We know far too well how much of our lives are taken up by employment. Whether you work a nine-to-five or have capitalized on the remote working opportunities of the modern age, your money-making method is often used to define your self-worth, for better or worse. There are a lot of joys, and often even more struggles, that the workplace introduces into our lives.
Television is always a great reflection of the era's emotions, events, and societal expectations, so what better way to dissect the meaning of the workplace than through the best workplace shows ever? To be defined as a workplace show, a major part of the setting and plot lines have to revolve around the characters’ jobs. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get started!
The Office (US Version) (2005-2013)
There’s really no way to prove this, but it feels like The Office has a stronger hold of the collective zeitgeist than perhaps any other show of the 21st century. Everybody has an opinion about the quirky characters of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch, and it’s usually a positive one. Michael Scott headlines the rockstar cast of goofballs that spend more time arguing about the mundane than pushing paper.
The Office (UK Version) (2001-2003)
The inspiration for the aforementioned American version of The Office is a much edgier, more exotic comedic experience for viewers in the United States. This British sitcom was the catalyst for Ricky Gervais’s superstardom worldwide, and its unique brand of workplace humor is a little more cult and niche than its copycats.
Abbott Elementary (2021-present)
Quinta Brunson’s light-hearted yet thoughtful commentary on the trials and triumphs of the educators in America’s public school system is sure to bring viewers back to their own days growing up in the classroom of an underfunded school. The teachers of Abbott Elementary in Philadelphia are so well-written and acted because they take the negative of real-life public teaching. They make us view these universal events through a glass half full.
Home Improvement (1991-1999)
Tim Allen’s popular 1990s sitcom is more known for family segments and therapy sessions with next-door neighbor Wilson. However, the fictional TV show Tool Time, which main characters Tim Taylor and Al Borland host every episode, makes it a preeminent workplace show of the decade. Many of the series' funniest moments happen when the cartoonish characters are at the TV station.
Mad Men (2007-2015)
The greatness exhibited by Mad Men almost needs no introduction. Part period piece, part reflective essay on America, the John Hamm-starring show was AMC’s coming out party to the world as an original programming powerhouse. The setting inside a 1950s marketing firm was a thematically rich commentary on the best and worst traits of the decade.
Creating a work-life balance has become increasingly difficult in the 21st century as companies expect you to put more and more time into your job. This acclaimed Apple TV+ series starring Adam Scott puts this theory to the test by attempting to split the lives of its employees into distinct home and work personalities. Science fiction fans should love this one.
The Consultant (2023-present)
One of the best Amazon Prime original series of 2023, Christoph Waltz makes a seamless transition to TV as the creepy titular consultant, Regus Patoff, of a video game development company, CompWare. Solid performances from Nat Wolff and Brittany O’Grady help to ground a show that sometimes doesn’t quite understand where it’s going, but it is always entertaining.
This FOX animated sitcom has gone from a cult classic to one of the most popular workplace comedies of the last two decades. The characters of Futurama are outcasts who work at Planet Express, delivering goods through the lens of the future. If you’re a fan of The Simpsons, you’ll probably love this show from the brain trust behind that legendary hit. The show will return to Hulu in July 2023 for brand new episodes!
The Bear (2022-present)
Carmy Berzatto is a high-strung yet brilliant chef who can’t seem to find happiness no matter how much success he has in the kitchen. He goes to work at his brother’s dive deli restaurant after the latter’s death, but this only seems to complicate the culinary endeavors of the characters even more. The Bear delicately navigates how family drama and childhood trauma leave an indelible mark on the psyche, leading to self-sabotage and poor decision-making.
This NBC megahit medical drama was most known for its incredible cast of superstars like George Clooney and John Stamos, but it also was heartfelt, funny, and thought-provoking. Before the Golden Age of TV in the 2000s, ER was the best television drama. This show opened doors for other medical hits like Grey’s Anatomy and Chicago Med.
The fascinating lives of the Boston residents who seemingly made the show’s bar their home entertained millions throughout the 1980s. Cheers didn’t seem like a workplace show because the banter and the brash love of the folks who worked and dined were always pleasant. The show inspired many programs that used friendship groups as their core characters, such as Friends and How I Met Your Mother.
Not many people think about the workplace ramifications of employment in a big box retailer. Therefore this NBC sitcom became a peerless critique of the shopping genre during the mid-2010s. The struggles of the associates who work tireless hours at a spoof of stores like Walmart and K-Mart are darkly funny.
Ted Lasso (2020-2023)
Too many shows try their hardest to depress the viewer. The antihero era of the 2010s was obsessed with glorifying bad people doing bad things. Ted Lasso goes in an entirely different direction by showing how positivity can lead to ultimate success in life. Jason Sudeikis expertly plays the soccer coach who is in over his head, but we love him for it anyway!
30 Rock (2006-2013)
Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Tracy Morgan’s talents were the perfect trio to critique the ins and outs of the television industry in this show about a fictional sketch comedy series. Homages to Saturday Night Live are plentiful, but you don’t need to be a fan of that long-running series to appreciate the actors' chemistry on this critically acclaimed hit!
Parks & Recreation (2009-2015)
Besides just kickstarting the careers of Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza, this quirky depiction of public service workers trying their best to devise civic solutions is an on-the-dot portrayal of real-life community work. Bureaucracy and its idiosyncrasies have never been funnier than in this mockumentary.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-2021)
Many people haven’t been too keen on looking at the police in a positive light in recent years, so Brooklyn Nine-Nine helps to ground this controversial group of people. A diverse cast with very modern storytelling makes the show something no other police comedy or drama has ever been able to mold itself into a heartwarming look at otherwise aggressive people.
Before social media, television, and radio were the most important forms of communication with the public. The journalists who work the lines of these stations are much more interesting than listeners may realize, and the characters of NewsRadio take this up several more notches.
Grey’s Anatomy (2005-present)
Grey’s Anatomy is ER for the new generation, gaining fans almost two decades after its premiere on ABC. This medical show is a little more soapy than most others, with an increased focus on interpersonal relationships and petty drama between characters who work at Seattle Grace Hospital. Fans of the medical genre should find something they enjoy amongst the chaos at the medical facility in the show.
WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982)
Ask your parents what their favorite show of the late 1970s was; they might just say WKRP in Cincinnati. The sharp focus on the characters of an Ohio radio station struggling to adapt to changes in its genre focus is a lot more about the people behind the microphone than the subjects they project to their audience. It’s definitely a feel-good workplace staple of the era.
Spin City (1996-2002)
Michael J. Fox’s second television go-around after Family Ties is a light-hearted romp through the political world of New York City. It doesn’t require much knowledge of the Mayor’s office to understand the goofy behaviors of the main characters, who vie for power in all the wrong ways. Alan Ruck, more known for his role on HBO’s Succession, is a standout performer here as Stuart Bondek.
Perhaps the best satirical show of the last decade, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is blisteringly funny in the role of Vice President Selina Meyer. As the characters surrounding Selina dive deeper into the swimming pool of corruption surrounding American politics, the show's writers never seem to grasp what makes the White House workplace so funny.
The West Wing (1999-2006)
This Martin Sheen-starring vehicle is the pinnacle of network political dramas, giving a less satirical look at the workings of the White House than other shows mentioned in the same breath like Veep. The series' brilliance shines in the ways we see how the characters react to the world issues they face while juggling the human elements of being a politician that we don’t get to see on the outside looking in.
The Wire (2002-2008)
David Simon’s impeccable literary masterpiece wouldn’t normally be defined as a workplace show, but I’m not sure why it isn’t. So much screentime is given to the Baltimore police inside their bunkers, tirelessly working against the system set up to fail the entire city. The Wire examines the criminals and cops of the Northeastern metro area through an unbiased lens, and seeing both sides hard at work certainly makes it a workplace drama for the ages.
Silicon Valley (2014-2019)
We all know that Silicon Valley is the birthplace of many modern inventions and investments in the technology world. Still, this series helps to bring humor as it critiques the bloated reputation of the Northern California startup region. Nerd culture and jokes about the age of information keep this show entertaining for anyone with even the slightest experience in the industry.
More of a friendship show than a workplace one, this classic Comedy Central series uses the chemistry of its three main cast members to achieve an alchemic mix of humor and fun. The three friends who spend all their waking moments together, from work to home and work again, will make you nostalgic for your previous friendship circles.