A philandering advertising executive. An ex-con music manager. A pair of incompetent presidents. And the world’s most enthusiastic public servant. The 2015 Emmy nominations are chock-full of fictional bosses, ranging from the hopelessly deranged to the truly inspiring.
What makes these TV honchos so good, and in some cases so bad, at their jobs? Well, it turns out that what makes a great leader in Pawnee, Indiana, isn’t the same as what makes an effective manager in Westeros. Also, that mentoring an employee doesn’t propel you to Boss of the Year if you sleep with your secretaries. And that spending 17 years in prison doesn’t preclude you from launching several successful musical careers.
The following list, ordered from worst to best, is compiled from the nominees for Best Actor and Actress in leading roles in a comedy or drama.
Two caveats: I haven’t watched House of Lies, so I can’t comment on Marty Kaan—though I hear he’s a pretty bad guy. And, naturally, this list is full of spoilers.
8. Frank Underwood, President of the United States
Choice quote: “The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties.”
Frank Underwood might not want for power, but his performance as commander-in-chief leave much to be desired. He plans to dismantle one of the most popular government programs of all time; his jobs plan makes zero sense; he routinely throws employees under the bus when they can’t further his twisted plots; and he threatens to fire cabinet members for disagreeing with him. He also abuses his most loyal employees, pits every who works for him against one another to win his affections, and appoints his own wife Ambassador to the United Nations. Add to that that he clawed his way into the job through subterfuge and murder, and you’ve got a pretty bad man running the country.
Did I mention that he kills people? Definitely the worst boss on the list.
7. Claire Underwood, nonprofit executive and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Choice quote: “I’m willing to let your child wither and die inside you if that’s what’s required.”
House of Card‘s fictional first family gives a masterclass in how not to treat other people. Lady Macbe—I mean Underwood, comes across as more compassionate than her husband, but her more approachable façade belies an underlying ruthlessness. We meet Claire as CEO of the Clear Water Initiative, a nonprofit she founded to boost her and her husband’s image to the public. Eventually, Claire fires half of her staff and is hit with a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit by an employee she publicly reprimanded for disobeying a directive. In classic Underwood style, Claire blackmails the pregnant former employee into dropping the suit.
She doesn’t fare much better as ambassador to the U.N., where she literally falls asleep on the job and allows a man to kill himself. But as Claire hasn’t physically killed anyone (yet) she outranks Frank, if not by much.
6. Selina Meyer, President of the United States
Choice (PG-rated) Quote: “It’s your job to know that if I say I have it covered, I don’t have it covered, and you cover me.”
It seems TV loves an incompetent president, or at least a controversial one. While Gary may disagree, it’s hard to argue that Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina Meyer is a good boss.
For such an educated, ambitious woman, she sure does lead an exceedingly incompetent team. They botch trips to ice cream stores, are completely out of tune with the American public, and get embroiled in data hacking scandals. Selina rarely, if ever, helps her staff or tries to relate to them on any level. Instead, she selects one member as a scapegoat for the entire administration in said data breach scandal, and casts out long-time aids Dan and Amy without a qualm. Like President Underwood, she too enjoys pitting members of her team against one another. Selina may be leader of the free world, but she mostly exercises her power making narcissistic plays for good press.
5. Annalise Keating, Attorney and Law Professor
Choice Quote: “Are you good for anything or can you only do your job when you’re screwing evidence out of someone?”
Who hasn’t yearned for a tough-but-fair college professor who can show you the ropes while shaping you into a better person? At first, Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) appears to be just that. She’s an accomplished attorney and a one-of-a-kind law professor, going so far as to select a group of students each year to mentor and let loose on real-world cases. She’s brilliant, charismatic, and a little bit dangerous.
There’s no denying that Keating really wants to help out her interns: Even in the middle of a kidnapping, she takes her time teaching her protégés valuable career lessons. But helping your students cover up murders does not a good boss make. And maybe stop encouraging your associates to do all of your dirty work.
4. Daenerys Targaryen, Khaleesi, Mother Of Dragons and Queen of Meereen
Choice quote: “Woman? Is that meant to insult me? I would return the slap if I took you for a man.”
She’s no Jon Snow. Or Tyrion Lannister. As a friend told me, in the world of Game of Thrones, Dany (Emilia Clarke) is “definitely a boss. Jury is still out if she’s a good one.”
Daenerys has killed a lot of people, but that’s not what makes her a bad boss. Her shortcoming as the leader in this insanely violent fantasy world is that she’s not killing enough people. The admirable traits that would make Dany a decent boss today—compassion, empathy, belief in a more just world—turn out to be hindrances for her in Meereen.
3. Don Draper, Advertising Executive
Choice quote: “I’m glad that this is an environment where you feel free to fail.”
This is where things get tricky: You could make the case either way about whether or not Don Draper is a good boss.
While it’s true Draper (Jon Hamm) gave Peggy Olsen her shot at a bigger stage, he did so to keep Pete Campbell at bay—and took all of the credit when their joint ad campaign won a Clio award (but hey, that’s what the money is for, right?).
We saw what an incredible mentor Don could be when he pushed Peggy to pitch to Burger Chef. And the guy does give a heck of an inspirational speech. And yet…he slept with two of his secretaries, came in late most work days, and was simply missing, asleep, drunk, or all of the above through most others.
Let’s just say he’s complicated.
2. Cookie Lyon, Music Manager and Co-Founder of Empire Entertainment
Choice quote: “The streets ain’t made for everybody. That’s why they made sidewalks.”
Spending 17 years in prison for dealing the drugs that helped your husband build a multi-million dollar empire can’t hold Cookie Lyon back. The matriarch was last season‘s breakout character, with her fabulous outfits and unfiltered zingers winning the hearts of fans and critics alike. And while I love a well-timed insult as much as the next person, it was Cookie’s abilities as a music manager and mogul that were truly impressive.
Cookie literally didn’t miss a beat in prison. She came back into the music world and effortlessly took struggling artist son Jamal from virtual obscurity to chart-topper. And while she’s technically not in charge of other son Hakeem’s rap career, she was able to knock some business sense into him, all while seamlessly helping his fellow popstar (and girlfriend) Tiana overcome what could have been a major scandal.
1. Leslie Knope, Deputy Director of the Pawnee Parks Department, City Councilwoman, and Head of the National Parks Service
Choice quote: “We have to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. It doesn’t matter, but work is third.”
Was there ever any doubt who would be named TV’s best boss? Amy Poehler’s turn as Leslie Knope—the passionate and highly-energetic director of the Pawnee (Indiana) Parks and Recreation Department—is the epitome of the optimistic, self-sacrificing public servant. She works tirelessly, believes in herself and in her team, and genuinely loves her job.
She’s your life coach and the best Pawnee Goddess troop leader you could ask for. She knows you deserve more, and she’ll help you get there. She’s hyper-organized, hyper-intelligent, and hyper-committed. Best of all, she gets stuff done, and then some.
Knope didn’t let a recall from the Pawnee City Council stifle her ambition; instead she kept persevering, eventually reaching an even higher stage when she’s named Head of the National Parks Service. And she turned April Ludgate from an apathetic young intern at the Parks Department into a competent, responsible government employee. And Leslie helped Ludgate realize her dreams away from her beloved Pawnee. Because when you truly care about your employees and their futures, you want them to shine no matter where they work.