Stay Tuned: Who Are Your TV Career Idols?

Photo: ABC, Chuck Hodes/FOX and Jaffe/NBC

Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

Whenever I’m having some career anxiety or a stressful week at work, I look to my TV career idols for inspiration. I’ll take a few episodes of CJ Cregg being a “Flamingo” badass on The West Wing and Leslie Knope being aggressively awesome on Parks and Rec over Lean In any day.  Where else on TV can I find people who are good at their jobs, and will make me want to be better at mine? (All genders and all professions welcome.) —JT

As much as I love CJ Cregg — so much — I’ve probably taken more job inspiration from Toby Zeigler. I like the “you’re my guys” speech in “War Crimes,” of course, but the idea I wind up citing a lot is from “The Drop-In.” In a moment of righteous frustration, Toby snaps, “This isn’t government camp. It’s not important that everybody gets to play!” I think about this a lot, particularly as a former camp counselor whose job for a while there was indeed making sure everybody got a chance to play. Toby’s dig about government camp sounded nasty the first time I heard it, but now it strikes me as aspirational: Let’s give ourselves permission to have high standards, and not to treat everything about our work as personal. If your job is stressing you out, maybe it’s you! Or maybe … it’s not you, and your desire to make sure everybody gets to play is a hindrance.

In any case, the No. 1 most inspiring workplace show is definitely The West Wing. No. 2 is the MTV reality contest show Tough Enough, but only the original version. (It was revived in 2004, and again in 2011. Those versions are not as good.) That show was basically America’s Next Top WWE Wrestler, and it was a masterpiece: I can’t think of another show where every contestant wanted this chance quite so badly. Most of the contestants in the first two seasons weren’t even eliminated — they had to leave the competition due to serious injuries. Al Snow served as the sort of Tim Gunn of the series, in that lovable-yet-stern dad kind of way; he’s one of the best reality-TV mentors I’ve ever seen. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work, and when it’s time to joke around, oh boy, it is time to joke around. Tough Enough will make you want to be in charge of something.

In a very different vein, Dr. Pavone on Felicity makes me want to be good at my job and maybe have her job, too? She’s just really damn good at what she does, plus she’s perceptive and aggressive, which are my two favorite traits in people. Don’t you want to be a counselor? Or at least a really stable, no-nonsense human who listens to classical music and calls people out on their bullshit, but in like, a helpful, supportive way? I don’t care what your actual job is, surely we can all incorporate aspects of this into our lives.

If you work in health care, this probably won’t be as helpful, but if you don’t, try the documentary series Hopkins 24/7, Boston Med, and NY Med. (Skip over the Dr. Oz parts.) Hopkins is the best one, but it can be hard to track down since it aired 15 years ago. Each series is affecting in its own way — not “inspiring” in a hokey way, but in the way that any depiction of talented people doing hard work is inherently motivating.

Is it time, maybe, to rewatch Lost? Has it been long enough? —Rebecca

Exciting news, friends: It is time! I was fully prepared to say “not quite yet,” but your question kept rattling around in my brain, so I though I’d watch one or two eps and see how things went.

Twenty-five episodes later, I’m happy to report that Lost is fun again. I had rewatched a lot of the show while it was airing, but I hadn’t touched it since it ended, and I was stunned by how many details I’d forgotten, particularly about characters who are only really around on the first season. My timeline was also jacked; I forgot when exactly Rousseau showed up, how late in the season Claire gives birth, and the order in which different people find out that Sun speaks English. So those were some fun moments to revisit, but it was also just kind of nice to see everyone again, a little reunion I didn’t even know I wanted to attend. I don’t know how many seasons I’ll wind up rewatching, but now that I’m less focused on the overall mechanics of the show, I’m enjoying the smaller moments of storytelling. Oh, Lost, I loved you so.

I watched the premiere episode of Empire and thought it was irredeemably bad. I am the furthest thing from a TV snob (I count Game of Thrones as “cerebral” and can’t get enough Nashville.) I guess what I am wondering is: Is Empire’s huge following made up of people who have different taste in TV than me, or was the pilot episode kind of lame, but it gets way better? Or is it like dill-pickle chips, where at first they taste like garbage, and then all of a sudden the entire bag is gone and you just want more?  —Courtney

Don’t hate on dill-pickle potato chips! Not to make today’s whole column about camp, but seriously, Humpty Dumpty Dill Pickle Chips were as precious as prison cigarettes. I have no idea why you think they taste like garbage! Not to be Joey Tribbiani here, but like … dill? Good! Pickles? Good! Chips? Good.

On to Empire: If you just hated the pilot, then sure, it’s not for you. The show picked up some juice as the series went on, digging into everyone’s deal a little bit harder, glamming up the glam parts and making the tough moments sting a little more. That said, if you’re willing to give it another go, I’d really encourage you to do so. Especially if you’ve stuck with Nashville (Courtney!), there’s plenty to enjoy in Empire.

There are several new shows — American Crime, Secrets & Lies, and The Slap — that I can’t tell apart based on the promos. Are any of them any good? How do we feel about Ryan Phillippe these days? —AE

None of them are good. I guess we’re pro–Ryan Phillippe, right? He was pretty good on Damages not too long ago, and while Secrets is sorta blah, he seems spooky enough that he could land on, oh, House of Cards, or maybe next season of How to Get Away With Murder.

Stay Tuned: Who Are Your TV Career Idols?