Most sitcoms are obsessed with sex. NBCís Working is
different; itís obsessed with business-bashing and sex. Given that
the first-year series, which airs Wednesdays at 9:30 Eastern,
recently was renewed for the rest of this season, it seems
appropriate to examine its toxic, one-sided messages regarding free
Working stars Fred Savage (Kevin on The Wonder Years) as
Matt Peyser, who, fresh out of college, is hired at Upton/Webber, a
multinational conglomerate that claims more than a million employees
and gross earnings higher "than the GNP of all but nine countries on
earth." Matt and his colleagues have their share of character flaws,
but he, and they, are not the villains here. Those roles are
reserved for 1) Mattís boss, Tim Deale, and 2) Upton/Webber itself.
Deale (Maurice Godin) is slimy, mean, and clueless. In the
premiere alone, he boasts that he has "a golden retriever drawing a
salary," praises an employee for his "complete disregard for ethics
and fair play," and, right after telling Matt how knowledgeable he,
Tim, is about Upton/Webber, looks at a newspaper and learns the
company has bought General Electric.
Heís also a sexual harasser (one exceptionally talented woman is
stuck in a clerical job because she wonít go to bed with him), an
adulterer, and a merciless snob (he hosts a party at which he
explains to Matt that the shrimp hors díoeuvres are reserved for
management, adding that employees at Mattís level should partake of
the "Triscuits piled up on a blanket").
Dealeís sleaziness didnít impede, but rather facilitated, his
rise within the company. Old-fashioned virtues, on the other hand,
are marginalized at Upton/Webber. After Matt asserts that he got
through college by dint of hard work, Tim responds, "Yeah, well,
that kind of crap wonít carry you here."
But Tim is middle management, which means that no matter how
despicable he is, heís but a mere cog in the machine, only a pawn in
the cruel game played by the men at the top of the company. How
meanspirited is Upton/Webber? It fires an accountant because heís a
month from being vested in the pension plan, doing so even though
itís his birthday and his wife has just died, leaving him to raise
It also makes shady contributions to politicians of both major
parties and spies on its employees in their homes via satellite.
(These two suggest that America is ruled not by elected leaders but
rather by faceless, ruthless captains of industry accountable to no
one. Move over, X-Files; Working could be turning into
the first sitcom built on a conspiracy theory.)
That the show is meant less as a satire of one company than as a
broad skewering of big business is indicated in several ways. Where
Upton/Webber is headquartered and what it produces are barely hinted
at, presumably so as to universalize the portrait. Even more
illuminating are the bogus Upton/Webber ads that lead into the
programís actual commercial breaks.
In one spot, a narrator intones, over footage, "A gentle zebra
drinks from a watering hole on a windswept plateau. Do big companies
care enough to support the natural order of things? Upton/Webber
does." As the last few words are spoken, a tiger pounces on the
zebra and begins to devour him Ė not exactly dog-eat-dog, but close
enough that few viewers will miss the point.
In a second spot, as the voiceover says, "We believe the skills
needed to succeed in business are formed at an early age," we see
footage of one kid sitting on anotherís chest and punching him in
Of course, there is no prime time television show that skewers
teachers, lawyers, journalists, government officials, or even small
business owners the way Working trashes the corporate world.
Apparently, working is only suspect in the eyes of Hollywood if it
is being done in the executive suite.
To learn more about entertainment televisionís portrayal of
business, see Businessmen Behaving Badly: Prime Timeís World of
Commerce on the MRCís web site (www.mrc.org).