Undercover Boss

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Undercover Boss (2010-present) is a primetime Reality Show on CBS that follows the top-ranking officials of major American companies and corporations as they go undercover to learn more about the challenges facing their businesses, and meet employees who help them gain a new perspective on working life.

Each episode features a high-ranking executive or the owner of a corporation going undercover as an entry-level employee in their own company. The executives alter their appearance and assume an alias and fictional back-story in order to blend in. The fictitious explanation given for the accompanying camera crew is that the executives are being filmed as part of a documentary about entry-level workers in a particular industry (in the second season, the employees are told the filming for a contest). They spend approximately one week undercover, working in various areas of their company operations, with a different job and in most cases a different location each day. They are exposed to a series of predicaments with amusing results, and invariably spend time getting to know the people who work in the company, learning about their professional and personal challenges.

At the end of their week undercover, the executives return to their true identity and request the employees they worked with individually to corporate headquarters. The bosses reveals their identity, and reward hard-working employees through campaign, promotion, or financial rewards, while other employees are given training or better working conditions.

These tropes were discovered by the undercover boss:
  • American Dream: In the 7-11 episode, Igor came from Kazakhstan to pursue this. He's getting it.
  • Benevolent Boss: Most (if not all) of the executives want to help their employees by understanding them better.
  • Brought Down to Normal: The executives trade leave their multi-million dollar homes and job perks for a week while they stay in budget hotel rooms and dress in standard company attire during their undercover work.
  • Clark Kenting: The undercover identities are made of this.
    • The "grunts" at the bottom usually have no idea who the executives running the company are and what they look like (not because they're ignorant, but because this information isn't useful to them in their everyday job), which makes this somewhat justified.
  • Everybody Smokes: Most of the workers and a couple of bosses are smokers. There is at least one person who smokes in an episode.
  • Fan Service: Interestingly subverted in the Hooters episode. The show takes great pains to note that the women who work at Hooters are much, much more than pretty ti-er, faces. One manager explains how she worked her way up through the ranks as a single mother, and now manages a group of like-minded employees.
  • For Inconvenience Press One: In the DirecTV episode, the boss has to wait on the phone for 21 minutes in order to get a waiver to remotely activate a guy's satellite box. Granted, there was a storm outside, but even the guy that's undercover notes that it's ridiculous to have to wait that long in front of a customer.
  • Handicapped Badass: Walter from Waste Management and Dolores from 7-11 are both on dialysis, yet they still work just as hard as if they were in their 20's.
  • Hidden Depths Workers talking about their lives
  • Homage / Shout-Out: Probably the Waste Management episode and the American Seafood fishing boat episode with the Norwegian(?) ex-fisherman getting creamed by giant waves.
  • Jerkass: Jimbo in the Hooters episode. Apparently reformed after getting called on the carpet, although there's controversy over whether or not he was fired by management.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Larry O'Donnell's trash-collecting mission in the pilot. Try catching flying pieces of garbage and fill bags every few minutes.
  • Obliviously Evil: Management's plans sometimes cause unintended consequences. For example, in the Waste Management episode, O'Donnell learns that his policies have led to garbage truck operators being tailed by unmarked vans driven by employees who keep track of her schedule.
  • Oh Crap: Sometimes, the company managers have this reaction when the CEO reveals themself.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: The executive in each episode becomes a new man by growing a bit of facial hair, changing his clothes and adopting a new name. In at least one case, though (the Hooters episode), Coby Brooks had to be snuck into the Hooters bottling and distribution plant he owned because he thought some of the employees would recognize him.
  • Reality Show Genre Blindness: Somewhat justified by the undercover CEO's posing as entry-level temps who have a film crew following them as part of a documentary (or, in the second season, employees are told they're being filmed as part of a reality show contest). However, that still doesn't explain why some employees (e.g. Jimbo, the sexist oaf from Hooters) allow themselves to be filmed making poor judgement in regards to how they treat their employees.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor In Sense: Several of the CEO's have trouble doing entry-level jobs (i.e. Larry O'Donnell from Waste Management is not called back after he fails to fill several garbage bags worth of litter, and Coby Brooks is not asked back after taking part in a routine lunch shift as a Hooters in Texas).
  • Right in Front of Me The end of the show when the bosses reveal who they really are.
  • Sassy Black Woman The Direct Tv lady who has a problem on the phone.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely Most of the bosses look better with out their disguises on.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: In the Hooters episode, Robert Brooks was apparently this to Coby and his brother.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue