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TV Review: 'The Job' plays off a struggling economy

The mildly entertaining new CBS series features contestants jumping through the usual reality-show hoops in a bid to win real employment.

February 08, 2013|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Candidates Mark Howland, left, Samantha Yarock, William Medina, Crystal Solomon and Marc Torriero compete for an associate producer position with Major League Soccer's soccer.com on "The Job."
Candidates Mark Howland, left, Samantha Yarock, William Medina, Crystal… (David M. Russell / CBS )

"The Job," which premieres Friday on CBS, puts a reality-show spin on the hiring process — which is to say, it does explicitly what many reality shows do figuratively. Here, five "highly qualified candidates," a new batch each week, sell themselves to a tribunal of executives who will hire one for their company (also new each week) within the hour.

Linking their series to the weak economy and job market, the producers (including Mark Burnett of "Survivor" and "Shark Tank" and "The Celebrity Apprentice") prime the pump with a few grim statistics and overblown, even untrue descriptions of what is about to take place. We hear phrases like "once in a lifetime" and "tonight everything changes" and the claim that "for the first time, the job candidate can choose the job they want," which is, of course, a thing that has happened before and is possibly happening now. Perhaps they meant "for the first time on a reality show," a parallel universe only superficially like our own.

The candidates have, of course, already been through a screening process even before they walk onstage: They have been hired for the job of applying for a job on television, chosen for their back stories (the premiere episode offers a cancer survivor and the widowed mother of six) and for how entertainingly the producers imagine they will succeed (or fail) on camera.

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There are challenges, naturally, to let us see how the contestants perform under pressure (as always some do better, some worse) and whether they seem to be themselves or the person they think they need to be to win.

The first episode offers a job with the Palm Restaurant Group, which is looking for an assistant manager for its New York steakhouse. (As described in the network casting call, the jobs on offer in "The Job" will be mostly of the "assistant" and "associate" variety.) The applicants are filmed on the restaurant floor and will answer questions specific to the job but general enough to let the viewer play along at home.

In an added twist, a panel of three other employers get a chance to steal a candidate for themselves; the players then have to decide whether they want to go with the sure thing or stay in competition for the original, though not necessarily better job. This is called "Choosing between what Monty Hall is offering you now and what's behind the curtain where Carol Merrill is standing."

As these things go, "The Job" is rather mild-mannered and amiable — everyone is on their best behavior, because there is no advantage in being nasty. It has no time, literally or colloquially, for the machinations that characterize many other reality competitions. (See Burnett's credits, above.)

There is no other way to win than to display competence, readiness and the right sort of personality — no strategy is even possible, there is no bus to throw anyone under. The employers are bound only by their own instincts; the rest of the show is, basically, for show.

Lisa Ling is your host.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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