Those tensions are at the heart of “Severance,” whose employees come to realize the mysterious entity they work for is up to no good, and “The Other Black Girl,” in which Nella suffers professional consequences after confronting the publishing house’s literary star about a racist depiction in his latest book. Hazel-May McCall, the company’s “other Black girl,” had promised to support Nella’s righteous stance, only to step back at the crucial moment.
“You just have to be the person they want you to be,” Hazel-May tells Nella at one point.
Workplace shows have long been a television staple, but the characters who populated earlier programs in the genre seemed to get very little work done. Jim, on “The Office,” sticks Dwight’s stapler in Jell-O; Kenneth, on “30 Rock,” insists that he has to marry an envelope before he licks it.
There is less goofing off in the workplace shows that have been among the most talked about programs since the rise of streaming. The main characters tend to be dead serious about their jobs, nakedly ambitious. Carmy, of “The Bear,” desperately wants that Michelin star; Alex, of “The Morning Show,” would be crushed if her Nielsen numbers were to slip; even the sweet-natured Ted Lasso would be sorely disappointed if the people around him didn’t consider him the very model of the modern-day boss.
A rare old show that focused on coldblooded strivers was the NBC series “L.A. Law.” Given the current appetite for workplace shows that actually show the work, it’s no wonder that it’s making a splashy return to Hulu next month, with all its 172 episodes remastered.
The characters on that series have their 21st century equivalents in the members of the Roy clan and their acolytes on HBO’s “Succession,” probably the buzziest workplace show since “Mad Men.” In almost every episode up to its finale last spring, it presented one hideous variation after another on the theme of how people intent on corporate maneuvering end up cannibalizing their deepest relationships and betraying those closest to them.
At one point, the back-room operator Tom Wambsgans, in the middle of a typically brutal argument with his wife, Shiv Roy, tells her that she would make a bad mother. He doesn’t realize she’s pregnant when he says this. In a milieu where the distinctions between personal and work selves are hazy at best, he seems unable to fathom who she might be when detached from her ruthless corporate persona.