It doesn't take a recession to bring on the boss bashing. It's the national pastime, and leave it to the tube to reflect that reality.
Television shows often portrayed bosses as ranging from bumbling idiots or frightening evildoers. Well before Michael Scott took over "The Office," Dick van Dyke's 1960s series had Dick working for the most self-centered and self-serving boss of all time, Alan Brady.
And who can forget Tony Soprano's way of getting rid of bad employees? Sadistic Ralphie Cifaretto was bludgeoned to death and hacked up into pieces. Tony suffocated his own heir apparent and nephew, Christopher, after suspecting he might turn on Tony.
But the current batch of bad bosses on TV might be the biggest concentration we've seen in quite a while.
Here are our choices for bosses you love to hate.
Wilhelmina Slater: ‘Ugly Betty’
Former model and upwardly mobile Mode mag exec Wilhelmina Slater treats her employees like something she scrapes off her Manolo Blahniks after a walk at the dog park.
Willie's all about pushing herself up the social and economic ladder, and if that means crunching folks in the process, then it's all part of the journey. She saves her best bad behavior for her employees, however.
She continually degrades her former assistant Marc, riding him like a little donkey. She dupes him into being part of her schemes, then jabs him whenever she can.
At best, Wilhelmina barely recognizes some of her employees, like Marc's scheming ally, Amanda. "Amanda, Amanda," Wilhelmina says to the almost invisible-to-her receptionist. "It is Amanda, isn't it?"
And when the queen of mean needed someone to bear a baby for her after stealing her dead fiance Bradford Meade's sperm, she looked no farther than her employee roster for a surrogate.
Montgomery Burns: ‘The Simpsons’
You can't have a list of bad bosses without including Mr. Burns, the bane of Springfield. Sure, he's had his diabolic plots, like blocking out the sun so that everyone would have to rely on nuclear power from his plant.
But it's what he has done to his employees that puts him at the top of any bad boss survey.
Mr. Burns has been monitoring his employees on closed circuit TV before that became a hit among real employers. He carefully tracks their every move — but that doesn't mean he remembers their names. It's a running gag that Mr. Burns keeps forgetting Homer's name no matter how many encounters he's had with his employee.
Ah, Mr. Burns, who gave that rousing speech to his employees, "Compadres, it is imperative that we crush the freedom fighters before the start of the rainy season. And remember, a shiny new donkey for whoever brings me the head of Colonel Montoya. ... And by that, I mean it is time for the worker of the week award!"
Waylon Smithers suffers the indignities of being a lackey to Mr. Burns, although he does seem to like the job. Some employees never learn.
Michael Scott: ‘The Office’
As long as we're going for the obvious choices, let's kick in the man who cherishes his World's Best Boss mug: Michael Scott.
Michael believes he's a beloved boss, a man who puts the fun into coming into work every day. He's got his soft side, but that's mainly on the top of his head. Michael has tried to submarine the career of adorable Jim Halpert on more than several occasions.
But Jim's not the only one to feel the sting of Michael's incompetence. Michael regularly makes cringe-worthy sexual remarks to women in the office and doesn't seem to grasp the concept of racism. He's even asked a Latino employee if he'd like to be called something less offensive than Mexican.
Michael gave employee Meredith a birthday card that read, "Let's hope the only downsizing this year is that someone downsizes your age." Zings on so many levels.
And never forget that his favorite game is "That's what she said,' the double-entendre comeback that works for almost any Michael Scott exchange. From "My mother is coming" (That's what she said) to "Why did you get one so big?" (That's what she said.)
Even academic classes and seminars in management techniques use Michael Scott as an example of what not to do.
Gregory House: ‘House’
He's brilliant, and always makes us feel like we're sitting with the sarcastic smart kids at the back of the room.
But as a boss?
That's just like playing verbal Russian roulette. You know you're going to get slaughtered, it's just a matter of when your turn comes up.
House has his doctors invade his patients' homes and privacy. They routinely break into homes to discover some dark secret that will lead to the proper diagnosis — although in truth it generally just sends them down another blind alleyway.
He manipulates people in bizarre mental chess games, wondering which buttons to push that will knock them off the board. He tests theories and procedures that come close to killing his patients just so he can come in like some Munchausen by Proxy guy and save the day. He loves badgering his team by hitting far too close to home.
Mr. Ehlert: ‘The Middle’
Mr. Ehlert owns the car dealership where the beleaguered Frankie Heck works in order to have some money for things like food, clothing and shelter for her family.
Frankie may not be much of a car salesperson, but Mr. Ehlert isn't much of a boss. He loves to bully his employees, especially Frankie because he's not sure he really wants a woman working for him.
Mr. Ehlert isn't above humiliating his employees to spur them on. Take, for example, when he told Frankie she needed to sell a car within a week or else she would be putting on a dog suit outside the lot to draw in more customers.
Ehlert ruins Frankie's plans for Thanksgiving by making her work that day. After she finds him drinking alone in his office and he tells her he has no place to go for the holiday, she feels sorry for him. Right up to the point where she discovers the reason why his wife booted him out for the holiday was because he planned on working at the lot.
Carlos Solis: ‘Desperate Housewives’
Carlos had seemed more likable after his bout with financial ruin and blindness, but he was back to his nasty tricks this season.
Neighbor and friend Lynette went to work for Carlos, then discovered he has no patience for women who get pregnant while working for him. He made a point of telling Lynette he'd just decided to pass over another employee who told him she was pregnant and gave the promotion to Lynette instead. He reasoned that the woman wasn't committed to her job if she opted to have a baby while in his employ. Probably illegal, the act was certainly reprehensible.
When he discovers Lynette is pregnant, he tries to force her into quitting — even knowing that she needs the job as the only one in the household making any money. He tries to force a transfer on her, then makes her work out of a broom closet and finally assigns her a report that means she'll miss her daughter's Christmas pageant.
And all it takes is Lynette risking her life — and that of her unborn twins — to rescue Carlos' daughter to make him see the light.
He's still a bad boss.
Brian Hastings: ‘24’
Poor Jack Bauer. Not only has the man been tortured beyond normal human tolerance and put his life on the line on a daily basis, he's also been plagued by a stream of bad bosses.
In season one, Ryan Chappelle tried to jail Jack. But later in the series, Ryan paid the ultimate bad boss price when Jack is ordered to assassinate him for the good of the country.
This season, Jack's dealing with CTU honcho Brian Hastings. The boss tried taking down Chloe, saying her computer skills weren't good enough and her career could be in jeopardy. Then he forced agent Cole Ortiz to give an inaccurate debriefing so Brian didn't look bad for cutting costs in an operation that went bad.
Brian also opted to send an obviously mentally fragile Renee Walker undercover, a move that proved disastrous because she was forced to play nice with a sociopath who had previously abused her.
Brian seems to have no trouble letting his employees take the fall for his own mistakes. Take a hint from the Ryan Chappelle incident: Jack doesn't have a problem blowing away bad bosses, even if they repent in the end.
Clay Morrow: ‘Sons of Anarchy’
Nothing quite says bad boss like putting your employees in physical danger by engaging in illegal ventures.
Clay owns an auto shop, and during a war between his motorcycle club and another criminally inclined group called the Mayans in the 1990s, he murdered one of his employees who was working with the Feds.
On a lesser infraction, Clay opted to have sex with a woman one of his employees fancied just because he wanted to pay him back for a remark Clay felt slighted his wife, Gemma.
But Clay's Worst Boss title comes from a moment we'll call "Sorry we killed your wife." Clay thought employee Opie was informing on the club to the Feds, so he ordered a hit on him. That was enough to make him a very bad boss.
Turns out Opie had been set up, but before Clay could stop it, the kill plan was put into motion. As luck would have it, Opie was letting his wife, Donna, drive his truck that day, so she got iced instead.
It's enough to ruin the company Christmas party.
Gordon Ramsay: ‘Hell’s Kitchen’
It's getting hot in here, and it has nothing to do with stoking up the ovens. Can anyone strike more fear in the heart of an employee than fiery chef Gordon Ramsay?
Gordon loves to shove his mug into the face of the offender, who more than likely did nothing more than muck up a batch of risotto. He slams kitchen utensils with the force of a warrior and can bring a giant chef to tears. His favorite slur involves calling the person a donkey — which might be referring to either slow moving or being an ass.
He also loves to toss around the F-word like beads at Mardi Gras. And not just before saying the word "donkey." He's hammered the contestants on "Hell's Kitchen" with such as, "If you saute scallops in a nonstick pan, they won't stick. That's why it's called (F-word) nonstick! I don't know what they call it in Texas, sweetheart, but (F-word) me!"
And let's not forget the time he told a chef, 'Well, I'll get you more pumpkin, and I'll ram it right up your (F-word) ass. Would you like it whole or diced?"
Susan C. Young is a writer in Northern California.