From Severance to The Bear: Why some of the best TV shows are focused on action in 2022

tAfter his fall, I became obsessed with Industry, the buzzy HBO drama about ruthless investment bankers in London. The series, which aired its second season this year, does an excellent job of making an obscure career readable enough for financially illiterate people like myself to follow along. My brain cannot pathologically hold onto financial jargon, but the industry has been charming for its increasingly familiar portrayal of something familiar: the combustible bonds and conflicts that spawn in the cauldron of a hyper-competitive office. The early rhetoric of season two was about protagonist anti-heroine Harper returning to her office after several months of Covid-isolation between working from home — back to competitions, back to social functioning, back to play.

The New Yorker’s Carrie Battan wrote in August that the industry, along with FX on Hulu’s The Bear and Apple TV + Severance, heralded an increase in workplace television not seen since the heyday of Mad Men, which ended in 2015. That’s as true as industry stocks. A particularly prestige TV ethos with Mad Men: the fascination with the ambiguous, fraught, and indefinable relationships that form between people who spend a lot of time together in an arbitrary setting, often for questionable purpose. But TV in the workplace never went away, and the industry wasn’t the only harbinger of office shows in 2022. From the pressurized cubicles of corporate high-rises, to the cheap graffiti of tech unicorns in 2010, to the cortisol-laced kitchen backrooms, last year’s drama Prestigious television has snatched, for better or for worse, jobs and our fraught associations with them.

For years concurrent with and after Mad Men, the workplace has been the arena for sitcoms, soaps, and procedurals. Think: The Office, Parks and Recreation, Superstore and, more recently, Abbott Elementary; Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, The Good Wife (then The Good Fight) and The Morning Show; Or any number of police shows in which imaginary over-competence is key to the appeal. This spring ushered in a new small, uneven genre of workplace television: “Bad Entrepreneur” true story shows set in the hustle and bustle culture of the 2000s, where the lines between success/terrible and work/life were indistinguishable in many times.

Naveen Andrews and Amanda Seyfried in The Dropout. Photo: Beth Dubber/AP

Shows like Super Pumped (on Uber), WeCrashed (on WeWork), The Dropout (on Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos) and Inventing Anna (about heiress Poseur Anna Delvey) were defined by a strain of work in 2010 – a quasi-religious American belief The system, especially among the university-educated elite, is that one’s work should be their passion, neither grind nor gain. A job is not just a job but an identity; The Company is not just a corporation, but a movement with a mandate and the potential to change the world, as Amanda Seyfried’s Holmes, Jared Leto’s Adam Newman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Travis Kalanick all preach in early episodes of their respective series.

Or, in the error of Anna’s invention, the belief that hard work, even in the name of fraud, deserves some redemption. Julia Garner’s Delvey frequently invokes her business plan for the arts club as a defense against her social stunt and bill-skipping (“I work for my success”); The journalist on her tail, Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky, playing a fictionalized version of New York Mag reporter Jessica Pressler), admires her ambition and ambition. (Vivian, the stereotype of workaholic journalists, talks heavily while pregnant and literally goes into labor at the office.)

These hustle culture shows, part of a larger TV 2022 collection based on semi-recent true stories (including The Girl from Plainville, The Staircase, and Pam & Tommy, among others) were all the trappings of good television. An interesting story, a loose tale of late capitalism and fictitious wealth, the primary hook for judging one A-list actor’s transformation into an eccentric. But they were, for the most part, missing something vital. They evoked the offices of a bygone era only with varying success (Anna’s invention looked cheap; WeCrashed’s “do what you love” mugs were in, as someone whose desk used to be WeWork). Only The Dropout went beyond mere dramatization – the only show that explained why someone would work for a company like Theranos, why people would stay despite their misgivings, and what the very real costs were. As a workplace drama, these fact-based anecdotal shows seemed stuck in the fact that such scams happen. They threw in money and stylized montages and decent acting to remind that these inconveniences did happen, and that these companies were imbued with such import-stressed and inflated values, with little to say.

Most successful were The Bear and Severance, two of the year’s most popular new series, both about fictional workplaces. In Severance, it’s Lumon Industries, a mysterious corporation capable of performing brain surgery that allows employees to completely separate their work selves from the rest of their consciousness. Employees at the Macrodata Refinement Division can’t figure out why they lock themselves out of their outer selves for eight hours a day of smooth desk work (viewers know that Mark S, played by Adam Scott, wanted an escape from grief over his wife’s death). Walking cold, grotesque and unnerving, Severance is a mystery box that slowly reveals something sinister beneath its outdated mid-century aesthetics, plastic adventures and hidden missions.

By contrast, The Bear runs hot — literally, as the characters dodge boiling pots and open flames in the cramped Chicago restaurant kitchen. The protagonist, Jeremy Allen White’s Carme Perzato, also goes into business to escape grief, taking over his beloved and indebted brother’s sandwich shop after his suicide. Bear’s cadence is insane, his tone is full of adrenaline, his action is all-consuming; We rarely leave the stormy backrooms of the beef.

Ken Leond and Mihala Herold in Industry
Ken Leond and Mihala Herold in Industry. Photo: Simon Ridgway/BBC/Bad Wolf/HBO

It’s also hot in its appreciation of craft, intensity, and action. One of The Bear’s major accomplishments is the eroticism (and online thirst for dirtbag par excellence Carmy) inspired without a single sexual or romantic interest. Carmi has no life outside of The Beef – no dates, no friends, no hobbies, except for a few AA meetings. Barely even on his phone. There’s just a hint of a flirtation between sous chef Sydney (Ayo Edeberry) and pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce) that can easily be read as friendship. The charge is complete in action—close-ups of spicy meat, one-shots of intricate kitchen choreography, and expansive montages of sharp focus.

Industry, like The Bear, is one of the few truly erotic shows on TV, though it does present about actual sex and keeps its attractions entirely in Pierpoint & Co.’s unseen ledgers. Every emotional connection is a potential bargaining chip. It’s a show that celebrates the borderless workplace, the chaos and acute defensiveness that develops when everyone works all the time and everything — relationships, drugs, money, trust — plays a role.

If there’s one unifying theme for workplace TV in 2022, it’s that none of the characters on any of these shows will consider work-life balance a practical or relevant concept. Bear employees are loyal and loyal but tunnel vision, and industry bankers are still business by their very nature willing to sacrifice. The founders of Silicon Valley’s unicorns were delusional (and their employees deluded) to breaking point. Lumon employees in Severance attempted the ultimate separation of work and life and found boredom, then dystopia. The pandemic has forced a recalibration of work and a life in flux for many in 2022. But on TV this year, you can still get in on the office drama.

#Severance #Bear #shows #focused #action

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