Step Into My Office
“Based on true events, the gender-swapped tragicomedy Step Into My Office highlights the absurdity of what women regularly face at the workplace.”
Title: Step Into My Office (2018)
Runtime: 19 minutes
Director: Misha Calvert 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writer: Misha Calvert 👩🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
The webseries Step Into My Office exhibits a steady hand, thanks to the experience of creator Misha Calvert whose body of work has unapologetically centered women for years. (See: Strut or upcoming comedy All Hail Beth.) In her third digital series, she presents gender-swapped tales of workplace harassment for resounding, darkly comedic results.
High production values aren’t the point of this bootstrapped project, where many actors contributed their time pro-bono. And the premise feels straightforward and familiar: gender role reversals dismantle existing power structures, a technique that can also be seen in Tracey Ullman sketches or the French short, Oppressed Majority, that went viral in 2014. But within its limited scope—five standalone clips that amount to 19 total minutes—Calvert sets out with a cohesive vision and nails the delivery.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Based on true stories of sexual intimidation, Step Into My Office highlights the absurdity of what women regularly face on their career paths. During the series press launch last week, Calvert mentioned that many of the plots came directly from situations her own friends had lived through. A few—Episodes 1, 4, and 5—were nearly scene-for-scene retellings of actual events.
To give you an idea of what that means, in the pilot, “Helpless”, a young actor walks into an interview, only to have the interviewer masturbate under the table, orgasm, wipe her hands on a tissue, and then hand the sticky, used tissue over for the young man to throw away on his way out. Throughout the encounter, viewers’ emotions ricochet between disbelief, horror, and wry amusement at these awful stories that have been turned upside down for the screen.
During our conversation, Calvert emphasized that she wanted to explore the power dynamics of gender. By depicting various forms of harassment, including gaslighting, digital stalking, or verbal abuse, audiences immediately grasp the double standard society has set for men and women. Behavior that feels commonplace for men, such as becoming angry when a woman declines sexual advances, feels shocking with the roles reversed.
Issues of race have no foothold in Step Into My Office, as the stories prefer to peer through the lens of gender-based discrimination. But clocking in at a 19-minute sprint, I wouldn’t expect a series to juggle too much, anyway.
Onscreen, audiences see a mostly white cast that does include several actors of color, such as Puerto Rican Lisann Valentin (Narcos, Jessica Jones); Josh Bonzie (The Good Fight, Elementary); or Breezy Leigh (Baby Mama Drama), the latter of whom are both Black. Even though their written roles remain “colorblind”—the opposite of multiculturalism, which celebrates different heritages—I chatted with Valentin and Bonzie to learn more about how their life experiences may have informed their roles.
“I was an attorney in a past life,” Lisann says, when remarking on her career change and being faced with Hollywood’s expectations of Latino characters. “But [now] I have to play, like, migrant workers, picking grapes,” she laughed.
Research backs up Valentin’s anecdotes of industry bias. A recent USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study shows how media regularly erases Latinos from film. And of the roles that do exist, an outsized share are written for criminals or for those with low-income backgrounds. It must have been a welcome reprieve, then, for Valentin to play a doctor who holds a position of power.
In “Womansplaining” (Episode 2), she and another female doctor interview a male cardiologist—something their characters find surprising and quaint, that a man could be so educated. As for that young cardiologist, played by Bonzie, race did factor into his interpretation of the role. “I’m a Black man, being interviewed by a white doctor. So of course I’m going to—” Here, Bonzie drops his voice to a sedate murmur—”talk a certain way, or laugh at all of her jokes.”
Calvert may not have meant to bring racial dynamics into Step Into My Office, stating during our conversation that she “doesn’t think about [race]”—that being a New Yorker brings diversity without extra effort on her part. Luckily, the result remains inclusive in its casting, and seems to foster an environment where actors can bring components of themselves to their roles. Being that race (like gender) are inextricable from the teetering economics of power, their contributions to the conversation—no matter how subtle or internal—make for a deeper product overall.
Mediaversity Grade: B 4.08/5
Calvert wanted to make Step Into My Office into a full-blown TV show. But after a year and a half of pitching it to no avail, she concluded with exasperation, “Nobody wanted it. So I just wanted to get it out there.”
Whether it was being told by studios that their viewership leaned male—as if men couldn’t possibly find interest in a dark comedy that spotlights gender inequality—or perhaps threatened by the unflinching rebuke to sexual harassment at the workplace, Step Into My Office was apparently too provocative for current studios to buy into.
That only shows how much work there remains to do, in ensuring that well-made and thought-provoking stories get a fair shot. Given the veteran chops and solid idea behind Step Into My Office, Calvert and team would be up to the task—if only the power dynamics in Hollywood could shift in their favor.
The pilot is online now, with subsequent episodes airing every Thursday until September 26.