From ‘Bent’ to ‘GCB,’ the Recession Brings Job Diversity to Television

Margaret Lyons has a nice appreciation of what she’s calling TV’s new crop of “sweatshirt boyfriends,” the laid-back guys who are populating a wide range of shows:

Despite their relaxed attitude toward personal grooming, sweatshirt boyfriends aren’t necessarily Apatowian man-children — Jack (Nick Wechsler) on Revenge owns his own bar and takes care of his annoying teenage brother, Pete (David Walton) on Bent is a successful enough contractor, Chris (Chris D’Elia) on Whitney is an entrepreneur, and Joe (Luka Jones) on Best Friends Forever is a video game designer. Pete (Mark Duplass) on The League just seems sort of low energy, more depressed than inept, while Nick (Jake M. Johnson) on New Girl and Max (Adam Palley) on Happy Endings fall more in the goofy-slacker camp, though both have started confronting their fears of adulthood, Nick by finally seeing a doctor and Max by learning to enjoy frittatas. Did you know those are like egg pizzas? The newest edition to the SBC (that’s the sweatshirt boyfriend club) is Best Friends Forever’s Joe.

What she doesn’t mention, and what I think is somewhat important about this development, is that this subset of characters contain a fair number of guys who work blue-collar jobs. Sure, there are the video game designers and Whitney’s tech millionaire. But Jack and Nick are bartenders, Pete is a contractor, and Max drives a limo. Women are getting their shot at jobs outside the normal gamut of party-and-wedding planners and PR professionals, too. The 2 Broke Girls are waitresses and nannying. On GCB, Amanda’s working at a Texas-varietal Hooters, and appears to be rather enjoying it — she gave up an opportunity to move up the rungs working as a consultant to a denim line to stay hustling pitchers and standing up for her fellow waitresses.

There are disconnects between these characters jobs and their lifestyles, of course, from the palatial apartment on New Girl to the Chicago loft on Happy Endings — television has a hard time with the visuals of limited incomes, even when they’re acknowledging that people have job titles other than banker or party planner. Amanda lives with her mother in a gorgeous Dallas mansion, a situation that might be humiliating if it wasn’t so comfortable, and if the house wasn’t giant enough for Amanda to have some genuine autonomy within it. The apartments on Girls, which debuts this weekend on HBO, may be the only socio-economically appropriate dwelling in pop culture in shows that aren’t Raising Hope. But even if these characters and their lives aren’t precisely accurate, it is, frankly, nice to see characters of different incomes be friends, date, occasionally deal with the fact that they’re at different places in their careers and at different levels of financial security, given that’s the way that actual people conduct their actual lives.