With the stateside success of such Canadian-made series as “Rookie Blue,” “Love It or List It” and “Top Chef Canada,” NBC hopes to catch summer lightning in a bottle with another import from north of the border, “Working the Engels.”
The half-hour sitcom, which premieres Thursday, July 10, stars Kacey Rohl (“The Killing,” “Red Riding Hood”) as Jenna, a young lawyer who inherits her father’s legal practice upon his death.
It turns out, though, that Dad wasn’t great at paying the bills, as the practice is $200,000 in debt, so Jenna and the rest of her clan come together to rescue it from the brink.
That cast of ne’er-do-wells and crazies is composed of Ceil (Andrea Martin, “SCTV,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), the overly dramatic, slightly narcissistic mother hen who works as the firm’s paralegal; Sandy (Azura Skye, “Zoe,” “Jack and Jane”), the slacking ex-druggie sister who takes over as the receptionist; and Jimmy (Benjamin Arthur, Canada’s “Less Than Kind,” “American Reunion”), the career petty criminal whose street smarts come in handy as the investigator.
Katie Ford (“Desperate Housewives,” “Miss Congeniality”), an executive producer who created the series with sister Jane Cooper Ford, explains she originally pitched the series to the American networks as an hour procedural, but wound up retooling it to a comedy after getting laughs at the pitch.
“It was sort of a light drama with the idea that it was really character-based with these fun, rich characters,” she tells Zap2it. “That’s what really stayed with me and that was what felt the most fun. I didn’t know what I was talking about in terms of pitching a procedural, but the rest of it really kind of came to life.
“One of the weird sort of inspirations for it, oddly, some time ago was ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter,'” she continues. “Because to me that was like the only family that was working together, and all they did was smoke and pray, but I found it compelling to watch them. So I thought that’d be fun to actually take that, a family working together, and put that in a narrative.”
Jenna, the central character, is the glue of the Engels, someone whom Rohl describes as the “only one who has her feet on the ground.”
“She is the rock, I think, that everybody uses to help themselves stand up when they’re in various states of whatever,” she says. “But she’s definitely the only one with a solid head on her shoulders and the only one who sort of thinks logically and practically. And yeah, she does hold everybody together. I think she’s the pillar that everybody holds onto.”
While Jenna is the pillar, her mother, Ceil, thinks she is. Though her portrayer, Martin, says there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for her kids.
“I think that she lives through her children,” Martin says. “I think that she’s slightly in denial about her own abilities. I think there is a bit of narcissism but I don’t think that that comes first. I think the love for her family – and family – comes first. But of course, she has her own eccentricities, and probably her husband pampered her a little bit. So now she’s in the world without much purpose. He’s gone, the kids are grown … . Freud said there’s two things in the world: love and work. And now she’s able to combine both of them in ‘Working the Engels,’ so it seems for Ceil it’s everything.”
“What I love that Andrea brought to this character,” Ford says, “is she brought a warmth. I mean, the character Ceil has a warmth and loves her kids. And like she says in the pilot, ‘I’m like a bull in a candy store when it comes to my kids.’ I mean, it’s all about them. And Andrea brought this sort of warmth and support. Like we would have a couple of lines where we would have Ceil kind of dismiss Sandy or dismiss Jimmy in some way. But Andrea always turns those lines around to make them supportive, and it actually made it funnier.
“And Andrea’s such a wonderful actress,” Ford continues. “I love how she approaches everything from finding the truth of it and from there it can get ridiculous. And I think that’s part of what is the glue of this show, is kind of the truth of moments and the humor that sort of keeps a family connected.”
Rohl, also a Martin fan, agrees.
“I can’t speak for her,” she says, “but I don’t think she’s ever been a real fan of that sort of cut down, laugh-at-someone comedy. And I think that affected the tone of our show in a really great way.”
Ultimately for the cast and crew, “Working the Engels” is about family.
“I think that we have a show that really does show that positive side of family,” Rohl says. “That we can all (annoy) each other but still really, really love each other at the end of the day and do it out of love.”