precedents. For

example, the only thing that

distinguishes Matt from his

humorless '80s prototype, Alex

P. Keaton, is the absence of

Ronald Reagan as a lifestyle

icon. And even though Matt seems

to exhibit a propensity for

lefty ethical postures, his real

motive is simply to succeed. Is

that so wrong? Actually, not all

that much has changed since The

Wonder Years, except for a

subtle upping of the ante:

Butthead turned out to be the

boss, and those busty babes that

blew Fred off when he was a

munchkin are all figuring out

that you can see the glass

ceiling a lot better if you're

on your back. Ha ha ha ha!


Aside from the unique banalities

of the '90s workplace, Fred's is

not the first generation to

suffer the shock of discovering

that the world expects - and we,

not coincidentally, begin to

crave - a career. After all,

work is one of those unpleasant

realities of adulthood we all

learn to deal with, along with

insurance and a sagging ass. As

long as you gotta pay the Man,

you may as well find your way

onto a payroll somewhere doing

something slightly more

stimulating than repeating the

mantra "paper or plastic" all




The only reason this perennial

fact of life is such a shock -

and the only reason NBC

executives think it's so

hilarious - is that we're

wrestling with the moral

hobgoblins of our boomer

parents. After all, they're the

generation that once looked

cockeyed at any job that

required you to cough up your

SSN - the same generation that

quietly and completely sold out

the moment bellbottoms and earth

shoes went out of style, trading

Jimi and Janis for the pleasures

of SUV and 401K. As a result,

their semi-privileged kids were

raised in the kind of comfort

that cultivates the delusion

that fun and work are mutually



Stupid bosses and random

products? That's the price of

admission. Has been ever since

Adam and Eve got kicked out of

the house and had to find work.

Must see TV? Now that's a

controversy worthy of the water


courtesy of E.L. Skinner

[Other Work By]
E.L. Skinner
[Fresh Fish.  If you clicked here, I might make more money. You love The Fish, admit it.  Now click. Click, I say!]