It’s perfectly possible that you are avid to see an ex-beauty queen and a country-singing U.S. marine battle it out to become boss of a company called Complete Nutrition. Somebody’s banking on your interest, anyway, because one of the few new series to arrive on TV these days is Be the Boss (Sunday, A&E, 10 p.m.)
From the makers of Undercover Boss, it’s a new reality show that features “two low-level employees” of a company competing to be put in charge of a franchise. Some viewers eat up these pseudo business shows. Some find them little more than infomercials.
Far more important and useful lessons – for life and business – can be found on The Walking Dead (Sunday, AMC, 9 p.m.), which reaches its midseason finale this week. (It is to return next spring.) Yep, a show about surviving in a zombie-filled, postapocalyptic world can teach us a lot about surviving in a ruthless society.
Two camps now exist on the show. Two mini-societies. The tension between them has been building and is about to explode on this week’s episode.
There is the tiny, frail group led by former cop Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and currently finding safety in a prison. And there is the bizarre fake town of Woodbury, under the leadership of the crypto-fascist Governor (David Morrissey). Recently, two of the first group, Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan), were captured and taken to Woodbury. The Governor’s humiliation of Maggie was a profoundly creepy scene.
The clash of the two communities raises an important question: Is it better to live in a blissful, mundane – but artificial – world under a dictator, or in the danger of a more freewheeling society? The irony, of course, is that the latter exits inside a prison, while the former is a virtual prison with phony pleasantness.
Take your lessons in life, business and politics from that. What’s more attractive to people – safety under a creepy, dictatorial boss or the communal strength formed by constant pressure and danger?
Meanwhile, Boardwalk Empire (Sunday, HBO Canada, 9 p.m.) reaches the finale of a dark, brooding season. The big man, politician and bootlegger Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), has become more ruthless in his quest to control the illegal liquor racket in Atlantic City, but has found that his city now seems to be under the control of monstrously violent interloper Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale). What to do?
An option is an alliance with smooth gangster Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), who doesn’t usually get his hands dirty. Rothstein, is, of course, a real figure from history, a fixer and organizer whose talent was to turn the crucial elements of organized crime into a well-oiled business machine.
Just as The Sopranos could be read as a parable about how the raw, ruthless capitalism on which the United States was built morphed into white-collar avarice and greed, Boardwalk Empire is about the choice between running a business with violent ruthlessness or with well-crafted smarts. (Boardwalk creator Terence Winter, who wrote this week’s episode, was a writer on The Sopranos.) The tensions between the two approaches are embodied in the conflicted figure of Nucky.
The season finale, by the way, has the title Margate Sands, which one assumes refers to a portion of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land – “On Margate Sands/I can connect/Nothing with nothing/The broken fingernails of dirty hands/My people humble people who expect/Nothing.” Is it
Nucky’s dilemma? Go figure.
Boardwalk Empire is entertainment about booze, broads and violence, but it’s about much more, too, just as The Walking Dead is a dead-serious mediation on the nature of community. You can learn a lot more from both than you will ever learn from a reality show set among people fighting for a business franchise.