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National TV offerings more historical than hysterical

No wonder the millennials are mad at everyone.

They believe baby boomers and Gen-Xers have all the jobs. This is emphatically true of Canadian TV comedy.

As the whole world knows by now, upcoming on CBC there's a new sitcom called Schitt's Creek starring SCTV alums Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara. (Insert your own joke here connecting the title to CBC's current beleaguered state and insert some mention of "paddle.") Now, I'm all for respecting your elders, but you have to ask, is there no one under 50 available for these projects?

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To add insult to injury, check out a release sent recently from Global – "Eugene Levy and Scott Thompson guest star on Working the Engels, directed by Jason Priestley." Possibly there are millenials asking, "Who is Eugene Levy, why is he in all of these shows, and is Jason Priestley that guy from Beverly Hills 90210, which aired before I was born?" Couldn't blame them.

Between Schitt's Creek, Working the Engels (which also stars Andrea Martin) and CTV's Spun Out, which stars Dave Foley, you've got a passel of people famous from Kids in the Hall and SCTV. The former is a 1980s show. The latter is a 1970s 1990s show.

Working the Engels (tonight, Global, 9 p.m.) has generated some attention because it's the first Canada/U.S. network co-production of a sitcom in years. Or ever. Or something. Whatever. What it isn't is hilarious.

When NBC airs it this coming summer, heaven knows how it will be promoted. Reference to Arrested Development has occurred in coverage of it. That's because it's about a loopy family, the Engels, trying to work together and recover from the discovery that the recently deceased family patriarch, a lawyer, left a lot of debt. Thus Ceil Engel (Martin), who appears to be doddery but is merely and eccentrically stuck in the 1970s, takes charge.

Her flaky kids are roped in to help. The only serious one is new lawyer Jenna (Kacey Rohl). She's surrounded by disasters – former druggie Sandy (Azura Skye) works as is the receptionist, and the total dolt, her vaguely criminal brother Jimmy (Benjamin Arthur), acts as the firm's investigator.

Andrea Martin dominates the thing. Her wacky tales of her former swinging life are unnerving to her family and others – and must be mystifying to any viewer under the age of 35. People had fondue parties and then threw their car keys into the fondue pot and engaged in having sex with others' spouses? Listen, I'm not even a millennial and that's not funny; it's a frightening idea.

Anyway. On tonight's episode, stuff happens – "Just when the office starts to fall apart, the Engels' neighbour and well-loved lawyer, Arthur Horowitz (Eugene Levy), offers Jenna a posh new client – clothing-line owner, Harry Le Maire (Scott Thompson). Turns out, he's a colossal jerk, but Jenna must try to impress him in order to keep his much-needed business. Ceil and Sandy, also trying to earn some extra cash, start their own dessert company. Meanwhile, Jimmy hooks up with the girl of his dreams – his nutty, bad girl neighbour, Irene Horowitz (Sarah Levy)."

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Watching this unfold is a vaguely depressingexperience. The main gag is a frisson of erotic charge between Andrea Martin's character and Eugene Levy's character. Back in the day there was something. If that floats your comedy boat, good luck with that. Meanwhile Jimmy's hook-up with that tramp Irene Horowitz is meant to be black comedy but falls into the grey area of unintentionally disturbing. Scott Thompson's turn as the appalling clothing mogul is the sort of thing he could do in his sleep. In fact, maybe he was asleep when he did this.

Nothing against Kacey Rohl, who is a fine young actor and did excellent work on Hannibal and the U.S. version of The Killing. Here, as Jenna, the sane one, you just wish her the very very best. With other projects, that is.

You don't have to be a nit-picking millennial to find all of it tired, old and irritating. You just have to be hopeful about hilarity and disappointed not to find it. But, you know, on some things, millennials are right. Respect you elders? Not funny.

All times ET. Check local listings.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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