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NBC's Working the Engels labors hard, sometimes pays off


Andrea Martin enjoys her libations in Working the Engels. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, July 10th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Andrea Martin, Kacey Rohl, Azura Skye, Ben Arthur
Produced by: Katie Ford, Jane Cooper Ford

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It’s not particularly high comedy when former SCTV stalwart Andrea Martin drunkenly falls off a one-story rooftop onto a barbecue grill after first contemplating suicide.

There is, however, a certain joy in watching the still largely unknown Kacey Rohl bubble to the surface in the role of Martin’s youngest daughter in NBC’s Working the Engels.

Paired on Thursday nights with the new Welcome to Sweden, this is a much broader and generally lesser sitcom built around a fractious family that decides to run a disastrously unsuccessful law firm piloted by the recently deceased husband of Martin’s Ceil Engel. In the opening segment, she learns that he’s left her $200,000 in debt. Alternately guzzling from two wine glasses of scotch, Ceil declares herself to be a “bull in a candy store when it comes to my kids” before clumsily climbing to a would-be suicide perch.

Two of the kids are major messes. Needy daughter Sandy (Azura Skye) is an “occasional shoplifter” and “former pill popper” turned incompetent life coach/minister. Lunkhead son Jimmy (Ben Arthur) served jail time for embezzling from his parents. He’s now a petty crook and womanizer.

That leaves the reasonably well-adjusted Jenna (Rohl), who rooms with “Naked Sheri” while otherwise unhappily toiling as a “senior associate” at a snooty and crooked law firm. So she quits and steels herself to run dad’s old shop without help from her mother and two siblings. But of course they all try to help -- and basically are no help at all. There’s a bit of a free-form Arrested Development vibe in play, but not enough to elevate Working the Engels to anywhere near that level.

Still, Martin tries hard and Rohl is quite winning as a perkily determined client-seeker who otherwise likes to be alone until Ceil stages a “mom-tervention” in Episode 3, one of five sent for review. The plot, such as it is, contrives to have Jenna eventually pole-dancing at the Peelers strip bar (with brother Jimmy in tow) while Ceil and Sandy team in a mother-daughter dance-off. Problem is, the other daughters are little kids. But Martin remains adept at physical comedy and accompanying mugging.

Episode 4 includes guest appearances by Martin’s former SCTV colleague, Eugene Levy, and Scott Thompson from Kids in the Hall. And Episode 5 has a great line tied to ditzy Sandy’s determination to write a book that will be good enough for sister Jenna’s book club.

“Honey, writing a book is hard,” Ceil counsels. “You’re not Margaret Atwood or John Grisham or Snooki.”

That rejoinder alone prompts your friendly content provider to grade Working the Engels on the curve. It brims with energy, gives Martin something reasonably gainful to do, marks Rohl as a promising, appealing comedic actress and has enough decent gags to make a case for itself.

GRADE: B-minus

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