Why We Love an Office Drama

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The office has long been a fixture in pop culture—but, in 2024, amid the rise of remote work and the resurgence of organized labor, the way we relate to our jobs is in flux. The stories we tell about them are changing, too. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss Adelle Waldman’s new novel “Help Wanted,” which delves into the lives of retail workers at a big-box store in upstate New York. They’re joined by The New Yorker’s Katy Waldman, who lays out the trajectory of the office novel, from tales of postwar alienation to Gen X meditations on selling out and millennial accounts of the gig economy. Then, the hosts consider how this shift is showing up across other mediums. Though some white-collar employees can now comfortably work from home, the office remains an object of fascination. “The workplace is within us,” says Fry. “There will always be shit-talking about co-workers, about bosses—the materials for narrative will always be there.”

Read, watch, and listen with the critics:

“Working Girl” (1988)
“Office Space” (1999)
“The West Wing” (1999-2006)
“Help Wanted,” by Adelle Waldman
“The Pale King,” by David Foster Wallace
“Personal Days,” by Ed Park
“Then We Came to the End,” by Joshua Ferris
“The New Me,” by Halle Butler
“The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.,” by Adelle Waldman
“The Jungle,” by Upton Sinclair
“Severance,” by Ling Ma
“Temporary,” by Hilary Leichter
“Severance” (2022—)
“The Vanity Fair Diaries” (2017)
“Doubt: A Parable,” by John Patrick Shanley
Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”
“Mad Men” (2007-15)
“Industry” (2020-)
“Norma Rae” (1979)
“30 Rock” (2006-13)

New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.

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