Photos: Eddy Chen; Doug Hyun / TNT

Battle Of The TNT Friday-Night Workplace Reality Shows

Ramsay's Kitchen Shark Tank Takes Over The Undercover Profit…with watchable results.

TNT must have heard it's my birthday soon, because they premiered not one but two struggling-business/workplace-assessment shows last night: Inside Job and Save Our Business.

But is one a blue-chip stock and the other a problem employee? It's kind of like comparing apples and quarterly projections, but I watched 'em both, so let's have a look.

The more innovative concept

Inside Job pits four candidates for the same job against each other during a one-week trial period in which they'll work, live, and play together while auditioning for their dream jobs. Well, three of them will. The fourth is a mole for the hiring company, who's reporting back to the boss on the other three. The audience does find out which prospect is the inside (wo-)man, but not until about halfway through the ep, and at first I'd hoped they'd keep it a secret longer, but this is a good way to split the difference. This one's Undercover Boss (same production company) meets The Apprentice (the old-school one with real tasks and people, not Joan Rivers selling Italian ices in Rockefeller Plaza or whatever the hell).

Save Our Business is aiming to do exactly that, with the help of British tycoon Peter Jones, but with the exception of Jones, it's nothing you haven't seen before: Kitchen Nightmares meets Tabatha Takes Over meets The Profit.

Winner: Inside Job

The better host/fixer

IJ doesn't have a host or lead; it's a different company/position each week. Jones is very good, friendly and personable but also direct and dynamic, and he isn't acting, but this one's a push.

Winner: tie

The less contrived/more pertinent to real-world experience and success

Inside Job offers a position as a sales manager at the flagship location of House Of Blues; the team has to throw together a presentation for Guitar Center in 90 minutes, then organize the event and network at it, as a way of showcasing their fitness for the position. The fact that Guitar Center's execs agreed to host their party at HOB after that grade-school-recital shitshow of a presentation is an obvious shenanigan, but the task itself is pertinent, and mole Barbara -- already revealed to us, though not to the others, by the time the event began -- explains as it's unfolding how each candidate is succeeding or failing in the areas HOB jefe Carl Schloessman is interested in. It's artifical, but Schloessman addresses that up front by noting that "the traditional interview process isn't a perfect science" either.

Save Our Business is a televised Hail Mary few business will have the luxury of catching. That said, though Jones renames the indoor-playground business he's trying to turn around, retrains the staff, and brings in all-new toys and hardware, Yas Adeli and her team have to work a lot harder for it than you're used to seeing on this type of show -- and do it with way less (producer-influenced) snotty attitude. You see a lot of fakey line readings and obviously misleading edits on these business-makeover shows, and SOB (…heh) does bite off a bit more than it can reasonably chew taking on Yas's marriage…but the problems feel real, the team's responses feel genuine, and Jones gathers evidence of the ways Yas is fucking up that actually matter and don't put her immediately on the defensive. For this genre of biz show, it's really quite natural, but the entire genre is a contrivance, so this one goes to…

Winner: Inside Job

The more informative take on the industry in question

Both shows did an excellent job identifying what that week's job or business required, and what was needed to fill those requirements. I learned what a sales manager's day-to-day might be at a national-chain event space like House Of Blues; I got a sense of what the workflow is like at a business whose chief product is kids' parties.

It's very close, but Save Our Business did a slightly better job here, as Jones made Yas call her competition about bookings, brainstormed upgrades with the team, and charted how best to use the space on weekdays when it's not overrun with birthdays.

Winner: Save Our Business

The better/more compelling choice of subjects

Neither show seems set to rely on stubborn camera-whore schmucks; all the casting -- and House Of Blues's eventual choice for the position -- worked for me. But Inside Job is slightly more interesting in terms of addressing problematic personality traits on the job, and working as a team while also competing; that last thing is a fundamental tension of working life.

Winner: Inside Job

Verdict: I slightly prefer Inside Job -- and hat tip to their over-the-top Batman score stings, which I giggled at -- but they do different things, and Save Our Business does what it does very well, with a refreshing lack of playing to the cameras and out-of-nowhere resolutions. I'd recommend either, but the Friday shift on my DVR only has one slot -- and Inside Job's takin' it.

Discussion

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