“Kevin From Work” operates on two tiers, not quite equally. At its core is a sweet (if unrequited) romance, about a young guy who secretly pines for the gal who sits in the adjacent cubicle. And that’s enveloped, chaotically, by a wacky, over-the-top, frequently lewd comedy, derived from all the strange characters that surround them. The two tastes — sweet and silly — don’t always mesh, but there’s enough here to like to put this ABC Family comedy in the “recommended” column, with the understanding that keeping its balance might be a bigger job than “Kevin” can handle.
The title character (Noah Reid) has fared reasonably well at the faceless food-supply company at which he toils, but he’s jumped at the opportunity to work in Italy. No, it’s not because of his crazy boss (Amy Sedaris) or eccentric co-workers, but rather due to the fact that spending every day within a few feet of Audrey (Paige Spara) — whom he sees encircled by animated birds and animals, like a Disney princess — has become too much to take, inasmuch as she has a rather physically imposing boyfriend.
Still, after too many drinks at a farewell party, Kevin writes Audrey a letter — he rules out drunk dialing, to his credit — spilling out his feelings, only to discover (because this is a series, not a one-off) that the new job’s not going to happen. Faced with the terror of working alongside her if she reads the note, Kevin focuses over the rest of the premiere — in comically escalating fashion — on halting its delivery, while the fallout spills into the next half-hour and the series going forward.
The show’s creator, Barbara Adler, worked on “How I Met Your Mother,” which is a good shorthand for describing the project’s tone. That said, there are ancillary elements that are far bawdier than anything “Mother’s” Barney could conjure, including Audrey’s overwhelming roommate Patti (Punam Patel), who Kevin has to sweet talk hoping to access their mail, and who actually manages to make the act of stalking pretty funny.
Given his association with testosterone-laden action, McG (“Terminator Salvation,” “Charlie’s Angels”) might seem like an unorthodox choice to direct the pilot, but his quirky approach mostly works. That’s in part because Reid is just vulnerable and stammering enough as Kevin, and his starry-eyed view of Audrey helps soften the cartoon-like aspects that permeate the show elsewhere, inasmuch as this is ultimately a Kevin-centric look at the world, with Audrey as the center of the universe.
“You’ll never see any of us ever again,” one of Kevin’s co-workers says when everyone still thinks he’s leaving, a line that will surely echo through subsequent episodes.
In a movie, of course, Kevin would wind up with Audrey — after the prerequisite impediments — in screentime that would be the equivalent of about four episodes. Because this is TV, “Kevin” potentially has a lot more work to do, which, if the show holds up as well as its first few chapters, won’t be as as much of a hardship for us as it is for him.