In that post-grad state of financial panic, a person’s immediate goals can be reduced to finding a job. Any job that will pay the rent and buy groceries, regardless of larger ambitions or dreams of making it as a writer/rocker/model/whatever. In this week’s episode of Underemployed, those characters with actual jobs discover that entering the workforce is not an ultimate solution to life’s practical problems, but a gateway into a whole host of new ones. That regular paycheck comes with other costs.
After the exhilaration of making a pitch to her tequila client all by herself, Daphne feels obligated to then spend the evening with him. When he makes it clear that he’d like to hook up with both her and Miles, she wonders how far she has to go to succeed. Luckily for Daphne she doesn’t actually have to address this question in any kind of realistic way, because the smarmy client passes out drunk in his underwear at exactly the right moment. Also difficult to believe is the idea that these two kids would find the idea so repellant, given Miles is a bit of a manwhore and Daphne has a self-proclaimed flair for drama and self-destruction.
Lou, meanwhile, feels conflicted when he actually starts to enjoy his job thanks to his dad’s perky blonde assistant Bekah, who persuades him to engage in the office tradition of lunchtime karaoke in the conference room (which, for the record, would never, ever be a thing at a corporate office like Lou’s). Sophia, the only one with a paying job when the series started, gets promoted to assistant manager at Donut Girl but reconsiders the job when she has to bail on the group’s annual trivia tradition, and (understandably) yells at them when the Super Friends stop by and act like total drunk assholes.
While the moment of guilt Sophia experiences while quitting is well done—Michelle Ang being one of the better actors on the show—Underemployed keeps the exploration of work dissatisfaction disappointingly surface level. While one can only assume her desire to quit comes from feeling demeaned and unable to pursue her real goals, all that is directly addressed in “The Trivial Pursuit” is the fact that she is not allowed to do other work on the job, and couldn’t go to a trivia night with her friends. Boo-hoo. Even worse is this idea that we are supposed to feel like Sophia kicking her friends out of her place of work means she has crossed some line, from human being to automaton sellout. It’s like in The Devil Wears Prada, when we’re expected to judge Andie for prioritizing a life-changing job over a thoroughly mediocre boyfriend who thinks Jarlsberg is the height of romance. Sophia did the right thing no matter what Raviva’s judgmental bitch face says. Sometimes work matters more than play, and Underemployed doesn’t seem to understand that that doesn’t automatically make you a bad friend. Jeopardizing a job that allows someone you love to live makes you kind of a bad friend.
Although none of the three work plotlines are handled quite right, some of the details of entry-level life are depicted more successfully. Having a crush on a coworker because it breaks up the monotony of the day, feeling guilty about doing something badly even though you never wanted to do it in the first place, wondering how much of a personal relationship you are expected to cultivate with a client—these situations are relatable even if the characters’ easy resolutions are not. While Juliana Guill’s performance as Bekah is way over the top, she makes the hilariously true point about some older employees considering the basic technological acumen of their lowly assistants to be some kind of sorcery. She and Lou use their higher ups’ assumption that updating software takes all day to get a free pass on work. I once worked for a man who was so perplexed by technology (and, apparently, the equal abilities of both sexes) he refused to believe I could set up his Skype, like it was some bit of cyborg magic from the future that only he had heard of. After going through various stages of frustration and grief, I accepted this boss’ low expectations of me in order to use them to my advantage, hired a “freelance tech support professional” other wise known as “my boyfriend,” and spent the rest of the day surfing the Internet to my heart’s content. In other words: his stuff happens.
Meanwhile, Raviva seems to have discovered that the best way to handle her new job as a mom is to make sure she is only with her kid about 30 percent of the time, her previously way-too-busy mother now inexplicably able to babysit on the slightest of whims. As a result, Raviva has gone from having a sweaty nervous breakdown about being at home alone with the baby in “The Crib” to walking glamorously down the street with a stroller, not a care in the world, just three episodes and six weeks later. If only most stay-at-home-moms could have issues of exhaustion and identity answered in that brief period of time.
It’s easy to hate the entitled, aggressively bohemian Raviva, but Daphne has gradually been taking the lead for most terrible character on Underemployed. The character is whiny and demanding the actress, Sarah Habel, is either phoning it in or simply too physically weak to generate sincere emotion, just shift her face around with visible effort in order to play at genuine enthusiasm in her wan, affected voice. Raviva the character can be infuriating, but at least Inbar Lavi is convincing in the role. The writers must not like Daphne very much either, because the dialogue they wrote between her and Todd at episode’s end is excruciating. “Don’t worry,” she tells him when he expresses jealousy over the tequila client, “You’re my Mr. Big.” Does she mean “You’re My Mr. Emotionally Unavailable, Way Older Man Who Leads Me On For About A Decade Until He Finally Realizes I’m Actually Happy And Then Comes Charging In To ‘Save The Day’”? Because nobody involved in this exchange of words should consider that a compliment.
- Is there a Chicago native who can tell me if Donut Girl is modeled after any specific bakery? For any NYC readers out there, it reminded me vaguely of Babycakes, the vegan bakery.
- The deep echo when the word “Underemployed” comes on the screen is way too dramatic for this show.
- Raviva’s a capella performance while hanging out with Jamel did not inspire confidence in her future as a musician.