Office culture has proven to be a limitless supply of satiric material, with the most prevailing theme being that we all kinda suck at our jobs, or our jobs kinda suck.  From Jack Donaghy, the easily distracted president of NBC in 30 Rock, to the apathetic software programmer, Peter Gibbons, in Office Space, the dominant portrayal of the modern-day worker resides somewhere between incompetent and unforgivable.

Yet, there are certain jobs that you would hope were off-limits to such ineptitude, and I would think that “suicide hotline counselor” would be at the top of that list. 

But what if your local suicide hotline was as poorly manned as the neighborhood Foot Locker? Or filled with employees as ineffectual as Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch

A light-hearted satire in a grim setting, Head in the Oven is a three-part web series directed and written by Maggie Carey (The Jeannie Tate Show) in which three women run a suicide call-in center for 8 hours a day.  

“I saw this headline for a suicide hotline that’s hours were changing to nine to five,” Carey said about the origin of Head in the Oven. “It was basically saying ‘If you have a problem – if you’re thinking about doing something like this – you better have those thoughts during working hours.’”

Still, it’s hard to imagine that the real-life inspiration for the fabricated office could be run by people as lazy, insensitive, self-centered and uninterested as the three broads who work at Head in the Oven.  If Sylvia Plath had their number, she still would’ve been a goner.

Randy, played by Carey, struggles with carpal tunnel syndrome and sniffing Ben-Gay like Sharpies. She’s starved for love and friendship, yet fails to relate with callers who share her desperation.  The other two characters who answer calls are equally useless.

Heather (played by actress, singer and NYC-based burlesque artist, Amelia “Miss Rizo” Zirin-Brown), tramps indifferently into work wearing her clothes (make that a bathing suit) from the day before. “She’s slutty and unhappy,” Zirin-Brown said of her character. “She doesn’t work. She’s not invested in the job at all and has very little interest in anything.”

Pear is played by actress and comedian Katie Schorr who fancies herself the “Charlotte” of the group. She’s earnest but her inability to remain calm in a crisis, combined with a love interest in an anonymous prank caller (SNL and Superbad’s Bill Hader) proves her to be as inappropriately behaved as her coworkers. “Pear really wants to do it well,” Schorr explained, “but does a horrible job.”

The show has some dark elements, but its suicide hotline setting is really a device to satirize corporate culture, more than to make light of a serious issue. Even though some YouTubers findHead in the Oven offensive, those folks seem to be missing the point.   Like a lot of dark comedy, the ignorance, incompetence, and even cruelty of the main characters is less to poke fun at those less fortunate and more to criticize the institution that houses them, whether it’s the demented high-school social aggressors of Heathers or the accidental launch of a nuclear war in Dr. Strangelove.

Head in the Oven could be set in any kind of office, so long as the employees begrudgingly showed up for work, punched in, did a lousy job, punched out again, and still managed to earn a paycheck for a whole lotta nothing. The fact that it’s about suicide counselors is almost incidental.  Still, the premise is pretty freakin’ funny.

“Addressing [this business] in an unrealistic way makes it so absurd,” Carey explained. “I would hope that people would understand that we’re poking fun at office culture, not – you know –suicide .” Then she added, “I actually think I’m pretty sensitive…but any girl who is involved in comedy is not who she appears to be. She has an underside. Even if it’s not a dark, violent underside. Girls understand what’s funny about the grim side of things.” 

In episode 2, posted last week, the ladies feel the pressure of a competing hotline (1-800-NO-NOOSE), which, as noticed by the panic-stricken members of the office, is on-call 24 hours a day.  It doesn’t help that the competition is outsourced to India and that the operators are quite good at their jobs.

The final episode is set to launch soon.  We’ll get to see if the gals at the Head in the Oven office can turn it around. I think we can be pretty sure they won’t.

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