The revival of the workplace sitcom has given us 30 Rock and even FX’s Archer—but it has also now given us Chaos and Breaking In, two willfully wacky shows that fall flat as they try to add a new twist to the office environment.
Chaos, which premiered April 1 on CBS, is an hour-long dramedy about working for the CIA that is neither particularly dramatic nor funny. Freddy Rodriguez is our eyes and ears as Rick Martinez, a new recruit who, when faced with the lack of a job due to budget cuts (even the CIA feels the recession!) takes a job as a mole in the Clandestine Administration and Oversight Services (CAOS) for a CIA director. His colleagues immediately know why he’s been hired, and blackmail him into joining their rogue operations. Yes, these paper pushers secretly fly around the world to do things “off the grid.” “You do bad for good,” Rick says admiringly to his new colleagues.
The problem with Chaos is how ridiculously stupid Rick is. “You’re open and trusting,” the required Sexy Lady Agent tells him over a steak dinner. “That’s a quality sorely lacking in most of the men around here.” Maybe that’s because this is an agency of spies, and spies who are open and trusting get killed?
Everything about Chaos feels over-worked, from the glossy production values to the carefully calibrated oddball employees. (One agent found himself without an office or a job, and so hired himself as a greeter for the agency, roaming the halls and feeding the birds in the courtyard.) But do we really need wacky CIA agents?
Also working in security are the staff of FOX’s Breaking In (premiering Wednesday), led by Christian Slater in his third try in as many seasons at TV. This elite group of thieves, con men and safecrackers has banded together to, well, do bad for good. They break in to museums and steal cars from auto dealers in order to point out the flaws in the companies’ security systems. But, like Chaos, the characters feel like one-note jokes that have been workshopped for months.
Recruited from his life as a perpetual college student, Cameron (Reaper’s Bret Harrison) is blackmailed into a life as a good thief, while his co-workers look at him askance. Particularly awful is Cash (Alphonso McAuley), who comes equipped with both a teeth-grinding sense of puckishness (he cements Cameron’s work station to the office ceiling) and a painful catchphrase. And of course, there’s the requisite Sexy Lady (Odette Annable), who cracks safes because she’s so pretty everyone assumed she should be doing beauty pageants growing up.
The pilot for Breaking In includes a robbery so over-the-top (complete with laser beams, bad accents and toy helicopter) that, as the Spy Caper music swelled, I was convinced that Slater’s Oz would cut short the new kid’s reverie as to what exactly the company did. But no, what seems like a parody of caper flicks is, in fact, how this company operates.
The problem with both Chaos and Breaking In, other than that they’re not very funny or interesting, is that both shows rest on the notion that weird workplaces automatically lead to humor. But while 30 Rock can wander into the absurd because Tina Fey is firmly grounded, both new shows suffer from a surplus of silliness. Jokes are tossed at every available surface at whim, overwhelming whatever natural humor might accumulate from, say, watching a bunch of misfits fight crime by being criminals. Neither show’s writers believe in the material, so they just keep ratcheting up the gags until nothing seems funny anymore. Of course, the writers also think that dumb characters are hi-larious, so what are you gonna do? Other than avoid both shows, of course.
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