In the first episode, the brass ring is to become an assistant manager at a Palm restaurant in Manhattan — for what salary amount and what sort of schedule, we are never told. Three executives from the family-run chain of swank steakhouses sit in judgment while five contestant-applicants, some more experienced than others, answer questions (how much is a 30 percent tip on a $300 tab?) and spend a trial night in the restaurant working a variety of jobs under the camera’s watchful eye.
Meanwhile, there is another panel just off to the side of the first panel, made up of three owner-operators of other restaurants, who are allowed to buzz in and make an offer to one of the candidates before the Palm people decide who they want.
This sounds confusing, but the real problem with the show — besides its exploitative and sad premise — is how slow it is. Much of the hour is spent watching some people stand on a stage and some other people sit in chairs. During their night at the Palm, pre-recorded and shown to judges, the contestant-applicants botch the protocol for serving wine, forget names and table assignments, and fail to recognize one of the owners when he shows up for his reservation, sending him to the bar to seek out the rest of his party.
Lisa Ling, the show’s host, tries to make the proceedings sound a lot more exciting than they are, to no avail. I thought Ling already had a good job — interviewing sex addicts and other fringy folk on Oprah Winfrey’s network, yes? Is she unemployed now, too? Or is she moonlighting?
“The Job” has a way of raising more questions than are answered. The contestants come from as far away as Idaho, Alabama and even Hawaii, hoping to get this job at a restaurant in Manhattan. Like seasoned reality-show contestants, they have learned to spin disaster into personal triumph; the more platitudes they speak, the better their chances. Thus we learn right away about deceased spouses and battles with cancer. Even one of the panelists is moved to ask a contestant — a widowed mother of six — how she plans to accomplish moving her family to New York if she gets the Palm job. Her reply ought to be to ask them what sort of relocation package they’re offering. Instead she assures them she’ll find a way.