by pat howard

In reality, ‘Undercover’ not so ‘Amazing’

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Sundays have become a de facto reality night for me. I hoard the week’s installments of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover or Kitchen Nightmares, and now that football is over CBS has added an extra hour of reality to its lineup. Undercover Boss premiered to unsurprisingly strong post-Super Bowl numbers, and it’s now paired with Sunday staple The Amazing Race.

Incompetence emerged as an early theme for the globetrotting franchise’s 16th cycle; casting Big Brother alums Jeff & Jordan is great corporate synergy, but they are revered for their charm, not intelligence. The struggling seemed evenly spread out among the teams, at least. As usual, it’s easy to pick early favorites and try to guess who you won’t remember by the end of the season. Race as a format is like riding a tandem bicycle through some of the most beautiful places in the world: hard to do, especially when the other person is annoying, but great fun to watch.

Boss, however, isn’t built to last. The debut episode shadowed the CEO of Waste Management, and its most illuminating moment was when we learned how portable toilets are cleaned. Last night’s behind-the-scenes tour of Hooters was a head-scratcher. So far, both CEOs seem incapable of the demanding work they require of those much lower in the corporate chain and pay scale. They assume bogus identities and excuse their camera crews with a cover story too lame to seem suspicious. And they get overly (and artificially) invested in the personal lives of their handlers (bonus points if you’re a struggling mom). Doesn’t doling out rewards to a handful of employees engender resentment in the thousands of others not chosen to be company patsies on national TV? The CEOs claim to hope this experiment will help them better their organizations, but what change(s) are we really supposed to expect? The Hooters episode in particular seemed like an hour of blowing smoke, complete with a segment about how confused the CEO was about the public’s negative perception of his company.

My assumption is that the audience will eventually figure out that nothing monumental is going on here. All the show has proven to this point is that ludicrously wealthy CEOs would be incompetent in blue collar positions. And future cycles of this show would theoretically be impeded because they’ve spilled the beans on their “documentary about entry-level jobs” line. Future installments will take us behind the scenes at 7-Eleven and White Castle…either something remarkable will happen or the cynical format will continue to unravel. I’ll take the escapism of the Race over the depressing fakery of corporate America any Sunday evening, thanks. I won’t be surprised when Boss gets pink-slipped at the end of the season.

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