It’s no secret by now that this country has seen better times. The gap between the haves and have-nots has never been so visible, big company bailouts are being handed out like free T-shirts at a sporting event and everyone jumps at the opportunity to point fingers. Because we have economic crisis on our minds, it makes perfect sense to have it on our TV sets as well. CBS’s latest series “Undercover Boss” tries to tug at heartstrings and give America a shoulder to cry on, but our generation’s stone-cold cynicism can see right through the façade.

“Undercover Boss”

Sundays at 9 p.m.
CBS

In a time when people attribute the widening economic gap to those on the rich end of the spectrum, “Undercover Boss” gives the CEOs of major corporations the chance to display their hearts of gold on national TV and to prove they’re really good guys after all. In the premiere, the President and COO of Waste Management Larry O’Donnell assumes the identity of Randy Lawrence, a new recruit and subject of a documentary on entry-level jobs in the waste disposal industry, which explains the camera crew. O’Donnell says he’s going undercover to see where the company can be more efficient, but it’s painfully obvious he’s going to learn much more along the way.

“Undercover Boss” shoves the best parts of the show in your face with an overabundant use of recaps. Before each commercial break there’s a preview of what’s coming next and after each commercial break, a review of what just happened. Supposedly this is to create excitement and give information to those just tuning in, but it completely ruins the element of surprise and dilutes all the changes of heart and stunning revelations that are supposed to be the core of the show.

Those stunning revelations and changes of heart are cute, but nothing more. O’Donnell seems like a nice enough guy, and it’s easy to believe he didn’t know how bad some of the conditions that come with working at his company were — his female garbage truck drivers have to pee in cans because there isn’t time on the route schedule allotted for a bathroom break. He seems genuinely concerned, but in the culmination of the episode when he gives his big reveal, he doesn’t do much to resolve all he saw. Sure he holds a meeting (complete with close-ups of other corporate bosses furiously scribbling notes) and before the credits roll, there’s a nice little segment with the employees he worked with that illustrates how much better their lives are now.

But somehow, it’s just not that convincing. So he promoted a few people and relaxed some productivity targets, but as far as we know, he didn’t raise any wages and hasn’t made any drastic changes to improve working conditions. Perhaps now, O’Donnell is making corporate decisions remembering what it’s like on the other side, but his appearance on “Undercover Boss” seems more like good publicity for him and less likely to make the company more employee friendly.

While “Undercover Boss” had its moments — which can be attributed to the employees, who were really the stars in their genuine gratitude of recognition — it’s not the grand life-changing series it hoped to be. It tries to be “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” but the honesty rings false.

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