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12 minutes

Must Watch TV Shows About the Workplace

If you are like any of us, you've been consuming quite a bit of media over the last year. If you love a good TV series — especially one set in the workplace — you found the right list. With the help of Dr. Marla Gottschalk, we collected what we’ve watched, culled the lineup, and shared some relatable workplace takeaways from each. 

(These are not appearing in any particular order)

Silicon Valley
The inside workings of a tech start-up are rife with opportunities for drama and treachery. Now, add an underdog, who catches more than his share of trouble, a band of fresh out of college misfits — and Silicon Valley starts to percolate. If you have the courage to sit through a series that closes with one problem resolved, yet another waiting in the wings, you may have the resilience to get through this one. 

I'll have to say — it's a bit like “Groundhog Day,” but without the eventual resolution. The series subtly layers in elements drawn from other classic sitcoms like The Bob Newhart Show and Three’s Company, which are well-disguised, but oh so effective.

  • Themes: hubris, ethics around innovation, social hierarchy, loyalty 
  • Character to watch: Their absolutely ridiculous landlord Erlich Bachman played by T.J. Miller
Silicon Valley TV Show

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

The show centers on the lives of the detectives of the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) 99th precinct as they navigate the world of modern policing. Yes, the policing environment is quite the polarizing topic right now, as it should be. While the show is lead by Andy Samberg’s character Jake Peralta, the show introduced a diverse cast filled with complex characters played by people of color, which in large part gave credence to its popularity. The way it's been written so far, the show has been able to create vibrant character development beyond just the stereotypical minority troupes. 

The show took a long pause after season 7 to make sure season 8’s writing reflected current events of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’ll be interesting to see how these racially diverse characters reconcile being in the police force. Will some of them leave? Will they stay? Why? 

  • Themes: Master vs the youth, bureaucracy, ethics in policing, life purpose 
  • Character to watch: Captain Raymond Holt & badass Detective Rosa Diaz 
Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Are You Being Served (British)
You cannot delve into the inner workings of a stuffy department store without running head first into a bit of comedic fun. This series is a prime example of the power of chemistry within a gifted ensemble cast. Added bonus: As the series progresses, the chemistry only ripens and the inside jokes get raunchier. You may feel the need to scold yourself for laughing. However, offer yourself a break; it's a comedy after all. (Please note: This is an older series and some of the dated banter could be considered offensive.)

  • Catch phrase: "Are you free?"
  • Character to watch: The truly colorful Mrs. Slocum
Watch Are You Being Served?, Season 1 | Prime Video

This series grapples with two common work life challenges: temperament and what we will endure in a workplace for the sake of a somewhat toxic genius. The series seems to culminate with a tragic accident, where the moving parts of the script center on the cause and effect of indulging a runaway train with obvious gifts. The overriding issue: the cost of that indulgence.

The supporting characters are memorable, but ultimately occupy different solar systems — all forced to rotate around a single, deeply flawed sun.

  • Watch out for: Dream episodes
  • Themes: hubris, ethics in medicine, hope, drug abuse, problem solving


The Office

Watching “The Office” when you’re younger and then after you’ve been in the workplace a few years totally changes the context of the show. What was once absurdity in the lives of lovable characters becomes a bit of a darker, shrewd insight to the all too familiar dynamics of working day after day with people you probably wouldn’t be friends with otherwise, and discussing topics you’d hardly have a passing interest in if you weren’t compensated.

While there’s little doubt that Michael is the daily “villain” of the show, he is a constant reminder that there is no substitute for caring about the place where you work, and its people. I wonder now upon the dozenth re-viewing if this wasn’t the soul of the show all along...imagine the things we can endure with the presence of genuine care. 

  • Themes: Love, friendship, and mostly hubris 
  • Character to watch: All of them! Can you spot the archetypes among your coworkers? Who is the Dwight? 
The Office Cast

Mozart in the Jungle 

Sex, drugs, and...classical music? If you ever thought that the symphony was too boring for you, look no further than “Mozart in the Jungle.” Inspired by Gustavo Dudamel, the eccentric Los Angeles Philharmonic music director, this show follows Gael García Bernal as Rodrigo De Souza – the New York Symphony’s magnetic and odd new conductor. The show not only follows Rodrigro’s journey, but also a slew of other symphony musicians as they navigate what it means to be a professional in an increasingly disregarded discipline. 

What happens is you become entranced watching the relationship dynamics between the new conductor, the old conductor, the musicians, the Executive Director, the investors, and ultimately, the public. It’s a peek (albeit one that takes plenty of creative license) into the inner workings of an institution that to the outside world appears stuffy and old. 

The episodes themselves are staccato – each not more than 30 minutes. More so, the ending of each episode is often filled with hope and joy that is vacant from most television today. With front-runner producers like Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, you are in for a masterful comedy-drama that humanizes a craft that is centuries old. 

  • Favorite episode: so many to choose from, but Season 3, Episode 7 is one for the books
  • Themes: art for art’s sake vs art to make money
  • Characters to watch: Gael Garcia Bernal as Rodrigo and Lola Kirke as the young and talented oboist Hailey Rutledge
Rodrigo and Hailey from Mozart in the Jungle

Parks and Recreation

“Parks and Rec” gives viewers a step into the frustrating, yet somehow charming world of local government in the fictitious town of Pawnee, Indiana. The mockumentary highlights the life and work of public servants in a town (and country) that is, at the very least, skeptical of the role that government plays.

But as much as the series is about the challenges of navigating bureaucracy, it is more about the unlikely friendships that form between all of the diverse, vibrant personalities in a workplace. Whether it’s the relationship between the fun-loving shoeshine guy and the pessimistic intern or the deep friendship between the hardworking, altruistic Deputy Director and her principled libertarian boss, there are plenty of ways to see why the town embodies its slogan, “Pawnee: First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity.”

  • What to watch for: Leslie graciously getting barraged with absurd requests in the town forums 
  • Themes: friendship, bureaucracy, civic duty, personal motivation 
  • Characters to watch: It changes by the minute, but expect constant hilarity from Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson character. 
Parks and Recreation Season 1

Mad Men
In the vein of character-driven dramas such as “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” “Mad Men” follows the extremely talented and equally mercurial Don Draper, Executive Creative Director at a prestigious ad agency on Madison Avenue in the heyday of 1960s advertising. Draper’s genius is undeniable and often on full display, as is his temperamental, sexist, machismo personality. Like Tony Soprano, one minute you’re praising him for being a bold, ambitious leader, with a seemingly never ending well of creative ideas, and the next you’re despising him for his total blindness to insensitivities, brash behavior, and generally being a raging egotistical asshole. 

Draper, like most of the men in his workplace, has zero concern for the impact his behavior has on their agency’s culture. It’s all about winning the next pitch, the next client, and getting ridiculously drunk at a five martini lunch. But, because of his immense talent, agency leadership looks the other way and quickly forgives his transgressions, chalking it up to his creative genius. But at what cost? Employees break down and leave. Competitor agencies start beating them. Mental and physical health (everyone’s) takes a beating. But like a trainwreck, it’s hard to look away. 

  • What to watch for: Peggy’s drive to push on as a talented woman in a male-dominated industry, no matter the roadblocks. Don’s constant friction between talented creative director, mentor, and volatile baby.
  • Themes: sexism, machismo, drama, conflict
  • Characters to watch: Don Draper and Peggy Olson
Mad Men" Public Relations (TV Episode 2010) - IMDb