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Series / Undercover Boss

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No one knows s/he's the boss!

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 is 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:

  • Apologizes a Lot: The Checkers and Rally's CEO does this during his second job.
  • Artifact Title: The celebrity edition falls into this as it loses the ‘’Boss’’ aspect but the format is the same. A more appropriate title would be ‘’Undercover Celebrity’’
  • Bad Boss: Occasionally dealt with in the jobs the Bosses take - some because they have too much responsibility and not enough help, some because they have issues in their own personal lives, and some because they're just a Jerkass. The first two tend to get treated better in the reveal than the third.
  • Benevolent Boss: Most (if not all) of the executives want to help their employees by understanding them better.
  • Broken Aesop: A common criticism of the show since many of the problem(s) of the employees shown is actually because of low compensation rates and horrible working conditions - something that the CEOs rarely if at all actually assess.
  • Brought Down to Normal: The executives 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. It's somewhat subverted in the Carnival Cruise episode, because one waitress that the boss of the episode meets remembers the faces and names of everyone she's served, including him.
    • One episode had the boss run into a higher level employee who he'd apparently met at a work function. The guy is unsure but seems to suspect who he is.
    • The then-mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, is exposed on one assignment when the city employee he is shadowing straight up admits to knowing who he is.
  • Did You Actually Believe...?: The Shopper's World CEO promised to her employee Singh at the end of the episode, "I want to give you another $20,000 check so you can go make yourself the big beautiful wedding you deserve." but instead of giving an additional $20,000 check as promised, they made their employee submit invoices for the wedding and is claiming she didn't. She insists she did submit the suddenly requested invoices and was still being stonewalled by the company. [1]
  • Downer Ending: The "Epic Employees" episode gives this to the very first episode as we find out that Walter had passed away sometime earlier.
  • Everybody Smokes: Most of the workers and a couple of bosses are smokers. There is at least one person who smokes in an episode.
  • Fanservice: 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 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 "1": 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: The low-level workers talking about their lives. It always demonstrates the kind of passions they have, despite their jobs.
  • 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:
    • Ronnie in the Boston Market episode. He outright states that he "hates customers more than anything in the whole world".
    • 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.
    • Jacqueline in the Retro Fitness episode. Insults the customers behind their backs (even once in front of the customer), believes she knows what's best for the customer, guidelines be damned ("I know the book says to make the shake this way, but it's disgusting. Make it this way."), and is generally condescending and wasteful (pours extra shake down the drain instead of making use of it, like giving free samples to customers). She even has the gall to call the undercover CEO "rude and condescending" when he was just trying to do the job. Once the boss reveals himself (even bringing in the franchise owner, Bob, of her workplace), she pulls a Never My Fault moment where she makes excuse that the CEO is wrong and even stated she prefers to discuss the issues without the CEO to front of the CEO himself. She cries mentioning that she would have never said those things if she knew that he was the CEO. But Bob noted that this makes it worse as that's how Undercover Boss show works. Ultimately, she was fired.
      • When Jacqueline is revisited at the end of season 4, she still has a Never My Fault attitude, proclaims that she knew this was fishy from the start and that, if she had to do it all over again, she'd do the same.
    • The boss of Buffalo Wings and Rings, Wes, is a juvenile Manchild who comes up with the most childish, crude insults for their staff. The main manager of the franchise was brought in during the confrontation for the explicit purpose of firing an unrepentant Wes.
  • King Incognito: The whole premise. Top-ranking officials in a company go all the way down to the lowest rung of the corporate ladder to face the challenges associated with their employees on a day-to-day basis. Unusually for this kind of plot, it's told from the perspective of the "king," with the boss getting to see just what it takes to be the public face of a corporation.
  • 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.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Mitchell Modell of Modell's Sporting Goods comes to realize what he's done to his body when he's horribly winded just by working one day.
  • 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, and the realization that female drivers had to pee in cans to stay on schedule.
  • Oh, Crap!: Sometimes, the company managers have this reaction when the CEO reveals themself.
    • The bosses have this too if someone recognizes them, which happens every blue moon, or if the boss decides to reveal themselves for a personal reason.
    • The Checkers episode had an epic version when Rick Silva broke cover after watching a manager verbally abuse and threaten to assault employees. He not only called that manager out, he ordered the restaurant shut down immediately. It opened the next morning with a new manager in charge.
    • The BELFOR episode had one when Jen told Sheldon Yellen that she was not getting paid enough to cover her bills due to a raise freeze he'd instituted to prevent layoffs. The more she says, the more you can see the look on Sheldon's face slowly start to become this. What Jen said was more than enough to make Sheldon reveal his true identity right then and there to her.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: The executive in each episode becomes a new man by growing a bit of facial hair (or shaving it off), 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.
    • This is starting to change, as some will take additional steps in their disguise like dyeing their hair, getting ear piercings, or in one case wearing a padded vest to change their body type.
  • Pet the Dog: While it might be a Scripted Event, many employees do get things that make their lives a little more better. The "Epic Employees" episode shows that these things truly went through.
  • Product Placement: The whole show is basically a vehicle for demonstrating how the corporation being featured is super awesome.
  • Reality Show Genre Blindness: Somewhat justified by the undercover CEOs 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, usually called "Second Chances," with some sob story made up about the "new guy"). 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 CEOs have trouble doing entry-level jobs. 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 DirecTV lady who has a problem on the phone.
  • Scripted Event: A non-video game example. Undoubtedly used in every episode to the point of repetitiveness, where boss meets employee, employee reveals very personal deep secret to random person who just joined team in front of cameras. It wouldn't be called on more if they didn't do it in EVERY episode.
    • Possibly Justified at least partly with the original ruse of filming a documentary, since quite a few documentaries do have interviews with their subjects.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Most of the bosses look better without their disguises on. Then again, they're supposed to look like they're not as well off as they are.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: In the Hooters episode, Robert Brooks was apparently this to Coby and his brother.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: If the boss has to break character to confront you about how bad you are at your job, something is wrong.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Not only does every episode have a brief blurb about what happened afterwards, but the final two episodes of US Season 4 revisited a number of past bosses and employees.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Bill Carstanjen (Churchill Downs) has a terrible fear of horses and Lorne Abony (Mood Media) has a fear of heights.