I feel young again. Not because my hair is once again growing in brown or my skin has reverted to dewy, but because I discovered the newest show set in NYC: “Partner Track,” the 10-episode Netflix series based on the book “The Partner Track” by former lawyer Helen Wan.
It reminds me of what work was like at the dawn of my career in the Reagan era when drive, ambition, and hustle seemed to be in everyone’s DNA. We were all up-and-comers and had the timesheets to prove it. If you had (or even wanted) work-life balance it meant you weren’t serious about your career.
Art imitated life on screen with junior broker Bud Fox going the extra mile to bag the elephant, Gordon Gekko, and secretary Tess McGill going so far as to pose as a power broker in order to get promoted. Who could forget Michael J. Fox in “The Secret of My Success” wanting the C-suite so badly that he pretended to be an executive at the company where he actually worked in the mailroom? Hijinks always ensued.
In my latest binge-worthy obsession, Ingrid Yun (Arden Cho) is an ambitious senior associate bucking for a junior partnership. She vies, one-ups, and backstabs along with her equally aspiring and impeccably dressed colleagues at the best of the best firm Parsons Valentine.
Although the show is lifted from drama to dramedy status with a lot of rom-com-type love relationships, when it comes to business the young attorneys toss around phrases like, “I need to bring my A-game to the meeting,” “I don’t play the law, I play the man.” And when Ingrid is in charge of digging through files for key evidence over a long weekend, she tells her underlings, “For the next 60 hours, I own your asses.” Can you say Girl Boss?
The thing is though, even though it’s set in modern-day Manhattan —which of course has that city-of-dreams gloss seen from both the windows of just-below-the-clouds conference rooms as well as from pristine street level — it doesn’t seem to resemble in the least the state of the modern-day office.
Currently, everything reported about 9-to-5 culture makes me think I’ve been transported to an alternate corporate universe where the norm includes terms like the ever-passive/aggressive “quiet quitting” which is the polar opposite of hustle; “ghosting,” where new hires don’t show up on their first day — or ever; and the granddaddy of them all “#WFH4EVER” because the pandemic proved assignments could get done at the dining room table and no one liked commuting anyhow.
So much for wanting to stay in front of the boss to get noticed and eventually move up in the company.
I’ve been freelance for almost three decades, meaning I’ve been out of the day-to-day office fray for a long time. I’m well aware things have changed especially the technology aspect, but I thought what would always remain constant is the knowledge that one’s paycheck isn’t a gift and something to be earned.
On “Partner Track,” even when some of the young lawyers do get fed up with their old school firm, they don’t head to the couch in their sweatpants. They leave (in the spirit of the Goldman Sachs employees who walked out recently) and take their ambition with them, creating opportunities, and as Ingrid’s colleague Tyler says, being “the guy who rolls up his sleeves and builds something new.”
Maybe life will start imitating art now that CEOs like JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon are putting the word out on remote working: “No seat, no job.”
Even though I believe there are lots of reasons not to go back to a time when racism and sexism with micro-aggression chasers were just the cost of doing business — two social justice issues the show addresses quite deftly — I do think it wouldn’t hurt to turn back the clock to when employees took their jobs, and the people who paid them, seriously.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the new novel “The Last Single Woman in New York City.”