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Out of Job, into the Plot

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One of the trickiest things to deal with in a modern adventure series is how to handle the character's day job. The audience doesn't want to spend half the story hearing about the protagonist going into their Soul-Crushing Desk Job every day. Exactly how much time each week is your main character taking off work in order to save the world/solve the mystery/find the MacGuffin? No boss is going to be that understanding forever. Unless your character's job is an integral part of his adventures (such as a dashing police officer starring in a Police Procedural, etc.) you've got to account for it all somehow.

Of course, there's a fix for it: Shortly before or after the story begins, the protagonist loses his comfortable ordinary job. This provides him with both a strong motivation to find a new source of income and a lot of free time to engage in more adventurous activities. It provides drama and possible story hooks while removing limitations on the plot. The downside is, well... how is it that your hero is still living in that gorgeous penthouse two months later?

While not required, this is common for a character's backstory in a Tabletop RPG. Some will even have mechanics to determine and justify what skill(s) your character(s) will have.

See "Friends" Rent Control, Standardized Sitcom Housing, and Improbable Food Budget for problems this can raise. Compare Who's Watching the Store? for when characters remain employed and still take time off for the plot, with all the Fridge Logic that implies. Contrast The One with a Personal Life, for characters who retain their pre-adventure life when the action's over.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Fed Up Office Lady Wants to Serve the Villainess begins with the protagonist, a temp worker for a corporation, learning that her contract won't be renewed because she takes too much overtime, despite her protests that she's helping her coworkers with their work. On the way home from work, she decides to "celebrate being unemployed" by playing her favorite gacha game, only to be pulled into the game world.
  • Recovery of an MMO Junkie begins with Moriko quitting her stressful office job, which leaves her more than enough time to try out various new MMORPGs. The plot begins when she starts playing a game called Fruits de Mer and meets her eventual Love Interest.

    Comic Books 
  • Batwoman resigns from the United States Military Academy (job training counts, right?) when accused of violating DADT; after a period of aimlessness, this allows her the free time to become a vigilante.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • American Beauty: Lester is unsatisfied with his middling job at an advertising magazine. When his boss Brad announces he will be laid off, Lester is actually happy and manages to blackmail Brad into giving him a hefty severance package. Lester's loss of his job becomes part of his quest to find real happiness in his life.
  • Aspen Extreme starts with TJ employed as a low-level unskilled machinist. His boss offers him a promotion; TJ takes this as the opportune time to quit his job so he can follow his dream of becoming a ski pro.
  • At the beginning of Bruce Almighty, Bruce is fed up with his job as a news reporter because they only give him crappy personal interest stories. He throws a tirade live on the air that ends with an F-Bomb, which immediately gets him fired. This causes Bruce to accuse God of messing up his life, thereby kicking off the main plot of the movie.
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Roy Neary has lost his job as an electrician after the aliens had arrived on Earth. He starts to become obsessed with the Devil's Tower later on in the film.
  • In Dumb and Dumber, Lloyd and Harry are fired from their jobs as limousine driver and dog groomer, respectively. This clears the way for them to take a cross-country road trip to deliver a briefcase to the woman they believe is the rightful owner.
  • In the 2005 remake of Fun with Dick and Jane, Jane quits her job and Dick's company goes bankrupt due to Enron-style corruption on the same day. Since Dick was used as the scapegoat for the company, he's unable to find work, which drives most of the plot. In the original, only Dick loses his job, since Jane was a housewife.
  • Doctors Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler decide to go into business as the Ghostbusters after the Columbia University Board of Regents cuts their funding and kicks them off campus.
  • In God Bless America, Frank wakes up, goes to work, and finds out he is fired, adding one more reason for him to go on a killing spree.
  • Joe quickly leaves the job he hates in Joe Versus the Volcano.
  • Life as a House: George Monroe has been working at the same architectural firm for twenty years, in a job that primarily consists of building scale models. After being fired because he doesn't want to adapt to the latest computer-aided technology, he goes on a tear through the office, destroying his designs. Walking out, he collapses on the ground, whereupon he learns his terminal cancer diagnosis. With about four months left to live, George resolves to do what he's always dreamed of doing—building a new house.
  • Mrs. Doubtfire begins with Robin Williams' character walking out of a cartoon voice-acting job in protest at the cartoon character smoking.
  • In Office Space, the main protagonist doesn't lose his job (by sheer chance) but his two deuteragonists lose theirs, kicking off their scheme.
  • Daniel Jackson is laughed out of academia at the beginning of Stargate, allowing him to join the super-secret military program.
  • A variation in The Librarian, where Flynn is kicked out of college so that he could finally experience the real world. Almost immediately, he gets an offer to work for the New York Metropolitan Library (actually just a front for the real Library in the basement).
  • The Fifth Element. Ex-special forces soldier Korben Dallas is working as a taxi driver when a) the Big Bad sacks a million employees from the company that Korben works for just to slow down the economy, and b) a beautiful alien woman crashes through the roof of his cab, deleting the remaining points on Korben's license for having an accident while driving. Then Korben's former commanding officer turns up to 'volunteer' him for a mission to save the world.
  • Doctor Strange starts with the protagonist being no longer able to perform his job as a surgeon due to severe injuries to his hands, and then burning through all of his savings in a futile attempt to get the damage fixed. He finds a new occupation for himself shortly after.
  • The Insider sees the titular whistleblower Jeffry Wigand get introduced having just been fired from Brown & Williamson.
  • Friday begins with Craig getting fired from his job at UPS on his day off. The implication is that his (white) co-worker and supervisor framed him for stealing boxes (which he didn't actually do).
  • Cheap Thrills: The fact that the main character has just lost his job drives him to accept the self-destructive bets that make up the plot of the film.
  • In Mannequin, Jonathan is fired from his mannequin warehouse job because he spends too much time trying to make the mannequins into works of art as opposed to ordinary objects for store display. This leads to his hiring at a department store that houses the very mannequin he considers his “masterpiece.”
  • In UHF, George and Bob get fired from their jobs at a fast-food joint just in time for them to start working at a TV station George's uncle won in a poker game.

  • In American Gods, Shadow is released from prison and is travelling to his home to a job waiting for him. Unfortunately, his job is gone as the guy who was giving it to him is dead, leaving him free to work as Mr. Wednesday's bag man.
  • Right at the start of Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept cycle of books, the hero, Stile, loses his job as a jockey because he has been nobbled by another stable — they sent a hit-man out to laser his knees and render him useless as a jockey. Stile's Citizen boss then terminates his contract.... all this is to give Stile an incentive to explore the parallel world of Phaze, where he discovers he is the missing Blue Adept.
  • Twice in ''The Kaiju Preservation Society. First Jamie gets fired from their job as an assistant marketing executive and then gets fired again as the company gets sold to Uber. This is when they get the job for KPS.
  • The first book of the Millennium Series has Mikael Blomkvist suspended from his magazine after a libel suit, leaving him free to be hired by Henrik Vanger to look into the disappearance of his grandniece Harriet, which is how everything gets rolling.
  • October Daye: After being turned into a fish for 14 years, Toby wants nothing to do with the fairy world, and works a Soul-Sucking Retail Job at a Safeway. Then she finds out The Call Left a Message (literally, a geas through her answering machine) and gets involved. Due to circumstances, she gets fired from the Safeway after she fails to show up, and never looks back.
  • This is what kicks off Velveteen Versus, the titular former superhero JUST wants to get to a job interview, but can't quite make it.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: Near the beginning of Memory, Miles is fired from his job at ImpSec. Then a crisis arises in ImpSec that requires someone with inside knowledge but outside of the normal chain of command.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Downplayed in Breaking Bad. In the pilot, protagonist Walter White is shown to be working two jobs to make ends meet: a job as a high school chemistry teacher and a job at a car wash. After he receives his cancer diagnosis, he angrily quits his demeaning job at the car wash to begin cooking meth. Walt doesn't tell his wife that he quit, however, and at first uses his former job as a cover as to why he stays out late when he's cooking meth. He keeps his teaching job until season 3, where Walt is fired from that too when he attempts to make a move on the school principal in retaliation for his wife's affair.
  • At the beginning of the Burn Notice pilot, Michael Westen is in the middle of a dangerous mission for the CIA when he discovers that he has been 'burned' by the agency. Not only was he fired, but the CIA also froze all his bank accounts and none of his coworkers and contacts will speak to him now. He is dumped in his home city of Miami and has to find out why he was burned while trying to build a new life for himself.
  • Cobra Kai: Getting fired from his job as a handyman (for making a rude remark to a rude customer) is part of a chain of events that sends Johnny to rock bottom and inspires him to reopen the infamous dojo.
  • Beginning of Community has Jeff Winger lose his job as a lawyer because he never got his Bachelor’s degree, allowing the wacky hijinks of the community college setting to kick off.
  • Daredevil (2015): Karen Page enters season 1 as a secretary from Union Allied. Upon her discovering evidence of criminal activity, Fisk makes moves to have her silenced. Effectively, she is rendered unemployed almost immediately, which also leaves her free to come to work for the newly established Nelson & Murdock as their office assistant.
  • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: Todd Brotzman is fired from his job after stumbling onto a murder scene. He spends the rest of the series being dragged along by Dirk Gently in order to solve said murder.
  • Doctor Who: In "Rose", the title character has the department store she works at blown up by the Doctor, leaving her free to become a companion.
  • Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 opens with June arriving to her first day of work at a financing firm but finds it in the midst of shutting down as the boss is being arrested for running a massive Ponzi scheme. Thus she is unemployed before she even started work, and lost her work-provided apartment, which sets her on the path to becoming Chloe's roommate.
  • On Girls', Hannah Horvath starts the first episode off being cut off from her parents and fired from her internship (when she demands it turns into full-time employment). Hilarity Ensues.
  • Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha: Hye-jin quits her job at a dental clinic after seeing her boss mishandle a client and drunkenly rants about it on a dental forum the night after. This summarily sinks her chances of finding another job, which is why she decides to open a clinic in the countryside instead.
  • It happened with a Jimmy Kimmel Live! sketch on the global closing of Toys "R" Us. A very upsetting Geoffrey the Giraffe is now out of a job because everybody is buying toys on Amazon.
  • Just Shoot Me!: Maya is fired from her job as a writer at a newscast in the pilot, and is forced to work for her father's fashion magazine.
  • That's how she became The Nanny named Fran.
  • One Foot in the Grave begins with Victor Meldrew losing his job, having been replaced by a little electronic box. It's treated quite realistically, which blindsided many critics at the time; they weren't expecting such a downer from a sitcom's establishing episode.
  • The pilot of Royal Pains sees Dr. Hank Lawson fired from his hospital after a spurious wrongful-death lawsuit. Eager to take his mind off of his financial issues, he agrees to go with his little brother Evan to a party in the Hamptons, where his medical training helps him solve an emergency and results in the party's ailing host hiring him as a personal physician, giving him and his brother the capital they need to set up a new concierge medical practice.
  • Sometime before the beginning of the story, but really the catalyst for the whole thing, in Veronica Mars Keith Mars loses his job as the sheriff because of Lily Kane's murder, allowing him to open up his private detective firm and allowing the titular Veronica to start getting experience as a Private Eye.

  • This is literally how the Old Master Q extended story, "The Old Village" (古老村), starts. Master Q and friends, Mr. Chin and Big Potato, are minimum-wage workers in 1970s Hong Kong at the story's beginning, with Chin the janitor engrossed in a wuxia novel, to the point where he tries playing with his mop like a weapon only to unintentionally shove it into his Pointy-Haired Boss' face. The boss begins physically attacking Chin in a rage, leading to Master Q the typist trying to break up a fight and the boss subsequently firing both of them on the spot with half a month's pay. When Big Potato, the accounts clerk, tells the boss it's required by labor laws for laid-off employees to receive two months' salary, the boss gives in... and decide to fire Big Potato for good measure. The trio then starts their own courier company leading to their misadventures into a Hidden Elf Village.

  • The beginning of the 2004 story in BIONICLE has the plot kick off with six Matoran all being given Toa stones by the hero Lhikan, who completely interrupts whatever work they're in the middle of doing. Even after becoming Toa, though, they all end up having to deal with/rescue former co-workers and in some cases the Job Mindset Inertia that's held over from what they used to do. Still, their former professions are often what helps the team as a whole.

    Video Games 
  • In Family Man (Broken Bear Games), the protagonist and his friend commit a cybercrime at their jobs to get money from a guy named Delroy, but the protagonist gets found out and fired. This leaves him with ample free time to pay off his debt to the mafia.
  • GreedFall: Vasco's Admiral removed him as Captain of his ship for unknown reasons, only told to give De Sardet any help they require. Conveniently, he now has all the time in the world to follow De Sardet. It's later revealed he was stranded to test his loyalty to the Nauts, as he was becoming increasingly curious about his birth family.
  • Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth has Ichiban, Adachi and Nanba lose their jobs after Tatara Hisoka launches a smear campaign against Ichiban note , thus freeing up their schedules for the events of the game.
  • New Tales from the Borderlands begins with Anu, one of the protagonists, being sacked from her job at Atlas, after freeing a bunch of jabbers and failing to come up with a weapon-based project. The rest of the game has her, her adoptive brother Octavio, and Octavio's superior Fran, finding a new source of income in order to solve their financial problems.
  • Stardew Valley starts with the protagonist quitting their Soul-Crushing Desk Job at Joja Corporation, and moving to the countryside into a farm they inherited from their grandfather.
  • This happens to V in Cyberpunk 2077 if the "Corpo" origin is chosen. V already has a day job and a nice bank account, but they end up losing it.

  • Ginger's Bread starts this way, leading Ginger to start her own bakery.
  • NEXT!!! Sound of the Future: Shine losing her paparazzi equipment in the first chapter requires her to find a new way to make money, which is the catalyst for her deciding to try and become being an idol again after she gave up on it years ago. The rest of the series thus becomes about Shine's aspiring idol career and the challenges she faces in her pursuit of it.
  • Shot and Chaser: Olly is dealing with the fallout of being fired in COVID cutbacks after being injured on the job and refused any workers comp. He calls up Tre to go storm chasing with him since he's trying for "One Last Perfect Day" before his inability to get work due to his new disability results in his eviction.

    Web Original 
  • Bee and Puppycat begins when Bee is suddenly fired from her most recent job at a cafe. She stumbles upon Puppycat on her way home, as he fell from the sky onto her in the middle of the street. Her newfound joblessness also frees her up for the temp jobs Puppycat receives, allowing her to still get a source of income while getting to experience all of the galaxy's weirdness.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama:
    • "Bender's Big Score" subverts it. First there's an opening montage of what everyone's job is, then the professor says, "You're all fired!" because the company is going out of business (or "cancelled", as part of the movie's thinly veiled Take That! to the Fox network); then within minutes, they're rehired.
    • A one-episode example is "The Cryonic Woman", which opens with Fry, Leela, and Bender being fired and having to work at a cryogenics lab. They return to Planet Express by the end of the episode.
      • Incidentally, the pilot episode has Leela quitting her old job at that same cryogenics lab.
    • Another example is "Brannigan, Begin Again", with Zapp Brannigan being fired and joining the Planet Express crew. Again, all is back to normal by the end.


Video Example(s):



Vasco, the Captain of the ship that transported De Sardet to the island, is fired from his job by the Admiral and forced to join De Sardet's group.

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