Does Someone Have to Go?
Thursdays at 9 p.m., Fox
Contestants on reality shows eat bugs, marry strangers, and pee in corners (R.I.P., The Surreal Life), but peeking at someone else’s earnings is ultimately more cringe-inducing. In the most nail-biting sequence on Fox’s (NWSA) Does Someone Have to Go?, the staff of a small company watches in horror as everyone’s salaries flash on a large screen. As one employee says, “I feel like I’m watching people get beheaded.”
Of course, this is why most companies would never make such a foolish reveal. It whips up needless resentment, pointless competition, and personal humiliation—all of which is bad for business. But good for TV.
Does Someone Have to Go? is the latest entry in what future historians will simply call train-wreck television, in which human degradation is played for sport. Here we see real folks used as pawns in a larger story about corporate inefficiency. The premise reads like a disgruntled worker’s fantasy: The company is a mess, and it’s up to the staff to fix it. In elevator-pitch shorthand, it’s The Office meets Survivor.
The first three episodes focus on Velocity Merchant Services, a credit card processing company owned by a woman named Dema who somehow decided it would be smart to hire several family members for key positions, shame her teammates for their (not clearly articulated) failures, inflame them with a battery of “who sucks the most” exercises, and film all of this for public enjoyment. If there’s a crack in the armor at VMS, I’ll gently suggest it starts at the top. But whatever—this happened, and editors cobbled it together into one-hour shows to pad Fox’s summer lineup. You might hope a series this crass and ruthless would at least be entertaining; actually, it’s just sort of confusing.
The staff is given little direction for the reorganization. Unlike an actual corporate bloodletting, there’s no financial bottom line that must be satisfied. Instead of hearing “We need to cut X from the budget—make it happen,” the team is told, “Complacency is hindering our growth.” Then they’re instructed to offer up three co-workers’ names to possibly be fired.
Even after all the salaries are shown, the staff ends up targeting the two men paid the least amount of money. (Both men are black: Racial politics are clearly on display but, uncomfortably, never get addressed.) One guy makes all of $25,000; the other guy gets $37,000. The second pleads to keep his job in a tearful monologue, explaining that he has four kids and another job that he goes to at 1 a.m. Are you kidding me? Someone’s going to fire this man? He should be given a book deal, not a pink slip.
Creator Mike Darnell recently left Fox after a 19-year reign as the king of train-wreck TV—he oversaw disasters (The Swan) as well as strokes of genius (Joe Millionaire and American Idol). Darnell has said in interviews that an earlier version of Does Someone Have to Go?, called Toxic Office, focused on companies in financial trouble. Presumably that didn’t wash with test audiences during a recession. Playing it safer, the show now centers on dysfunction, which is perhaps less frightening and more relatable. Sure, every office has its personal hiccups and odd dynamics, but the truth is, some of the best co-workers I’ve ever had were wildly dysfunctional. They gave up sleep and family time and trashed decent relationships to work late at the office. They could not communicate properly with others, but through some glitch in human wiring, they were absolutely brilliant at their job. If you get your work done, who really cares if you smile in the hallway?
Meanwhile, corporate culture is rapidly changing: Workers are leaning in and out, telecommuting is on the rise, and everyone in your office is your Facebook friend. There was a great reality show to be made about that topic. This isn’t it.