Bad bosses in 10 workplace comedies: ranked

By Gen Terblanche13 October 2023

Bad bosses in 10 workplace comedies: ranked

Just like your real family, you can’t choose your work family, and that means you could spend your 9-to-5 in a room stacked to the ceilings with weirdos, while the head weirdo piles on the tasks.  

Now new workplace comedy American Auto takes us inside the so-called C-Suite to meet the boardroom chiefs who’re blindly steering an innocent car company through rocky waters. Where other office comedies show us strangers becoming teams as they unite against common enemies, American Auto shows us the bosses at each other’s throats instead, while the rest of us take the day off and pass the popcorn.  

And since there’s one question driving American Auto’s bosses round the bend – how do we stack up against the competition? – we’ve brought together 10 of our favourite Showmax office comedies to weigh up their work environments and leadership.  

1. American Auto

Justin Spitzer’s (the creator of Superstore and producer of The Office) American Auto is set at the Detroit offices and boardrooms of car company Payne Motors. Payne is floundering and its corporate execs need to adapt to the changing times or be sent to the scrapyard. And they’re pinning their hopes on their first-ever female CEO, Katherine Hastings (Ana Gasteyer), a former pharmaceutical exec whose leadership, experience, and savvy are only slightly offset by her total lack of interest in cars. Does she even drive one? No, and why should she? Uber exists.  

The specific setting grounds the comedy in fun details, but no matter which industry you’re in, a lot of the office bickering, backstabbing and corporate culture clashes will feel familiar – from awkward office outings, to colleague crushes and heckling over favourite TV shows (look out for Yellowstone and Yellowjackets fight in episode 3). Expect a dog-eat-dog tone more like Veep than Superstore, though. If you’ve ever suspected that a business would run better if you fired the entire management team, American Auto is here to prove you right.  

American Auto is streaming on Showmax

The boss: Katherine is brilliant at some parts of the job, but those are generally the ones that require ruthless cunning and a complete lack of heart or morals – like figuring out how many driver deaths Payne Motors can get away with before they have to recall a car. So we’re filled with glee when every fire she tries to put out starts a new PR blaze.

Score: 6 out of 10 bad bosses

PS: Pause whenever you can see the boardroom whiteboard to spot those extra jokes.  

Watch American Auto S1 now »

How does she stack up? 

Pop the hood on our favourite workplace comedies to see how Katherine stacks up against the best and worst bosses out there: 

2. Brooklyn Nine-Nine 

Brooklyn Nine-Nine S8

Follow the exploits of Detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and his lovable crew of weirdo colleagues like Lieutenant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) as they police the NYPD’s 99th Precinct under the eye of their strict, long-suffering commander, Captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher).  

The boss: Given a ship of fools to steer, Captain Holt is steering the staff of Nine-Nine to glory. He might have the charisma and flexibility of a robot butler, but Raymond Holt is laser focused on bringing out the best in each member of his team, tolerating a limited amount of nonsense, and making sure that there are no illegal shenanigans under his watch. He’s brilliant, ethical and able to outsmart any artful dodger on his staff.

Score: 0 out of 10 bad bosses; he’s the best! 

Watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine S1-8 »

For more cop capers and office politics for officers, watch these 80s classics (but prepare for some values dissonance – it’s been nearly 40 years): Police Academy, Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment; Police Academy 3: Back in Training; Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol; Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach; Police Academy 6: City Under Siege 

3. Vice Principals 

HBO's Vice Principals is on Showmax

When the principal (Bill Murray) of North Jackson High School retires, he ignores his two vice principals – grumpy and rigid Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) and scheming sociopath Lee Russell (Walton Goggins) – and appoints outsider Dr Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hébert Gregory) to step into the job instead. Enraged at being overlooked, Neal and Lee weaponise their sense of entitlement as they set about trying to undermine and overthrow Dr Brown, while pretending to support her work, and even go as far as burning down her house. 

The boss: Belinda Brown is not stupid, and Neal and Lee are in no way as slick as they think they are. Saddled with these two donkeys, Dr Brown tries her best to redirect their energy, while steadily becoming increasingly frustrated herself, and occasionally letting rip with some unprofessional comments. Dr Brown is kind to the students and a beacon of inspiration, but woe betide any teacher who doesn’t meet her standards because she’s not shy about firing people.

Score: 1 out of 10 bad bosses on a good day

Watch Vice Principals S1-2 now »

4. Minx 

Minx S2 is on Showmax

It’s bring your kink to work day! Joyce Prigger (Olivia Lovibond) joins the sexual revolution of the swinging 1970s by becoming the editor of an erotic magazine for women, with the help of seedy publisher Doug Renetti (Jake Johnson). Through the series, experience slowly teaches white feminist Joyce that she needs to become a determined advocate for equal rights for everyone, especially Black women like Doug’s secretary, Tina (Idara Victor), while she fights for her own rights in a deeply misogynistic culture and industry. Minx magazine hires all genders, races and sexual orientations, and the series uses comedy to skewer the attitudes that equal rights advocates were up against in terms of social change and sexism in the 1970s.  

The boss: While Joyce launched Minx as a feminist Trojan horse in the world of adult publishing, she has proven willing to compromise without being a walkover. Joyce is driven by passion and ambition rather than greed and arrogance, but she’s never been allowed to seize control before, so she has a lot of mistakes to make as she steps into a leadership role and searches for non-traditional allies. She’s not a bad boss, but she might be a risky bet and a little blinkered.

Score: 2 out of 10 bad bosses

Watch Minx S1-2 now »

5. Superstore 

Superstore is on Showmax

Superstore follows a group of employees at an American big-box store – Cloud 9 – who learn to unite against their common enemies … corporate and customers. From hapless store manager Glenn (Mark McKinney) to cynical Amy (America Ferrera) and earnest, handsome Jonah (Ben Fledman), to bitingly funny assistant manager Dina (Lauren Ash), each member of the team brings something unique to the shop floor. 

The boss: Bosses change throughout the seasons but for the first four seasons Glenn is store manager. He’s a churchgoing foster dad but while he pushes his conservative religious views on the staff, he also extends fatherly caring to the workplace – like when he tries to prepare Amy for management training, or protects staff from being deported. Glenn always tries to do the right thing, and he’ll sneak around store policy to do it. But he’s as ignorant as he is kind and empathetic, so he winds up accidentally committing fraud and such. Well, whoops.

Score: 3 out of 10 bad bosses

Watch Superstore S1-6 now »

6. Irma Vep 

Alicia Vikander stars in Irma Vep on Showmax

Pack your ego and your attitude, and get ready for a fascinating and funny glimpse into the drama of making prestige TV in France. Can American actress Mira Harberg (played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander because, of course, why not?) embody the role of famously sexy-evil silent film vampire Irma Vep in a new TV series based on the 1915 film Les Vampires?  

The boss: Depressive, demanding, neurotic Director René Vidal (Vincent Macaigne) is chaos personified. He has a vision, and in his vision, Irma Vep is not a low-class streaming series; it’s a grand piece of French film … split into eight parts that will, coincidentally, be shown on televisions, perhaps. Now if only he could clearly communicate his vision to his cast. Alas, with each new setback the delulu grows stronger.

Score: 4 out of 10 bad bosses. Mostly harmless.  

Watch Irma Vep S1 now »

7. Getting On 

Getting On is on Showmax

This American adaptation of a British sitcom stars Niecy Nash, Laurie Metcalfe, Alex Bortsein and Mel Rodriguez as workers at a run-down hospital caring for the elderly.  

The boss: Director of Medicine Dr Jenna James (Laurie Metcalfe) prides herself on her skills as a manager, while actually having the interpersonal skills of a honey badger on crack. Aside from using the patients for research, syphoning off profits to fund her own research and playing fast and loose with the hospice programme, Jenna is charmless, blunt and dismissive to the nursing staff and the patients, who’re just career stepping stones to her.

Score: 5 out of 10 bad bosses for making a bad system even worse 

Watch Getting On S1-3 now »

For more hospital workplace hijinks, watch Dr Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) crank up the insults and medical misconduct in House.  

8. Avenue 5 

Avenue 5 is on Showmax

Captain Clark’s (Hugh Laurie from House) space cruise ship the Avenue 5 has been thrown off course, transforming its eight-week scenic flip around Saturn into a life-threatening years-long journey back home to Earth. As Season 2 begins, Avenue 5 is on course for a close encounter with the sun, while the captain is still trying to work up the courage to tell his passengers the truth about their “adjusted” ETA. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Mission Control is under threat, and a planned rescue mission drums up less support than a TV dramatisation of the events aboard the ship.  

The boss: The “mastermind” behind the entire catastrophe is the “creator” of Avenue 5, billionaire tech entrepreneur Herman Judd (Josh Gad), who hired actors to pretend to be the ship’s crew, since the vessel is fully automated. No matter your place in the corporate hierarchy, you’ll learn to dread the name Herman Judd. Nitpicky on the cosmetic details, hand-wavey on the really huge important stuff, vain, ignorant, overconfident and prone to toddler tantrums and meltdowns, Herman has stamped his brand on the Avenue 5 voyage … the way that Godzilla stamped on Tokyo.

Score: 10 out of 10 bad bosses

Watch Avenue 5 S1-2 now »

9. Silicon Valley 

Silicon Valley is on Showmax

Watching tech titans implode on social media in real time makes Silicon Valley even more delicious now. The series pokes fun at the culture and politics of the real Silicon Valley, through the eyes of the hapless coders at Pied Piper, who do the real work of creating systems, games and apps – but wind up as cannon fodder for the CEOs and power mongers who keep it growing with their ridiculous demands and buckets of money in all the wrong places. If you’re in any way involved in tech, it’s filled with delightful jabs at the industry, including its product naming trends.  

The boss: When the Pied Piper clown car doesn’t have three bosses steering in three different directions, the company also suffers from seagull bosses who swoop down shrieking to snatch what they want, then flap off again. But even at their worst they can’t beat vain, oversensitive rival billionaire tech “disruptor” Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), boss of Pied Piper’s rival Hooli. Gavin can’t introduce a metaphor without illustrating it with a real, live animal … which proves unfortunate for one unsuspecting elephant in Season 3.

Score: 12 out of 10 bad bosses

Watch Silicon Valley S1-6 now »

10. Veep 

HBO's Veep is on Showmax

When her eyes aren’t rolling into the back of her head with exasperation and scorn, US Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who won six Emmy Awards for her performance) has those eyes on the presidency at all costs. Now if only she didn’t have to sully herself by playing nice with the members of the gross, sweaty public just to win votes. Serena has surrounded herself with a team of vicious, ambitious, unethical yes-men and -women, from her fawning “body man” or PA Gary (Tony Hale), to her scamming husband Andrew (David Pasquesi), dog-killing lobbyist Dan (Reid Scott), and her chief of staff Amy (Anna Chlumsky), who might be the only competent person in DC.

The boss: Selina Meyer is a natural backstabber with no loyalties who’s even willing to laugh off a #MeToo moment to avoid rocking the boat. On a good day, she’s an insult machine who sharpens her verbal claws on her staff as she belittles and berates them. Ethics? Never heard of her. Selina suppresses Black voters, tries to win over racists and colludes with China in her scramble for the White House.

Score: 10² out of 10 bad bosses.  

Watch Veep S1-7 now »

Hit play now to submit your resume! And for more corporate culture take-downs, also watch Horrible Bosses and Horrible Bosses 2