I have a fantasy where Norman Lear gets in a room with Seth MacFarlane and JJ Abrams and Tyler Perry, does a roundhouse kick Billy Jack style and boom! Outspits some of the most badass popular television shows about working people since...well, All in the Family and Good Times. Until that happens, we'll just have to bestow "at a boy"s to the handful of programs whose storylines or characters at least get in the ballpark of those historic shows.
The tragic storyline (or joke, depending on perspective) is that despite working people being a great source for good television and the fact that working people watch television so much, there haven't been that many stories about work or working families and values. Over the decades, we've seen noteworthy representations (Taxi, Alice, ER, Boston Public) and we've seen the entertaining but not-the-best-commercial-for-unions (The Sopranos, The Wire). Regardless, its still a fairly short list. So, what about now?
For the last year in TV Comedy, four shows standout: The Office, The Simpsons, Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock. In each case, all are popular but we're not going to find an overabundance of worker policy issues woven or worker values reflected "on the nose". However, there is a constant undertone to which workers of all stripes can relate. Of these, The Office does this best.
Even the most blue of blue collar worker can relate to the funny dynamics of scheming, hush-hush romancing, breakroom powerplays and other aspects of daily worklife, even if in a paper house in Pennsylvania. And who doesn't relish in the character Michael, himself not only the embodiment of "The Man" but, a bumbling idiot of a man at that. Who's not saying "he's just like my boss" in a cajillion workplaces every week? Whether such snickering can ignite a revolution is another matter, but for now, that's as good as it gets.
For TV Drama, I had to once again rely on a loose-knit jury of folks to weigh-in and of the shows Rescue Me, Nurse Jackie, Hawthorne, The Closer, the hands down favorite was Nurse Jackie. Starring Edie Falco, this is not your average hospital drama (a sub-genre that leads the pack on tv shows about the workplace for some reason). Officially billed as a dark comedy, the title character Jackie Peyton is a "flawed" emergency room nurse at All Saints' Hospital in New York City. The setting and characters are equally raw and quirky and shot with such a deadpan nature it may be hard to see where drama ends and comedy begins.
It should be noted that this kind of realism has caught the eye of some detractors, notably some Nurse Associations. Its easy to understand that they should decry the perception of pill-popping yet saintly nurses even if they do exist. But if we want to see more portrayals of workers, we probably can't stifle creative license when so little of it is expended in the first place. Is it warranted or is it like Dan Quayle taking on Murphy Brown? Nurse Jackie would probably say take a chill pill.