Cue the Laugh Track—HR Comedy Comes to TV

New Fox show revolves around the life of an HR director

By Dana Wilkie Mar 23, 2016
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She’s overworked.

She’s underappreciated.

She must play mediator, hand-holder and reluctant villain.

And she’s caught between managing rank-and-file workers and the ambitious demands of her CEO.

Sound familiar?

Welcome to the world of HR—on TV.

Actress Judy Greer is set to play the lead in Fox’s comedy pilot HR. According to Deadline.com, the show revolves around Greer’s character, Jane, “the overused and underappreciated head of HR for a plastic molding plant, who is caught between trying to manage her charmingly incompetent human resources department and a new eccentric CEO [played by Patton Oswalt] who dreams of bringing the New Jersey plastics plant into the future.” 

So is there really enough comedy in the HR business to make for an entertaining TV show?

Sure there is, says Jonathan A. Segal, a partner at Duane Morris in Philadelphia and New York City who recently wrote a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) article that imagined humorous HR conundrums around the holidays.

“I think a lot of people in HR wish there were less drama in their lives, and sometimes the drama can be funny,” he said. “It’s amazing how many HR events happen in bathrooms—sex, drugs. Every HR person could write a book of ‘You would never believe’ cases they have handled. If the creators [of the show] need ideas, they should just call SHRM and talk to our members.”

HR Headaches Can Be Funny 

Because the show has yet to air, it’s difficult to know how HR’s plot will unfold, but those in the business can probably use their imaginations.

HR pros must mediate workplace politics and fights. Handle difficult people and sticky workplace romances. Fulfill the sometimes impossible requests of a demanding CEO. Deal with workers’ quirks and complaints.

For instance, one character in HR is Effie, a factory worker at the company who, according to one news report, “is a pain, the kind who makes dramatic, impassioned pleas to keep the soda machine.” Effie will be played by Lateefah Holder.

“The very real issues that we deal with are captivating to TV viewers,” Segal said. “I can think of an entire episode on the holiday party and HR trying to handle the confluence of alcohol and social interactions.”

Marc Berman is editor-in-chief for Programming Insider, a website that provides ratings, reviews and news about TV shows and other media. He said a comedy about an HR director reminds him of the hit series The Office—in which actor Steve Carell played Michael Scott, the idiosyncratic regional manager of a paper supply company.

“Early in the series, Scott had to fire someone and was very stressed about it,” Berman said.  “Somebody getting fired is not traditionally what you think of as funny, but it was very clever and humorous. Any time Scott had to deal with personnel issues, it was funny. What I like about [a show] involving an HR department is that you’re dealing with all these various personalities and a lot of comical things can come of it.”

Among the humorous HR headaches that Segal dreamed up for his November 2015 SHRM article were:

    “Two people are waiting for you in your office. One is dismayed that a co-worker gave him a thong as a    holiday gift. The other is unhappy that there are no decorations recognizing the Buddhist holiday of Bodhi Day.”

And:

    “Following a chat with your CEO at the party, you notice two employees dancing suggestively. There is also a love train of employees, in which everyone puts their hands in the pockets of the person in front of them. Because of situations like these, every year around this time there is a bonanza for plaintiffs’ lawyers: ‘Were     you groped at your holiday party? Witness employees grinding on the dance floor? Call 1-800-IRETIRE.’ ”

As for feeling overworked and caught between workers and executives—do those represent real gripes among HR professionals?

“HR is almost always caught in the middle,” Segal said. “Sometimes it’s between departments. Sometimes it’s between the chiefs and the workforce. Sometimes it’s between two employees who can’t get along. HR is the workplace mediator, albeit part of management—not an easy place to be. But good mediators can work miracles, and HR often does. And sometimes, HR needs to use humor to get there.”

Said Berman: “Who isn’t overworked and underpaid? How many people are going to say, ‘I’m overpaid and I really don’t have a lot to do’? That’s a typical scenario that people can relate to.”

More: Popular TV and Films Love to Hate HR

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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