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'Undercover Boss' season finale recap: 1-800-Flowers wilts our sympathy

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The season finale of Undercover Boss told us the thorny story of 1-800-Flowers. The show pumped up a rivalry between the two brothers who head up the company, Jim and Chris McCann. Jim (the CEO) asked Chris (the company president) to go undercover. Why? Because as founder of the company and Jim’s big brother, he likes pushing Chris around. Chris complied meekly, but then told the camera when we were alone with him, “I want to run this company one day — that’s my plan.” Really? What does that plan involve? Waiting until Jim dies, or beating his big brother senseless with a large, $100 bouquet?

Undercover Boss, after just one short season, is very popular but is already showing signs of repetition and a need for novelty. So in addition to having Chris visit various shops and one of the company’s chocolate factories (which resulted in the predictable gee-the-boss-can’t-keep-up-with-the-assembly-line scenes), there was this sibling rivalry.

At one point, Jim, apparently realizing that bullying his brother into being the undercover character was depriving him of CBS face-time, went to the store where Chris was working and asked the manager there to have that $100 bouquet I mentioned assembled for him. The glee Jim took in ridiculing Chris was so petty that it couldn’t have amused anyone watching except Jim, who probably watched last night and cackled, “Hah! And Chrissy thinks he’s going to run the company some day? There’ll be 1-800-daffodils on my grave before that happens!”

When we arrived at the show’s standard doling-out-the-rewards final segments, Undercover Boss seemed to address some of the criticisms that I and others have aimed at the series. Instead of just giving Nciole, the employee lucky enough to come into contact with the (co-)boss, a raise, Chris announced an “incentive system” to be implemented for people throughout the company who exceed their goals.

That’s nice. So was giving hard-working Jose money and mentoring to eventually become a franchise-owner. And Dee seemed pleased that 1-800-Flowers was going to name an arrangement after her.

As usual, the workers were filmed for the maximum amount of gratefulness they expressed, while the bosses got to glow with generosity. But also as usual with Boss, I felt as though, when the cameras were turned off, everyone probably returned to their usual roles, without much substantive change that might make the workers’ lives better.

Playing explicitly off of fear and the poor economy, Undercover Boss is meant to make its audience feel warmly about its own jobs and employers. But I wonder whether, when Undercover Boss comes back for its second season, a lot of viewers will feel they’ve seen this rigidly-formatted, envy-the-boss show before, and exercise their right to say, “I quit” to Undercover Boss.

Did you watch Undercover Boss? What did you think?

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