"I've got a job for you baby," says Judge Adam Arseneau, pointing to his crotch, "right here." No, seriously. The zipper on his fly has been broken for weeks, and he could use some help fixing it.
"You can't be smoking, drinking, and self-medicating every day! You're living with two women, Mike! This stuff is biblical!"
"If there's something wrong on the inside, why is it I look so good on the outside?
"Because you're Satan?"
An underappreciated and quickly forgotten piece of recent television, The Job was an ill-fated and short-lived ABC police comedy starring Denis Leary that got the axe faster than a French Revolutionist. Despite its abandonment by the masses and the network, the show still managed to eke out a solid 19 episodes…which, sadly, hardly anyone saw.
But as they say in our business, all good shows come to those with DVD players. Now fans have this excellent series on DVD, complete and splendidly presented in a four-disc box set, to put their greasy fingerprints all over. Huzzah!
Facts of the Case
"Is he crazy?"
"No…he just quit smoking."
Cantankerous cop Mike McNeil (Denis Leary, needs no introduction) is a feisty detective in New York City rapidly approaching middle age with the grace of a retiree bringing a shotgun to work to accept his gold watch. Being a New York cop isn't easy on the best of days, and it gets even harder in this precinct, which seems to see the most ridiculous cases and inane investigations come through its doorway. Combine that with the complications of Mike's personal life, and things really get messy.
McNeil has a wife and kids in the suburbs, a young girlfriend in the city, substance abuse issues, a crush on his co-worker Jan (Diane Farr, Roswell), a prudish and straight-shooting partner (Bill Nunn, Spider-Man 2), and anger management issues that make Madonna-era Sean Penn look like a big fluffy puppy dog. Mike's personal life is a speeding train barreling down the tracks, with his professional life tied helplessly to the tracks. Things are going to get…complicated.
Like the polar opposite of NYPD Blue, The Job is a cop comedy show so loose and flippant in execution that it borders on downright parody. Each episode breezes by at a surprisingly quick pace, connected by ridiculous sight gags, quick-fire quips, and bizarre situations that real police officers would never, ever admit to investigating. This is one of the smoothest sitcoms ever conceived; episodes are over before you even realize it, they flow that well. The very notion of the show as a cop drama is so inane it cannot possibly be taken seriously, so you take it the only other way possible: hilariously.
Rather than investigating the rapes, murders, and more sobering crimes committed in New York City on a second-by-second basis, Mike McNeil and company seem to always get the freak job cases, like the lady dropping cans of pork and beans out her window on her neighbors; the crazed podiatrist leaving dismembered feet on the doorstep of a rival foot doctor; stripping nuns; and Elizabeth Hurley, who's being besieged by jealous boyfriends. Ironically, even the simplest aspects of police work seem unusually complicated for this bunch. Suspects walk out of the precinct with police issue guns. Coworkers are held hostage in police station bathrooms by armed men. Twelve-year-old daughters get lost on the streets of New York. All manner of embarrassing situations, far too bizarre to ever be taken seriously, happen on a daily basis.
This is not to say the show is all jokes and silliness, mind you. What makes Mike McNeil great as the protagonist of a television series is the inescapable realization that, above all else, before being a cop and a father, he is a dick. As it turns out, a really big one. One of the best antiheroes put forth on television in recent memory, McNeil is a great cop, but he is caustic and crude with his coworkers, unfaithful to his wife, smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish, and pops pills like giant robots sneaking into retirement homes to steal old people's medications. A borderline alcoholic with a severe addiction to painkillers, he maintains a live-in girlfriend in the city under the guise of "working late" at the office, while sequestering his wife and kid in the suburbs. The pilot episode finds McNeil's existence at something of a mid-life crossroads, as his middle-agedness begins finally to catch up to his wild and reckless lifestyle, the one challenging the other to a steel cage death match in Madison Square Gardens, winner take all. Not bad for a first episode. McNeil has more skeletons in his closet than a discount funeral home.
Rarely does a television show put forth a protagonist so inherently repulsive and unlikable, while at the same time, so hilarious and downright sympathetic. McNeil is the kind of guy you would love to drink with at the bar all night into the wee hours, but who would be incredibly difficult to maintain as a close friend, or coworker, or father, or husband. You hate the jerk, but find your sympathies oddly aligned with him, especially when he begins to sort out the bizarre love triangle that develops between Mike and the three women in his life: his slightly-estranged wife; his emotionally needy twenty-something girlfriend; and female coworker Jan, with whom Mike shares a growing mutual affection.
The Job is the brainchild of hot-headed standup comedian Denis Leary and veteran television writer Peter Tolan. The duo crafted an excellent balance between Tolan's experienced television situation comedy writing and Leary's outbursts of improvisational fury (and just plain old fury). After the unceremonious cancellation of The Job, Leary and Tolan have since gone on and tried their hand again at a television series, this time the critically-acclaimed firefighter drama Rescue Me, which by all accounts is almost exactly the same show, but heavier on the drama.
All new projects aside, the creative combination works wonders for this particular show; The Job bounces with exuberance and a quick-fire wit from gag to gag, like a breath of fresh air in a land choked with stale and predictable sitcoms. Though the subject matters are radically different, for the same reason Arrested Development (another single-camera type show) stands out among the boring and inane wave of homogenous sitcoms today, so did The Job stand out back in 2001 when it aired. Cable television channels like FX and HBO had been making this kind of show for years, but given the state of network television five or so years ago, there was really nothing quite like it on the air.
Though The Job is unquestionably Denis Leary's vehicle and personifies all the hypermasculine, assoholic traits that comprise his stand-up work, the show spends more than enough time fleshing out its secondary characters. McNeil's antics with his fellow officers resemble the chowderhead blundering of the Three Stooges more than actual police work, but what can you do? Nyuk nyuk. Between Jan's struggling social life, Pip's straight-and-narrow lifestyle pressured by McNeil's wild lifestyle, the barely suppressed fury of Lt. Williams, the trusting innocence of Ruben and Al, and the crude buffoonery of Lenny, Leary integrates perfectly with the cast of police, rounding out the show expertly.
Okay, enough gushing. The show kicks all kinds of ass. I need not say more.
The Job, shot in a single camera pseudo-guerilla style, has a dynamic, gritty, low-budget feel, and the enthusiastically jumpy hand-held shooting style gives the impression of spontaneity and improvisation. Both the first season and second seasons of the show have different presentations, so it is important to distinguish the finer points between the two. The first season, shot in fullscreen, is "independent film" grainy, shot either on 16mm or a digital camera (hard to tell these days), but transfers to DVD reasonably well, with a slightly washed and muted blue-grey color scheme and decent black levels. Detail gets a bit fuzzy and pixelated upon closer magnification, but the graininess of the source material makes these sorts of artifacts all but inevitable.
In stark comparison, the second season of the show saw quite the boost in production values, and transitioned the show to an über-sleek 16:9 aspect ratio. The presentation comes with deep rich black levels, a more vibrant earth-toned color scheme, and sharper detail, contrast, and definition. The second season still exhibits a fair amount of grain, definitely more than the average television show and especially during nighttime shots, but noticeably less than the first season. Admittedly, the first season had an undeniable indie appeal that was unique for prime-time network television, but the second season just looks so much better.
The audio, as with the video, can be divided into first and second season presentations. The first season is presented in an incredibly active and aggressive Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track that does a decent job of putting action into the rear channels, kept incredibly busy by ambient office and street noises almost to the point of total distraction. Though the dialogue could have been mixed slightly louder to compete over the din, the center track always remains slightly elevated above the ambient cacophony. The rear channel tracks have a peculiar tendency to start playing a sequence of music or noise, then cut out unexpectedly—which struck me as odd—but this only happens a half-dozen times and was soon forgotten. Bass response is nicely balanced and kicks pleasantly during the jazzy breakbeat soundtrack segments punctuating each episode. Great performance for a 2.0 track, and scores big points out of sheer moxie.
The second season audio, as with the video, sees a boost in production values, and one has the option of a Dolby 2.0 stereo track or a full-blown Dolby 5.1 Surround track. Both sound virtually identical in the front, with clear dialogue and decent bass response, but the stereo track is missing the ambient clamor found in the rear channels of the surround track. In surround mode, the show becomes quite immersive and well-balanced, more alive with a barely perceptible ambient sound. It's definitely an improvement from the slightly uneven presentation on the first season, with clearer dialogue overall. Without a doubt, go for the full 5.1 surround track here; a shame it was not included with the first season.
The Job comes bundled with a fair offering of extra material for a show with such a short run. Five episodes contain commentary tracks by Denis Leary and Peter Tolan, who remain surprisingly quiet and reserved throughout, pausing to laugh at their own jokes now and again or to answer cell phones they totally forget to turn off. As the commentaries go on, the duo gets chattier, going into more detail about productions and behind-the-scenes workings of the show. In addition, the disc contains a 30-minute interview with Leary and Tolan, discussing the finer details of the show in a much more animated fashion than they do on the commentary tracks, spending much time ruminating on the show's short-lived life on network television. To the creators' surprise, the network left them alone to do pretty much anything they wanted. Unfortunately, as Leary snidely observes, they also left the show alone in terms of promotion and support.
In addition to this material, we get a gag reel, some behind-the-scenes footage, the series premiere promo spots, ten minutes of on-the-set cast interviews, a brief on-set interview with Peter Tolan, and a public service message from Leary promoting the Leary Firefighters Foundation, a charity set up to raise funding for firefighters hit hard by government tax cuts. Subtitles are noticeably absent, though the DVD creators were helpful enough to include a "play all" feature for both the supplementary material and for the episodes themselves. Considering how smoothly the episodes fly by, this is a particularly useful feature indeed.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As funny as The Job is, it is this very insane sense of humor that often undermines the occasional fits of real-world drama tossed in for good measure. Some of the show's gags are so ludicrous that they shatter suspension of disbelief like a hammer on a pane of glass. Even for a cop parody, they stray so far over the line that they deserve to be arrested for trespassing.
For example, in one episode, the department goes to "war" with another department over homicide figures, and starts disposing of bodies across territory divides in order to make the crimes "the other guy's problem." Every time the boys drag a dead body across town, the same body appears back again in their turf, in more and more public places. Eventually, they lug it directly into the rival precinct and abandon it in the lobby. Or, for a second example, the boys steal a telescope out of a dead person's apartment, set it up, and use it to spy on a woman doing topless yoga. When an armoire blocks the pertinent sightline, the cops dress up as maintenance workers, talk their way into the woman's apartment, and move the offending piece of furniture in order to gain an unobstructed view.
Such gags are undeniably hilarious, but also stupid. Incredibly, incredibly stupid. Comedy is a finely balanced blade, especially when the show still tries to claim credibility as a legitimate cop show and break out a dramatic device now and again. When such gags go over-the-top, it runs risk of quelling whatever credibility the show had left to go back to being serious.
Eh, so what? I'll take funny any day. Forget I said anything.
The Job is one of those shows that, after watching it, causes you to scratch your head in puzzled bemusement, moan, wail, rage, and throw things around your house in a vain attempt to comprehend how a show so funny and entertaining can get so terribly and permanently cancelled. Do not ponder this for more than 60 seconds, or blood will shoot out your ears.
Sad, sad, sad. Yet another brilliant show vanquished off the airwaves to make room for more reality television. But, as a small consolation prize, at least Shout! Factory did a great job on this DVD set. It's a shame the show never gets fully resolved, though; after "Betrayal," the final episode, you will be itching to know what happens to McNeil and his family.
This DVD is a no-brainer. No rentals here, boys and girls; this one's a keeper.
This is one job you definitely do not want to quit. It's a crime that The Job is gone, but the severance package sure is sweet.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Episode Commentaries Featuring Creators Denis Leary and Peter Tolan
Review content copyright © 2005 Adam Arseneau; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.