Leaving "The Wonder Years" behind, Fred Savage stumbles into "The Flounder Years" with this workplace sitcom in which he plays a kid fresh out of college who is hired by a high-pressure, humorless corporation --- like, say, General Electric.

Leaving “The Wonder Years” behind, Fred Savage stumbles into “The Flounder Years” with this workplace sitcom in which he plays a kid fresh out of college who is hired by a high-pressure, humorless corporation — like, say, General Electric. Pilot plays like a single 23-minute joke, a Dilbert punch line drilled into the ground. It’s “9 to 5” meets “The Graduate,” and you are there.

“Working” labors to make up in nervous energy what it lacks in realistic human behavior. Sometimes, it works. More often, it flails like a caffeine bender, sporting a bewildered protagonist surrounded by an over-the-top supporting crew who would seem more at home working for Hanna-Barbera. It’s character comedy as rendered by Tex Avery.

Show finds Savage playing Matt Peyser, your basic naive eager-beaver who arrives for his first day of work at Upton/Webber raring to go. He’s instantly sucked into a whirlwind of corporate chaos, populated by a motley swarm of worker bees beaten down by their sterile, manic surroundings.

This being a network comedy, all of these people are plain wacky. One dresses in a jacket made of paper clips. Another takes perkiness to fresh levels of annoyance. A third is a boss who likes to play golf in his office and put the fear of God into his staff. Then there is the overqualified, Yale-graduated secretary who likes to crack wise and wear tight miniskirts.

The skirt element is clearly gratuitous, further securing NBC’s reputation this fall as the network that puts the “broad” in “broadcasting.” Even so, as the skirted secretary, Sarah Knowlton (in the character of Hal) is actually one of the show’s brighter spots, spouting her lines with spunk and assurance.

Punch lines aren’t really the problem with “Working.” It has plenty of them, some of them clever. What bogs it down is an opening script by creator-producers Michael Davidoff and Bill Rosenthal that substitutes awkward zaniness for genuine interaction, while Andrew Tsao’s hurry-up direction leaves everyone operating on fast-forward.

The teleplay has man-child Peyser enduring 15 years’ worth of office politics, ladder movement and colleague resentment in the space of 15 minutes. He’s promoted and demoted in what feels like milliseconds. And the guy runs the gamut between depression and euphoria with scarcely a change in expression.

Indeed, Savage appears painfully miscast as a sitcom leading man, even one supposedly playing a grown-up kid. He tries far too hard to showcase his character’s angst. It comes across instead as performance anxiety. With the cozy security of his “Wonder Years” narrator taken away, Savage looks kinda lost.

There is likewise the matter of where you take a series like “Working” from here. How long can you keep a character dazed and wide-eyed before he begins to appear merely spacey and dense? Davidoff, Rosenthal and producer Werner Walian also need to figure out a way to make the supporting cast less incessantly grating.

Of course, all of this presumes that the TV masses can even relate to an aspiring suit and his problems adjusting to yuppie life. At this guy’s age, most workers aren’t asking “What tie should I wear?” but “Would you like fries with that?”


Wed. (8), 9:30-10 p.m., NBC


Filmed in Hollywood by NBC Studios. Executive producers, Michael Davidoff, Bill Rosenthal; producer, Werner Walian; director, Andrew Tsao; writers, Davidoff, Rosenthal.


Camera, Wayne Kennan; editor, Tucker Wiard; sound, Brentley Walton; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; casting, Megan McConell. 30 MIN.


With: Fred Savage, Maurice Godin, Yvette Freeman, Sarah Knowlton, Arden Myrin, Todd Waring.
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