Working: What We Do All Day Season 1 Review – A compelling but limited look at the world of work

Season 1

Episode Guide

Service Jobs
The Middle
Dream Jobs
The Boss

 

Originally published back in 1974, Studs Terkel’s book, Working, was an insightful and eye-opening account of different workers operating in different fields of work, from different walks of life. The book essentially saw Terkel interview a whole range of men and women about their life and documented it all. From stone masons and farmers trough to big business owners, Working was exactly what it says on the tin – a documented account of the work we do and the reason we do it.

Netflix’s new docu-series, Working: What We Do All Day, makes no illusion that it’s trying to emulate Terkel’s book, with former President Barack Obama working as the figurehead for this new show. He references the book early on and points out how he’s trying to modernize this approach to the here and now. With the rise of Artificial Intelligence and society on the cusp of a “brave new world”, there’s never been a better time to explore the work we do and how hard (or easy) our lives are.

Of course, for the purposes of this series, the highlight is predominantly on Americans and further hones in on a couple of different industries, namely that of healthcare and those working at The Pierre Hotel in New York. There are also different workers interviewed in the field of Tech, and in particular Self-Driving Cars. Despite this limited viewpoint, you really get a feel for the different levels of work and you’re almost certainly going to find people to resonate with.

The first episode focuses on Service Jobs, and this is the chapter many are likely to vibe with the most. Seeing Carmen write out all her bills and how much money she has left after hustling between 3 jobs at the end of the month brought back some big memories for me personally, having been on that poverty line for several years. But then really, this is going to really hit home for anyone else who has been in that similar position.

The first episode is a great introduction and from here, we slowly work through to the middle class, those in “Dream Jobs” (although that’s a pretty loose term given what we see) and then following top CEOs of those companies we’ve followed in previous episodes. What’s particularly fascinating here are the various attitudes and mindsets of workers at various points of the corporate ladder.

The service workers believe they’re the real laborers and keep the company propped up; middle class believe they’re the most important people, lifting up the service workers and keeping top bosses grounded; those at the top feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. There’s a particularly great quote in the middle of episode 3, where one worker utters “money does not bring happiness, but it certainly does provide the means to find it.” It’s such a telling quote and something many people miss whilst striving for that American dream.

Although Barack Obama is the celeb figurehead here (and he also executively produces this alongside his wife, Michelle Obama), the real emphasis is on the workers, just like Studs Terkel’s book. That’s not to say Obama takes a complete back-seat, given the intro and outro of each episode sandwiches in Barack interviewing workers directly or discussing what he thinks of different sets of workers.

This doesn’t work quite so well though, given it does take the spotlight away a bit, but there are undoubtedly some fascinating stories in here. Personally, I would have liked there to be another 4 or 5 episodes, tackling a myriad of different industries and figureheads, but alas there’s only so much you can do in a 4 episode series!

Another part of this that’s actually overlooked sometimes in other shows on the same topic comes from how healthcare workers have been treated lately, especially with a certain pandemic and the lack of pay-rises across the board. As one may expect, this series takes a very pro-union stance.

One of the more disappointing parts of this show though comes from a lack of exploration for self-employed individuals. For those hustlers out there with small businesses, websites, products etc. it would have been great to get some insight into those people. And I’m not just saying that for bias-sake, given I run and own this website!

If you actually look at the US Census Bureau stats, over 5 million new businesses were started in 2022 – and that’s just in the US alone! Seeing different companies trying to eke out a living alongside the big boys, or carving a distinct niche in a fast-paced, increasingly digitalized world, would have been absolutely fascinating and played brilliantly into the hands of modernizing industries and jobs.

With all that being said, Working: What We Do All Day does an admirable job of highlighting the different gulfs in quality between the everyday worker and the high-flying CEO. It shows the differences and similarities in attitudes and behaviour, and exactly what our work means to us. It’s not perfect, but it is a solid watch all the same.


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  • Verdict - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
7.5/10

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