Fox’s new reality game show about firing employees is especially intriguing given the U.S.’ current, staggeringly high unemployment rate.
Does Someone Have to Go? features different companies around the U.S. whose CEOs have decided aren’t functioning as well as they should be.
According to the CEOs, the fault for this so-called “dysfunction” lies with the employees, who must become the company’s collective “boss” for 48 hours. They are burdened with the task of making some tough decisions, including, of course, whether or not someone has “to go,” or be fired from the company.
Interestingly, just one day after the show’s premiere on May 23, its creator, producer Mike Darnell (American Idol, When Animals Attack!) announced his departure from his own company.
The network’s now ex-president of alternative programming said the show is cathartic for the certain kinds of struggling businesses it features.
“Let’s see what everybody thinks of each other. Let’s find out what everybody makes. Let’s figure out what the problems are,” he told TVLine.com.
In the words of Larry, CEO of True Home Value (Episode 5), his staff is “dysfunctional.”
Interestingly, Darnell also uses the word “dysfunction” in describing the basis for the show. He told Entertainment Weekly that the show is not about businesses with economic problems, but rather those with “dysfunctional problems.”
“All these are million-dollar businesses. This is not about making money, but solving dysfunction,” Darnell told EW.
But what constitutes dysfunction, exactly? It differs depending on the workplace - and the decade, as demonstrated by AMC’s drama series Mad Men, about an advertising agency in the 1960s and ‘70s.
In a review for Variety, TV columnist Brian Lowry rightly likens the opening titles of Does Someone Have to Go? to Mad Men’s: both sequences feature an art deco style and silhouette figures in an office building.
Mad Men’s opening sequence features a silhouetted figure falling from the top of an office building.
Similarly, in the titles for Does Someone Have to Go?, one silhouetted figure is singled out and expelled from a group of figures having a roundtable discussion; he/she then falls.
Mad Men title designer Steve Fuller explained the fall in the opening credits as a metaphor for confusion and helplessness. That metaphor can certainly be likened to the experience of the employees in Does Someone Have to Go?, who, due to their participation in a game show, face the risk of losing their jobs.
When compared, Mad Men and Does Someone Have to Go? provide an ideal opportunity for analysis of cultural expectations in and surrounding the workplace.
In episode five, Sharon, THV’s office manager, is heavily scrutinized by her co-workers for being a so-called alcoholic. Supposedly, she drinks on the job.
Krystal, THV’s administrative assistant, says “it’s not okay to come to work and [drink] on the clock.” All the co-workers share a similarly appalled reaction to Sharon’s drinking habits.
But only 50 years ago, consuming alcohol at the workplace was commonplace, as Mad Men shows us. Protagonist Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) is a successful CEO who also consistently mixes drinks in his office. Well-stocked mini-bars are stationed around the office building, and business meetings almost always begin with the offering of a drink.
Workplace discrimination between men and women has certainly improved since the 1960s, when it was rare for a woman like Peggy Olson (played by Elisabeth Moss) to do the same job as a man and be paid equitably for it. Some of Draper’s employees might even view Peggy’s advancement from secretary to copywriter as a dysfunction in the ad agency.
A chief difference between the two show’s opening sequences is the singular, male presence of a silhouetted figure in Mad Men; multiple female figures appear in the Fox show.
Yet pay-based discrimination between men and women is not over, and Does Someone Have to Go? proves it by displaying employees’ salaries. In the fifth episode, female employees earn markedly less than male employees do.
One thing that definitely hasn’t changed since the 1960s, and that probably won’t, is the necessity to compromise one’s own will in the workplace when necessary for the betterment of the company at-large. Therefore, is a show about “dysfunctional” employees and companies really a revolutionary idea?
Perhaps not. But as Lowry says, while most game shows offer ordinary people the chance to gain something, here ordinary people face the risk of losing their jobs.
Irritating co-worker drama is timeless. The reality show genre is not. Does Someone Have to Go? reveals workplace tension ... then goes one step further, breaking the wall between actor and character by adding an element of real threat.