Review: Be the Boss Canada, an advertisement disguised as reality TV

Be The Boss Canada title card (Screenshot via Rogers Anyplace TV)

Be The Boss Canada title card (Screenshot via Rogers Anyplace TV)


It seems advertisers will do anything to get to your eyeballs today. Ads have taken up the entire covers of magazines and newspapers and a third of the airtime of pretty much every modern sitcom. They are all over the web too. There’s loud and obnoxious flashing ads on every other website these days. There might even be one on this page. (If there is, please click it for the love of God. Don’t question me and just do it, damn it.) None of those ads however are as slick as W’s new show Be The Boss Canada. Simply put it is an ingenious hour-long advertisement for a random Canadian business, whether it’s conscious of the fact or not.

Be The Boss Canada essentially is an hour long commercial (Screenshot via Rogers Anyplace TV)

Be The Boss Canada essentially is an hour long commercial (Screenshot via Rogers Anyplace TV)

Don’t believe me? Try watching the show’s first episode “Mary Brown’s Famous Fried Chicken” and not crave fried chicken and taters two minutes in.

The episode starts with chicken in a fryer, glamour shots of some Mary Brown’s corporate building, shots of the two contestants in their uniforms working away in a kitchen and a food truck. If you have the thing on mute you could easily mistake it for a Mary Brown’s ad, hell even if you have the volume on it’s easy to think that it’s a Mary Brown’s ad. The voiceover guy talks about how they hand-breaded their chicken and sliced millions of potatoes, then they end all that with shots of people chowing down on some Mary Brown’s. Heck, if I didn’t have to write this review, I might’ve said to hell with the show I’m going to Mary Brown’s for some chicken a minute into the broadcast.

You may think it isn’t unprecedented to have shows that are essentially ads. Undercover Boss Canada is a similar show that comes to mind, but I’d argue that Be The Boss Canada is different. Unlike Undercover Boss Canada, there’s seemingly no instance where the business at hand might come across poorly…just like an ad.

Let me explain: With Undercover Boss Canada, you have someone high up in a major company see what life is like for their minions and how hard the average employee works (in some instances it almost seems like slave labour). In addition, on that show sometimes the “boss” might unwittingly come across as a pompous jerk or incompetent. On Be The Boss Canada, the chances of that happening are very slim.

The company isn’t in for a shock for what their work environment is like because on this show they virtually have full control over a simulated work environment for the show’s competitions, where they determine who can “be the boss.”
The employees/contestants unwittingly are competing for their own franchise. (Screenshot via Rogers Anyplace TV)

The employees/contestants unwittingly are competing for their own franchise. (Screenshot via Rogers Anyplace TV)

Those who currently have high positions within the company don’t really look bad, unless they want to for whatever odd reason. In Be The Boss Canada, they don’t put themselves in the awkward position of trying to do what their labourers do and risk failing miserably at it. On this show, they remain on their high horses as bosses, nagging at their two employees/contestants, criticizing them here and there and judging as well as helping in orchestrating the whole competition to determine who will win a promotion or who will win their own franchise. (The two contestants are unaware that the franchise is up for grabs until one contestant is awarded it at the end.)

With the reversal of the Undercover Boss concept on Be The Boss Canada, where bosses remain bosses and employees remain employees who are oblivious to what the end goal is, you lose a lot of the emotional appeal of the original Undercover Boss concept. On Undercover Boss you’d come across people who are lowly workers, some working for next to nothing, at a dead-end sometimes difficult job, with their dreams and aspirations crushed by reality, but at the end you get to see the “boss” at least make some aspect of their life better.

With Be The Boss Canada you know right away that no matter what sob story the contestants have their life will get better as they will either get a promotion or their own franchise. There’s no figuring out who these people are and having the mystery of how their life will improve, it’s all there upfront at the start of the show. What you’re watching is to see who will win the franchise, and that isn’t quite as compelling as watching some big shot see what life is really life for the little people, and having those said little people be rewarded for all their hard work and toil.

Be The Boss Canada also suffers from what I like to call the W reality show effect. Many of their shows like Be The Boss CanadaUndercover Boss CanadaProperty BrothersLove It or List It and Love It or List It: Vancouver all essentially follow the same formula.

Step One: You’re usually introduced to two people. On the home reality shows, it’s typically a couple. On the business reality shows, it’s the average Joe worker or someone pretending to be an average Joe worker.

Step Two: You see our protagonists through a challenge. On the home reality shows, it’s simply finding a livable home. On W’s business shows, it’s making it through a day’s work.
Step three in action: What looks like a food truck about to explode (but you know better, right?) (Screenshot via Rogers Anyplace TV)

Step Three in action: What looks like a food truck about to explode (but you know better, right?) (Screenshot via Rogers Anyplace TV)

Step Three: You have petty squabbles and the inevitable troubles. On your home reality shows, it’s inane things like arguing over choosing the house with a bigger basement over the one with bigger washrooms (who cares really?). On your business shows, it’s an inane thing like will they screw up and ever so slightly tick off the customer, who in actuality doesn’t give a damn about anything and is likely distracted by the cameras hanging around.

Step Four: You then hit the climax. Will they love it or list it? Will he win the franchise or won’t he? Will the undercover boss be caught or not?

Step Five: You see how the lives of the people you spent the last half hour or hour or so with will change forever. Where will they live now? Who will get the big promotion? How will the boss make their employees dreams come true?

When you realize the formula (you should if you watch two or three episodes of most of W’s reality shows), they start to lose a lot of their appeal.

However, when you compare Undercover Boss Canada to Be The Boss Canada, Be The Boss Canada pales in comparison. I’m guessing CBS felt this way about the American version of Be The Boss, which is likely why they passed on it, and the spinoff landed randomly on A&E. It’s easy to see why Be The Boss is the lesser show when you look into it though.

As a viewer, you don’t connect as much with the folks on screen on Be The Boss compared to Undercover Boss as the focus of this show is more on competing for a prize instead of seeing a company and the people who make it what it is slowly unfold before your eyes. Additionally, you know much more of the eventual outcome of Be The Boss than you do of the typical episode of Undercover Boss. That’s not to mention that Undercover Boss’ overall concept of someone high up in a company going undercover to see what life is like for their employees simply trumps Be The Boss’ two random employees going head-to-head doing random tasks. 

While Undercover Boss Canada is simply more interesting than Be The Boss Canada, I’d say Be The Boss Canada makes for better television than Love It or List It or Property Brothers where you might have a couple bicker about some random petty nonsense about some random house.

The appeal of the home reality shows, I believe, is bringing the exciting home buying experience to viewers episode after episode where in real life you might be lucky to experience it every few years. There’s also the aspirational element, and viewers always like it when television asks them directly or indirectly “what would you do?”. (There’s even a show called What Would You Do? on the air now.)

Personally, I just don’t give a damn about a couple with a million to blow on some fancy-pants house and who seriously decide not to buy a house because it’s a few feet closer to the neighbours than their liking. The whole concept is quite insulting actually when you think about how many people are homeless right this minute in Canada, let alone the world.
At times Be The Boss Canada feels like a shameless ad (Screenshot via Rogers Anyplace TV)

At times Be The Boss Canada feels like a shameless ad (Screenshot via Rogers Anyplace TV)

Despite being more tolerable than W’s home reality shows, Be The Boss Canada is a ho-hum middle-of-the-road reality show that has many of the general reality show hallmarks. You have things edited in a way that make them seem like a big deal when it turns out that they aren’t when you watch the show in context, two people vying for a prize who get a bit nasty (but not too nasty, this is a reality show with Canada in the title after all) and a winner in the end. Still I don’t think there’s enough here for me to come back for more. It’s a pretty blah reality show that doesn’t do much for me. I guess it takes up airtime and is a good fit for the network, so I suppose I have nothing against it: I just simply wish it were better. Now excuse me while I head off to Mary Brown’s for some chicken and taters.

Episode Reviewed: Mary Brown’s Fried Chicken
Be The Boss Canada airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on W