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posted: 7/7/2014 5:45 AM

NBC's 'Working the Engels' mines legal world for laughs

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  • Jenna (Kacey Rohl) sets out to save her late father's debt-ridden law practice in NBC's "Working the Engels."

      Jenna (Kacey Rohl) sets out to save her late father's debt-ridden law practice in NBC's "Working the Engels."

  • Narcissistic Ceil (Andrea Martin) joins her children in trying to rescue her late husband's law firm in "Working the Engels."

      Narcissistic Ceil (Andrea Martin) joins her children in trying to rescue her late husband's law firm in "Working the Engels."

 
By George Dickie, Zap2it

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 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 and 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), the overly dramatic, slightly narcissistic mother hen who works as the firm's paralegal; Sandy (Azura Skye), the slacking ex-druggie sister who takes over as the receptionist; and Jimmy (Benjamin Arthur), the career petty criminal whose street smarts come in handy as the investigator.

Katie Ford, an executive producer who created the series with sister Jane Cooper Ford, says 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 says. "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 family, 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."

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."

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