“180 Almonds” is a remarkably solid and refreshingly atypical opening episode which suggests Work in Progress is very much a finished article.
This recap of Work in Progress (Showtime) Season 1, Episode 1, “180 Almonds”, contains spoilers.
Showtime’s new sitcom – though that’s underselling its dramatic depth – is far from the work in progress that its title suggests. By all accounts it’s quite the finished article; a nuanced and atypical dramedy about fitting in, standing out, and grappling with deep-seated insecurities, none of which sounds funny but all of which is. But Work in Progress isn’t just funny. It’s moving, odd, daring, and inclusive, a show about someone persistently defined and othered by labels which fittingly resists any simplistic categorization. Work in Progress simply it is what it is, whether you like it or not.
The good news is that you probably will like it. “180 Almonds” introduces us to Abby (Abby McEnany – the show’s co-creator), a “queer fat dyke” who, at 45, can’t believe that those cruel and reductive descriptors are all she has amounted to. She confesses this to her therapist in a clever and surprising opening sequence, and her therapist listens attentively to her various insecurities and neuroses. She isn’t surprised or concerned when Abby says that she has decided to end her life in 180 days, or when she explains that such a seemingly arbitrary figure is determined by a jar of almonds given to her by an ingratiating co-worker, one of which she tosses away each day as an act of petty rebellion. This nutty fuse snakes across Abby’s kitchen countertop, leading her one day at a time to oblivion unless she can somehow find contentment. The therapist is so attentive because she’s dead, which Abby realizes halfway through the session.
This is a bleak development, but it never seems it. The show’s themes, too, are heavy and unwieldy, but Abby’s suicidal tendencies and existential despair, while treated seriously, aren’t overbearing. Work in Progress Episode 1, written by McEnany and director Tim Mason, finds a perfect balance between funny and deeply sad, often within the same scene. “180 Almonds” has one in particular, during which Abby happens to meet Julia Sweeney, whose androgynous Saturday Night Live character Pat inadvertently ruined a good chunk of her life, which incorporates a flashback, romantic bonding, outright hilarity, and a touching sincerity – most of it coming from Sweeney, playing herself – which acknowledges both the flippancy of comedic stereotypes and the chafing of contemporary attitudes against old-fashioned ones. It’s a masterful balance of tone that Work in Progress makes seem effortless.
“180 Almonds” also introduces both Abby and the audience to Chris (Theo Germaine), a young and exceptionally charming trans man whom Abby falls for almost immediately. We don’t see as much of this budding romance as we might perhaps like in Work in Progress Episode 1, but it’s so atypical of TV romances and so immediately compelling that it hardly matters; when Chris unknowingly eats one of Abby’s almonds, there’s the sense that plenty more of her days will be eaten by him in subsequent episodes.
Rarely is a debut quite as striking as Work in Progress Season 1, Episode 1, and rarer still is a show so comfortable in its own skin – especially when it’s a skin so few would dare to flaunt quite so honestly and proudly.