‘LOLwork,’ works too hard to be funny
Bravo series is a documentary fashioned as mockumentary sitcom
November 6, 2012
Many successful recent sitcoms, including "The Office," "Parks and Recreation" and "Modern Family," are mockumentaries. They're made using shaky handheld cameras and frequent talking-head interviews so that they seem like documentaries.
Bravo's new series "LOLwork" is probably the first documentary that's designed to seem like a mockumentary. Set in the headquarters of a web site that specializes in humorous photos and videos of cats, it is shaped and shot so much like a sitcom — specifically like "The Office" — that one starts to wonder why the producers didn't hire better writers and actors. Of little documentary value, it's occasionally amusing, but something this artificial should be funnier.
Premiering this Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 11 p.m., the series is shot in the office of ICanHasCheezburger.com, a Seattle company that's best known for publishing LOLcats, those cute or funny photos of cats with deliberately misspelled and ungrammatical captions.
In the premiere, we see the staff arguing over which of three photos should be included in the site's hall of fame, finally choosing one that a staffer praises as "a rare shot of a cat that's wet with a facial expression."
But very little of the two episodes provided for review concerns the actual day-to-day operations of the site. Instead, both follow artificial plotlines that seem designed to highlight the staffers' quirks and interpersonal dynamics.
Except for the site's founder, Ben Huh, the staffers are so quirky that one starts to suspect many if not all were hired specifically for the show. The content supervisor, the rigorously deadpan Will, explains that he is basically the company's censor. He argues at length with the wild-haired content editor Paul over whether a photo caption can imply that that a cat is dead.
Sarah, the soft-spoken art director, says that Forest, another content editor, is the kind of cool guy who wouldn't have talked to her in high school. Then Forest tells us that he was teased so mercilessly as a teenager that he had to change middle schools.
In the premiere episode, Ben divides six staffers into three teams and has them compete to create original video content for the site. Signaling that this exercise is inspired by the presence of TV cameras, he says that he means for it to be about team building and getting people out of their comfort zone.
Performing the assignment, the staffers confirm the impressions we already have of them. Will, paired with an assistant named Monda, orders her around and then manages to alienate the people he interviews with his creepy sense of humor.
Paul and Sarah dub weird voice-overs for the people and animals in various clips. Paul pretends a chipmunk is playing a peanut like a harmonica; Sarah has a man say that he loves capitalism and controls all the wealth.
Forest, working with the production manager, Tori, has two young women jump around while saying silly things about cats.
The entire process starts to feel like something Michael would have his workers do on "The Office." The reasons that Ben offers to justify his choice of a winner are particularly sketchy.
In the second episode, Todd, the site's chief revenue officer, asks the staffers to volunteer to come in on a Saturday for a career day for some students from a local school. "When Todd asks you for a favor," says Paul, "it's actually his way of saying, 'Do this or you're fired.' "
Paired off this time with Will, Paul tries to drive him crazy while undermining the entire event. "When you work doing the thing that you like," he tells the kids, "the thing that you like suddenly becomes the thing that you hate."
Will asks the kids what they would think if Paul came in for a job interview with them. They point out that his beard is too long and that his shirt is wet under his armpits.
Ali, the cutely awkward content moderator, is excited because she is going to put on the company-mascot suit — a cat in a hamburger bun — and dance around for the students.
Todd admits to the camera that he put together the event partly because he's planning to have his son apply to the school. He keeps reminding the kids to tell their principal what a good time they had.
Both episodes are so carefully set up and executed that we stop judging them as documentaries and start comparing them to their obvious models. Any of the mockumentary sitcoms mentioned above is far funnier. An in-depth examination of what it's like to make a living creating silly web content might be interesting — and it would probably contain humor that occurs naturally — but we're not getting it with this show.
"LOLwork" sometimes works, but it's not LOL.
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