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Where We Work: American Television’s Take on the Workplace

A full-time worker spends about a quarter of his time at work in a 40-hour work week – to think of it, that’s about the same amount of time you spend in bed every night! An office is often not as comfortable as your memory-foam queen-bed - but hey, it’s kind of nice to get free coffee every morning.

Where you work is more than just a location – it is all about the ways in which you and your colleagues handle matters of daily life. At work, you will make friends, and maybe enemies; you will push the boundaries of your professional skill sets through extensive practice in Microsoft Excel, and then look at some baby pictures on Facebook with your mates; you will get to know the meaning of true hatred like you’ve never felt it before when you look at your boss’ face on a Monday morning, and then you’ll find out over lunch that you just got a raise. 

And it all happens in this one magical place: at work. 

These are some of my favorite depictions of the workplace in different fields of work, as seen on TV.


The Office (2005 - 2013)

What’s more American than a small, regional branch office of a national business company in a suburban office building with mediocre indoor lighting and few windows?

NBC’s modern TV classic The Office was originally an adaptation from Ricky Gervais’ British workplace comedy for BBC with the same title. The unpretentious, casual atmosphere of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company’s Scranton branch brought about an unprecedented sense of eagerness and motivation to uncomplicated, mundane office work in suburban Pennsylvania.

A talented bunch of cast and crew, coupled with an incredible chemistry, culminated in nine seasons of a mockumentary on generic office life, and the show substantiated its place as a modern comedy classic with Michael Scott’s (Steve Carell) signature catchphrase “That’s what she said.”


House of Cards (2013 – present)

Many of the older folks have probably seen Hollywood’s classic narrative on the game of politics in Frank Capra’s 1939 picture Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which James Stewart plays a young, idealist senator fighting against corruption in America, and filibustering the joy out of everybody in Capitol Hill. 

House of Cards’ Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is no Mr. Smith – he doesn’t filibuster, he whips; he doesn’t pass out, he kills; and ultimately, he’s not fighting against anyone in the Hill, except for anybody and everybody who might be naïve enough to believe they can take him down.

This Netflix original is far from subtle: it builds up an elaborately minimalist story with a coherently simple and sustainably ambitious filmic style, which suits the intense atmosphere of all the suits and ties at Washington. Frank Underwood makes a very clear distinction between a business office and Washington politics in one of his brief monologues in the first season: “Money is the Mc-Mansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect someone who doesn’t see the difference.”


High Maintenance (2012 - present)

HBO’s new show about a pot dealer in New York City just released its first full season this fall, but the show is actually a few years old with its earlier seasons -or cycles, as they call them- independently produced and released online as a web-series on Vimeo.

Ben Sinclair’s character The Dude is a salesman-on-foot. With each episode focusing on another customer and their lives, New York City is The Dude’s workplace, and every customer with their own story is another contingent of the great American metropolis. Recurring characters, overlapping locations, and a narrative focus on incidental stories of peculiar individuals culminate in a first-hand compilation of genuine cross-sections from big city life.


Archer (2009 - present)

Sterling Archer is a salty, sassy, cocky, rich spoilt kid who loves bloody maries a little too much. He’s also the best secret agent and undercover spy in town.  

FX’s animation series Archer revolves around this grown-up child, Sterling Archer, who works for an international spy agency run by his mom. Archer is the perfect combination of a workplace comedy and a spy-action thriller. Sterling Archer and his secret agent colleagues deal with drug lords, arms dealers, and all sorts of bad guys all around the world, and they always end back up at their humble, beloved office building – well, except for this one season they all give up being secret agents and become a drug cartel.


Scrubs (2001 - 2010)

Nobody seems to like Zach Braff’s 2004 directorial debut Garden State, but his portrayal of the chronic daydreamer Dr. J.D. at Sacred Heart Hospital in Scrubs will forever stay as a lot of 90s kids’ favorite medical intern. 

Scrubs is the perfect narrative transition from the late-90s laid-back, surrogate-family comedies to the millennial media culture of 2000s topical, stylized sitcoms. I am often one to turn around and walk away in extreme terror when I see a doctor or a hospital, but I’ll admit I’d get sick any day for a chance to get an appointment with Dr. Turk (Donald Faison) or Dr. J.D. Maybe not so much with Ken Jenkins’ Dr. Bob Kelso, though. 

Taylan Turan 11.17.2016 0 208
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