President Obama comes up with another winner for Netflix with “Working: What We Do All Day,” his new docuseries on working in America.
This is a very high-quality multi-part series -- one of the most moving and emotional that I have seen in a long while.
It is filled with the stuff of real life as it is lived by millions of Americans -- their struggles, their hopes, their dreams.
It is about the conditions under which Americans work -- from the service positions the rest of us take for granted all the way to the C-suite.
Barack and Michelle Obama are executive producers of this excellent show, which is directed by Caroline Sui.
Barack Obama is the narrator and occasional in-person visitor to some of the ordinary Americans in the series such as Randi (photo above), a resident of Mississippi who we meet in Episode One as she is working her first day as a home health aide.
The job pays $9 an hour, but she hopes it will lead to something better. But at the same time, she appreciates the opportunity the job gives her to care for others.
She had a former job that paid $16 an hour. It was in a chicken factory where her job was deboning chicken thighs.
“It was horrible,” she tells the former, two-term President of the United States, 61, as they stroll together through a local Piggly Wiggly.
Despite the challenges she faces making ends meet, Randi is not by nature a complainer. The scenes in the supermarket with President Obama are noteworthy for the incredible ease with which she converses with him with no discernible awe that he just happens to be the ex-President.
One reason for this is Obama’s evident affability. In these interactions, he is a gentle listener. Never patronizing, he talks with Randi as if she is his equal, which, in keeping with the American spirit, she is.
In his introductory remarks, Obama identifies his inspiration for the series -- the 1974 book by the late Studs Terkel called “Working,” for which Terkel interviewed Americans from all walks of life to learn about their working lives.
Subtitled “People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do,” the book was styled as an oral history.
And so is Obama’s “Working,” in which we hear the subjects’ stories largely in their own words as Obama’s narration fills in the gaps and reports on working conditions in America.
Others who we meet in Episode One include Elba, a housekeeper at the luxe Pierre Hotel in Manhattan who works weekends; and Carmen, a delivery driver for Uber Eats in Pittsburgh.
“Almost half of Americans work in low-wage service jobs,” he says at one point. “The jobs are more like a treadmill than a foothold.”
Indeed, when we accompany Carmen the Uber Eats driver on a typical day’s rounds, we see her earning just $6.73 in a single day.
Despite these factoids, the series is not entirely negative or pessimistic. On the contrary, the subjects we meet do not seem beaten down by their circumstances.
Carmen aspires to be a make-up artist, and her upbeat attitude makes us root for her, as we do for all the participants in the show.
A little over a year ago, Obama played a similar role as narrator of the Netflix docuseries “Our Great National Parks,” which the TV Blog gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up. “Working: What We Do All Day” extends his streak to two.
“Working: What We Do All Day” premieres on Wednesday, May 17, on Netflix.