The Job: TV Review

The Job Episodic Michael Davies Inset - H 2013
CBS; Getty Images

The Job Episodic Michael Davies Inset - H 2013

Not as offensive as most may suspect -- or hope -- the series dutifully, and emotionally, rewards talent.  

Confusing rules cloud the CBS reality competition, where contestants battle for real-life jobs.

CBS's new competition series The Job pits five individuals full of hopes and dreams and clichés against one another to vie for a highly coveted position with a famous company. The series starts each episode off with host Lisa Ling (The View) discussing the abysmal job market, like we didn't already know. "The companies wield all of the power," she tells us somberly, which leaves potential employees scrambling for any opening instead of being discerning about where they take their talents.  But when it comes to The Job, the companies still have the power -- they put the competitors through rigorous tests that are much more intensive than for their regularly hired employees, and in the end there is still only one winner, and four profoundly disappointed individuals.

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The Job resembles a hybrid of The Apprentice, with its professional slant, and, perhaps oddly, the Food Network's Chopped, where competitors are eliminated throughout the episode until a final face off. To the producers' (all long time reality-show vets) credit, The Job seems familiar, but is hard to pin down. It's not directly derivative of anything, but throws in a lot of familiar elements of other popular competition series.

This is also part of its problem. I viewed the first two episodes, where job-seekers vied for positions at The Palm (as an Assistant Manager) and Cosmopolitan (as an Editorial Assistant). By the second hour I felt more comfortable with the format, but there are so many twists and arbitrary rules to the competition that it can certainly be disconcerting for viewers.

After the contestants introduce themselves, we are shown a video of a day they already spent working at the job they hope to do, in a sort of trial-run test that is then graded live. The worst performer is eliminated on the spot, and the remaining contestants go through a variety of other tests -- quizzes, skill tests like remembering names, or specifically tailored games like spotting problems in a job-related scenario -- that will eliminate the remaining contestants down to the last two.

But wait! There's more! The show introduces a twist from the beginning of having three other businesses (usually smaller start-ups) who have the opportunity to poach the remaining contestants before the final interview. Does the contestant then choose to take the guaranteed job with the smaller company, or hold out for a chance at the job they came in for? There's also something to do with an envelop and a name which is revealed or not revealed, depending ... but at this point I was so overwhelmed with rules and procedure I'd almost forgotten what it was they were trying to win in the first place.

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The "let's throw everything in!" format does keep things lively, and the judges (three weekly representatives from the hiring company, such as The Palm's owner Walter Ganzi, or Cosmo's Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles) so far seem firm but fair. The Job is not about solving the jobs crisis, but it is about putting humans and personalities back into the hiring process, instead of relying on the black hole of faceless resume drops. People are competing for dream jobs, not just any job, and those deserving are rewarded.

Curiously, there are no exit interviews for those cut in the early rounds, which seems particularly cold given the seeming difficulty of making it even that far. But of course, The Job finds contestants who all have a story of hardship, and the finales when jobs are offered and accepted are very moving no matter how cynical you start out with the series.

The Job is not as offensive or controversial as it might seem from its initial promotion, where it looks like desperate job seekers have been corralled to be cruelly picked apart and rejected. The series would still be relevant even in a booming market, where companies in industries like those featured are still particularly choosy and difficult to break into. In the end, The Job does exactly what a thorough interview process should: reward the most talented and promising individual. The only cruel twist is that outside the dream-giving world of The Job, that idea is usually fantasy.