When we think about the working class, it's sometimes easiest to point to blue collar workers. But in today's reality (and every reality if you're from the average middle class), working isn't an option, it's an obligation.
Here are some shows that celebrated the working class in different ways in television history.
What are some of your favorite shows that featured and illustrated the working people of the United States (and around the world)?
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the first series to successfully focus on a single, unmarried woman in the workplace. Mary Richards was educated, ambitious and the heart of the newsroom. She had a great relationship with her boss, but he still didn't hesitate to suspend her when she made the wrong move. Mary and her coworkers understood the importance of their jobs and worked as hard at work as they played outside.
All In the Family
Archie and Edith Bunker are deeply in love and happily married, but not to the naked eye. After WWII, Archie got work down at the dock. By the time we get to know him, he's a foreman. It doesn't make him any happier. With a negative opinion on anything and anybody, Archie will voice it loudly and to anyone willing to listen, including those he dislikes. A bigot, and an ist and an ish (anything goes), Archie plants himself in his chair after dinner to watch TV and lets everyone cater to him. And after him, all the couch driven shows will follow.
Sanford and Son
This NBC sitcom featured a father and son, Fred and Lamont Sanford, who shared ownership in a junkyard. Fred, a bigoted and cantankerous man with a disdain for hard work, was offset by his charming, kind and business savvy son, Lamont. Their genuine love for each other kept the business afloat and the laughs coming.
Another man quick to growl and with an affection for get-rich quick schemes was bus driver, Ralph Kramden. He worked hard, but when he got home, he spent his time with the wife he adored and his neighbors with whom he hoped to find a way out of Brooklyn.
Roseanne is one of many shows featuring a lower class family who laughs together and lounges together. Their well-worn couch is the focal point of the room and right in front of the TV, where the family shares a good portion of their time, just like we do. Both Roseanne and her husband, Dan, work hard to feed the kids, and when the kids are old enough, they, too, will get jobs to help keep the family afloat. Many episodes feature how Roseanne comes up with ways to expand her window to pay the bills without them becoming past due.
Laverne and Shirley
Laverne and Shirley worked harder than any girls in Detroit. At the bottle processing plant during the day at a restaurant at night, they earned their playtime like no others. And like many others on this list, that play time included bowling, dating, and bowling. Lots of bowling.
Rizzoli & Isles
Jane Rizzoli came from a working family, and her family continued to work very hard right up until the end of the series. Whether they were cops, as were Jane and her brother, or working in the cafeteria, as did Jane's mom, Angela, it was always apparent their working ethic was as important to them as family and without work, they wouldn't be able to live.
The Brady Bunch
The Brady's may have married and had a maid named Alice, but they still weren't well-to-do. Mike Brady worked incredibly hard to keep the family afloat in their four bedroom house (a three-bedroom house for a family of nine, including Alice). He had a den with a drafting table and was frequently sitting there because he brought work home. They were going fine, but if Mike lost his job, the story would have taken a dramatically different turn.
The Lucy Show
Lucy Carmichael was a widow living on what we can only assume were survivor's benefits. At first, Lucy tried living on those benefits, but her banker, Mr. Mooney was very tight fisted. She needed more money to survive and got a job working for the man. Lucy worked extremely hard as a secretary and, as you can see in the photo above, never let any appendage go to waste!
Neil Heck is the manager of a quarry and Frankie, his wife, wants to find a satisfying career as her kids get older. They don't have a lot of money to make things work, but despite eating a lot of fast food, they always manage to do it together as a family. That's a theme across these families and friends who are obligated to work – they find time for each other above all else.
Chico and the Man
Chico and the Man was the first US sitcom set in a Mexican American neighborhood. Hip, young Chico applied to help Ed Brown at his run down garage in East Lost Angeles. The two become friends because despite the terrible attitude of Brown, Chico sees something special in the older man and cleans up his garage making it a place people want to take their cars for service, and The Man warms up to the young man.
Is it harder working anywhere than it is in a diner for no set wages and tips only? Alice, a widow with a young son and aspirations of a singing career finds her new home on an Arizona truck route. No matter their background, they all found a place to call home at Mel's Diner.
Married with Children
Another version of The Middle in which dad works in a shoe store (who wouldn't have issues after eight hours of that every day?), his wife likes to spend and he has two ungrateful kids. Ted Bundy is at the bottom and there should be no way but up, but throughout the series, he managed to find a way down every once in a while.
Six Feet Under
When the patriarch of a funeral home dies, his family tries to hold the business and the family together so their mother doesn't lose everything. It's not as easy as they think, especially since it's not the natural calling of all the kids in the family. Periodically laying off employees because of a misunderstanding of how to run the family business is just one of the ways the obligation to work becomes overbearing for the Fisher family.
Sam Fox is a working actress and single mother struggling to keep life steady for her three daughters and her mother. While it doesn't seem like an actress would be considered working class, fighting the Hollywood system of ageism and sexism makes finding and keeping steady work just as difficult as in any other profession. It's all relative, right?
The Chance family are all working together to raise Hope, and money is slim. There is always the chance for a father/son get-rick quick scheme to work, but until then, Burt will work hard at the lawn mowing business. It helps to fool your friends and family by pouring the box wine into more expense-looking wine bottles, too. Everyone does what they have to do to survive!
Taxi was another great look at the working class that would translate interestingly into an Uber generation. Where do the Uber drivers hang out when they take a break? Do they even take breaks? We probably have more drivers now in varying degrees of the working classes than ever. What does that say? I don't know, but it's interesting to think about.