Roush Review: Neurosis Can Be Hilarious in Showtime's 'Work in Progress'

Matt Roush
Review Showtime

The jokes in the offbeat slice-of-life comedy Work in Progress are too good to give away, but let’s just say you wouldn’t want to be Abby’s therapist.

Describing herself as a “fat queer dyke” from Chicago who, at 45, is “sick of struggling,” Abby (Abby McEnany, also a cocreator and writer) has set a 180-day deadline to turn her life around. Or else. 

And just as our forlorn heroine makes this potentially suicidal declaration, she catches the eye of a restaurant server named Chris (The Politician’s terrific and non-binary Theo Germaine), a considerably younger trans man who disarms the chronically insecure Abby with attention and affection. Can this relationship be real?

A running gag deals with her resemblance to Pat, Julia Sweeney’s never-specifically-gendered Saturday Night Live character of yore, which Abby says ruined her life. So what happens when Abby meets the actual Julia in the flesh? No fair spoiling, but it could be a character-building exercise for this neurotic work in progress.

Showtime

Abby's issues are many, including OCD, which is more understandable once you see how accident-prone she becomes the instant she begins to feel happy. Her social anxiety reaches a fever pitch in the remarkable fourth episode, a series of vignettes depicting multiple instances of Abby being mistaken and called out as male in women's public bathrooms. (A flashback to a Pride celebration suggests even gay bars aren't safe havens: "I was just yelled at for being a man by a lesbian!" Abby cries.)

A climactic incident at a Dolly Parton concert gives McEnany a chance to melt down spectacularly in an explosion of self-pity and defiance (including ranting to an unfazed nun) that is somehow both devastating and hilarious. You may not always know whether to laugh or cry at Abby's often self-inflicted dilemmas, but there's no doubt that McEnany is a discovery, a fresh voice in queer comedy who would demand to be heard if only she could get over herself.

Work in ProgressSeries Premiere, Sunday, December 8, 11/10c, Showtime