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'Undercover Boss' Roto-Rooter review: Draining and unplugging the tear-ducts of the boss

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The water-works were flowing full-force this week on Undercover Boss, and they weren’t limited to the clogged bathtubs and toilets that Roto-Rooter President and COO Rick Arquilla went undercover to tackle.

The hour promised hair-clogging and sewage spewing galore, with our hopes high that the Big Cheese would take a bit of it up the nose, since we tune in Boss to see the high and mighty brought low, right? Well, the show fell considerably short of this. We were told Arquilla’s back-story at the start, that he was raised in a working-class family with an alcoholic father who himself worked on the factory floor of a Roto-Rooter plant. Then we were shown that Arquilla’s past led him to feel particular sympathy for a New Orleans employee, Chris, who said he was a recovering alcoholic.

Chris worked hard, both at his job and at trying to get Arquilla to shove a power-water hose down a clogged pipe. “How hard is it to put a hose in a pipe?” he asked the camera, as Arquilla struggled. The boss didn’t come off too well when Chris walked away for a few minutes and Arquilla, using the cover-name “Hank,” immediately stopped working. Chris was, very understandably, surprised by Hank’s lack of work ethic.

So was I. Far more gross than the hair and dirty towel Arquilla and another employee, Darrell, pulled from a bathtub was the episode-ending reason why Darrell, who had heart problems, was turned down for his disability claim by Roto-Rooter. Arquilla told his employee he’d “checked into it” and Darrell’s “paper work” hadn’t been filled out properly. The boss said the company was going to fix that. This did not fill me with confidence for the well-being of other Roto-Rooter employees filing disability claims who haven’t managed to get taped for a CBS TV show.

You know how Boss works by now — the employees lucky enough to come in contact with the Great Man In Charge are rewarded. But this week, there was also the recurring theme of Arquilla’s difficult, unresolved relationship with his deceased alcoholic father. After witnessing all the financial troubles and heavy work-loads of Arquilla’s minions (that woman Candace, with an autistic son, unable to afford day-care, behind in her mortgage payments — good heavens, what burdens to bear!), I began to feel that Arquilla’s own private suffering was being made all too public. I realize that this was his choice. But I also wondered whether Undercover Boss is the proper venue for a viewer like me to start wondering in all sincerity whether Arquilla wouldn’t take comfort in some Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings, if he hasn’t already. It just doesn’t seem like it’s any of my business, yet the show insisted on showing us more and more of this, as a manipulative way for us to “relate” to the boss. I guess that’s reality TV…

Undercover Boss reaches its season finale next week. Will you keep watching? What did you think of the Roto-Rooter adventure?

Follow @kentucker