Working the Engels

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Working the Engels TV Poster Image
Schticky sitcom wastes appealing actors on shrill laffs.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The Engels pull together when the family patriarch passes away, which sends a message of unity, although it's weakened by the way the Engels pick on each other.

Positive Role Models & Representations

One of the family members is clearly meant to be the normal one around which the absurdity revolves. However, she does as many sitcom-wacky things as the other characters.


Tends towards the cartoonish and is played for laughs, such as when a woman punches a man in the face for stealing a parking space.


All the characters are single and interested; expect dating, flirting, and references to sex.


Some cursing, generally in jest: "Get your flat ass back here!" "Why the hell did you do that?"

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One of the characters is a former addict who lovingly refers to various psychoactive pills: Valium, Ativan, Klonopin. Another character receives bad news and begins drinking heavily out of two wineglasses of scotch.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that in Working the Engels a recovered addict frequently refers lovingly to drugs, including brand-name pills. Her addiction is played for laughs, as when she says she's feeling "relapse-y" during a stressful moment. Another character drinks wineglasses full of scotch, two at a time, to handle a shock. There are mocking references to suicide and joke-y violence, such as when a woman punches a man in the face to punish him for stealing a parking space. Another character stole thousands of dollars from the family, and this crime is referred to frequently, both jokingly and to revile the character. Family members ostensibly love each other but use each other as constant targets for insults.

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What's the story?

When her lawyer husband dies, leaving her with a mountain of debt, Ceil Engel (Andrea Martin) is WORKING THE ENGELS, with her whole clan pitching in to help run the family law firm. Said clan includes Jimmy (Benjamin Arthur), a ne'er-do-well best known for stealing $12K from the family's coffers; Sandy (Azura Skye), a former drug addict turned life coach and born-again Christian; and Jenna (Kacey Rohl), who's just quit her big lawyer job. The Engel firm isn't looking for any miracles; they're willing to take on cases from hair salon clients or the personally injured, so long as they can keep the business and their family together.

Is it any good?

Watching Working the Engels is exhausting, because the family members never act normally when sitcom-schticky antics are possible. In the show's pilot, Ceil breaks a leg falling off the family's first-story house in a failed suicide attempt. Later, her son is bringing her home from the hospital, with her crutches propped across her wheelchair, and he runs her into the side of the house and the side of the car, she drops a crutch and runs over it, and on and on. Sigh. Andrea Martin is a genius, and she deserves better. In fact, all the actors on the show are appealing and have good comic timing; the problem is, they're called upon to act like frantic sitcom characters, spitting out weak jokes at a machine-gun pace, rather than real people. What a pity.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why family dynamics are such a popular theme for sitcoms. What are some other family-based sitcoms you can think of? Is Working the Engels similar? Different?

  • The Engels are in debt, but what social class would you say they belong to? Are they rich or poor? Are they well-educated? What about the way they're presented brings you to these conclusions?

  • Would Working the Engels be a different show if the family were trying to run a grocery store? What about a hair salon? Or an investment bank? How would the show change if the circumstances changed?

TV details

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