The Best Workplace TV Shows, Ranked
Ever feel like your job would make a great TV show? If so, you’re not alone, which is probably why there are an array of popular workplace TV shows that celebrate the strange dynamics of spending eight hours a day with total strangers. Some might be relatable to the work you do, while others might just make you appreciate having a “normal” job. No matter why you watch, if you find workplace shows entertaining, you’ll want to be sure to add these 14 shows to your binge-streaming queue.
The Ground Rules
To rank the best workplace TV shows, we had to first establish a few ground rules. So before you dive in, here’s our unscientific methodology for what was (and wasn’t) chosen for the list.
- The central characters must be connected to each other via their jobs, with most of the episodes primarily set in their shared workplace. So even though we see Elaine and George go to work on “Seinfeld,” its doesn’t qualify as a workplace sitcom because the main characters don’t work together.
- Watching the show provides some day-in-the-life insight into what a particular profession or industry is all about. This is a loose rule since some entries are comedies and therefore a bit unrealistic, but it’s why we included some shows that get into the nitty gritty of niche fields like hedge fund management, telemarketing and advertising.
- The shows chosen focus on workplaces with traditional corporate structure, with a couple of exceptions made to include working life within a small business. That’s why there are no cop shows, lawyer shows, government agency shows or hospital shows included. Yes, those are worthy workplaces, but by including them, things would have gotten unwieldy. We wanted to keep a sharper focus.
Now that you know the rules, let’s see which workplace TV shows made the cut.
14. 'Halt and Catch Fire'
A TV critic’s POV: “This is smart, engaging television about the early days of the tech craze in the ‘80s.” — Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com
Where to stream: Netflix
The setting is Cardiff Electric, a computer company trying to exploit a flaw in IBM’s code, just like Compaq Computers did in real life back in the 1980s. It offers some “windows” into the PC wars, as well as the toll that the growing tech industry had on its workaholic employees as they struggled with ethical decisions and corporate greed. Although it does expand out into the personal dramas of the characters and play like a period piece, for anyone interested in the history of the tech workplace, it’s worth a stream.
13. 'Ugly Betty'
A TV critic’s POV: “It’s campy and cheesy, but all in the name of having fun with itself.” — Seth Freilich, Pajiba
Where to stream: Hulu and ABC
What happens when an “ugly” girl lands a job at an elite fashion magazine? Betty (America Ferrara) is an aspiring Latina writer from Queens who’s essentially offered a job because she’s not attractive (that way the publisher’s son who happens to be the editor won’t try to sleep with her). While the show is actually a Spanish telenovela adaptation slash ugly duckling story, viewers do get to see the inner workings of the fashion industry and the ugly side of office politics.
A TV critic’s POV: “On a craft level, it's very nicely made, the actors are weirdly appealing, and its spirit is not mean, but sweet.” — Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times
Where to stream: Hulu and Comedy Central
If you want a humorous (sometimes painful) look at cubicle life, this Comedy Central show about three stoner roommates who land a job at a telemarketing company is a must-see. The company name even sounds like bad cliché, TelAmeriCorp, but the work day and after-hours antics of the main characters drive the plot. While this one doesn’t have much career research value, it shows it’s possible to goof off with your co-workers and have a blast… so long as you’re not concerned with career advancement, that is.
A TV critic’s POV: “‘Taxi’ mainly stayed low-key, building small stories out of the cabbies' money troubles or their offbeat passengers while dealing more honestly and humorously with the indignity of a service economy than any American sitcom of its era.” — Noel Murray, A/V Club
Where to stream: Hulu and CBS
While this is more of a non-traditional addition to the list, who could forget the lovable group of cabbies working at the Sunshine Cab Company under their crazy and tyrannical dispatcher Louie DePalma (Danny DeVito)? Not only was it a look at blue-collar workers and their struggles, but it had memorable performances from an ensemble cast that included Judd Hirsch, Tony Danza, Marilu Henner, Andy Kaufman and Christopher Lloyd.
A TV critic’s POV: “[I]t’s dirty fun, without the self-seriousness that drags down so many of its cable-drama peers.” — Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker
Where to watch: Showtime
On paper, a show about a hedge fund manager (Bobby Axelrod, played by Damian Lewis), his team and their legal battles might not sound all that exciting. But you sure do learn a lot about how these firms operate (who knew there was such a thing as a hedge fund therapist?), the finance world and how short-selling works, and all of the political intrigue that goes with it. Bonus: We also get an inside peek at the operations of the Southern District of New York through Paul Giamatti’s expertly played Chuck Rhoades (who’s said to be loosely based on former U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara).
A TV critic’s POV: “‘Superstore’ is giving workplace comedy a must-see renovation.” —Erik Adams, A/V Club
Where to stream: NBC and Hulu
If you’ve ever been a store clerk or worked in retail, you’ll totally relate to “Superstore,” an ensemble comedy that pokes fun at the Walmart-ish workplaces of the world. It’s refreshing to see a cast of “everyday,” diverse characters up against the corporate machine that is Cloud 9, not to mention the odd and often hilarious encounters with customers in the aisles and checkout lines.
8. 'Parks and Recreation'
A TV critic’s POV: “This is comedy at its sweetest and least snarkful.” — Sarah Dempster, The Guardian
Where to stream: Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime
Consider this pick an outdoor version of “The Office.” Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department in the fictional Indiana town of Pawnee who has ambitions to improve the quality of life in her town. She ends up stuck in a cycle of bureaucratic runaround that makes for some zany TV moments. Along the way, we meet a cast of municipal workers played by the likes of Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari and Rashida Jones, and of course Nick Offerman (as the anti-establishment parks director Ron Swanson).
7. 'Silicon Valley'
A TV critic’s POV: “Silicon Valley” has “a present day setting that manages to feel like its own dystopia of astronomical rents and conference bike meetings.” — Alison Willmore, IndieWire
Where to watch: HBO
Start-up tech life, with its hoodie-wearing 20-something CEOs, venture capital power plays and all-night coding sessions, is front and center on this HBO show. It’s the story of what happens when a small team of tech geeks creates an app called Pied Piper that could disrupt the whole tech industry — making for a great mix of satirical and goofy comedy.
6. 'Murphy Brown'
Years: 1988-98, 2018
A TV critic’s POV: “While it may not seem groundbreaking today, this series, like ’Mary Tyler Moore’ before it, changed the game for women on TV.” — Lucy Maher, Common Sense Media
Where to stream: Not widely available
If you’re sick of the “fake news” wars of today, you’ll find solace in this late ‘80s sitcom about a badass female investigative journalist (Candace Bergen) who works for a TV news magazine show. She was struggling with work-life balance and maintaining her tough exterior in a male-dominated field long before it became a thing. And if you love the old episodes, be sure to catch last year’s reboot.
5. 'Mad Men'
A TV critic’s POV: “’Mad Men’ offers a snapshot of bygone times that is a pure joy to watch, from the incredible costumes and sets to the deliciously claustrophobic depiction of work and domestic life it presents.” — Heather Havrilesky, Salon.com
Where to stream: Netflix
This period piece drama delves into the “glory days” of advertising, the early 1960s. It gets into office politics, sexism in the workplace and the hard-drinking escapades of Don Draper and his fellow advertising executives and staff at a fictional New York City agency. Plus, we finally find out who was behind that infamous Coca-Cola ad.
A TV critic’s POV: “‘Cheers’ is a brilliant sitcom that is rightfully considered perhaps the best of all-time.” — Chris Morgan, Paste
Where to stream: Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix
Yes, the bar where “everybody knows your name” is the second nontraditional workplace to grace our list, but we’re not apologizing for it. The iconic comedy series reveals how a former Red Sox pitcher turned bar owner (Ted Danson’s Sam Malone), his uptight waitress (Shelley Long), a farm boy bartender (Woody Harrelson) and others share their lives while they make their livelihood with people from all walks of life — the regulars who hang out in the bar. It goes to show that whether you’re a mailman, an accountant, a psychiatrist or work in a bar, we really aren’t all that different — especially when the beer is flowing.
3. 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'
A TV critic’s POV: “Mary shines as TV's first single, career-oriented leading lady and reminds viewers of some of the challenges met by her real-world counterparts.” — Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Where to stream: Hulu
Talk about breaking the glass ceiling! Mary Tyler Moore’s self-titled character was probably the first unmarried, professional woman to be a TV show’s main character. For 1970, it was a true feminist moment, but the show also highlighted how a TV news studio operates. Come for the brilliant comic actors who starred on the show (Ed Asner, Ted Knight, Valerie Harper, Betty White), stay for the ahead-of-its-time way it weaved in the serious issues of the day.
2. '30 Rock'
A TV critic’s POV: “One of the zaniest — and most savvy — workplace comedies in years.” — David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun
Where to stream: Hulu
And now live from New York, we have a modern-day female-driven TV workplace show, “30 Rock,” based on Tina Fey’s days as a “Saturday Night Live” writer. The show serves up seven seasons of brainy corporate parody that centers around Liz Lemon (Fey), the head writer of a sketch comedy show, her arrogant boss (Alec Baldwin) and the show’s off-the-wall star (Tracy Morgan).
1. 'The Office'
A TV critic’s POV: The show “[P]aints a pretty bleak, but hilarious picture of corporate culture, mining most of its laughs from management faux pas.” — Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
Where to stream: Netflix
Fact: We hardly had to think long and hard (“that’s what she said!”) to put “The Office” in our number one slot. Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott (the self-proclaimed “World’s Best Boss” — he even has a mug that says so!) leads a quirky staff as the head of the Scranton, Pennsylvania branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Michael is actually pretty cringeworthy in the early seasons, but his devotion to his workplace family becomes quite endearing over time. Whether you love the on-again, off-again office romances that blossom, the crazy team-building activities and outings, or the epic prank battles between Jim and Dwight, watching this show is even better than free pretzel day.