This post was originally published at my account on Steemit.com.
Some things in this world are fittingly American.
Country music. Apple Pie. Corn Fields. And, of course, The Office.
A Little Bit of History
Originally made in Great Britain where it achieved modest success, The Office crossed an ocean, reinvented itself and became a global superpower. When you think about it, this show is America. And it has a lot to offer.
A Warning, First
Before I talk about how great this show is, I should inform you that it is not for everyone. For whatever reason, there is someone in your circle of acquaintance that just can’t stand The Office.
What’s the problem? Maybe it reminds them too much about their own office environment. Maybe it’s the fact the characters can be downright cruel to each other.
Personally, I have a hard time watching people be embarrassed. I can watch a movie where the characters die in terrible ways and be fine with it, but if I watch anything where the characters are horribly embarrassed, I cringe and cover my eyes. Naturally, The Office was kind of a hard watch for me. And even the people who love this show tend to hate parts of it.
But it is worth it, because The Office hits it out of the park, in a number of ways.
Let’s Talk about Steve Carell
Because he is, after all, the biggest part of the show.
When the American version of The Office started production, Steve Carell was already a successful TV writer, having done a lot of work on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He’d had a lot of bit parts over the years, but The Office gave him his breakout role, making such an impact that people were asking where they’d been keeping him hidden all these years.
Carell’s Michael Scott is an imperious and paranoid management figure. He is a caricature of the typical American business boss, sure, but the weirdest part is that he’s not that far off from being an entirely realistic portrayal. Like most bosses, Michael has an impostor complex, and all the childish things he does are the natural consequence of how hard he is trying to look grown up. He loses his temper, launches into melodrama over the most insignificant infractions, and is a firm believer in every management and motivational program that comes down the pipe, no matter how much it resembles snake oil.
This guy makes you laugh, and you laugh because you know how much you would hate him if he was your boss. You are relieved every time you remember that you don’t actually work for him. Therein lies most of the humor of the show, and when Carell left the series, it died. I mean, they made more episodes, but it was dead. The munchkin coroner had made his proclamation.
But, thankfully, the show had other great elements too, even if they would forever play second fiddle to Michael Scott.
Jim and Pam
It turns out, your mom and your girlfriend love The Office, too. And these characters are the reason why.
Pretty much all romance that we see in TV and movies is fake. Which is why, when we see two characters who have actual chemistry together, we are so surprised. And Jim and Pam’s chemistry was nothing short of explosive.
Sneak a glance at the above image and tell me that they don’t look perfect together. You can’t. It’s just a still image, but it’s alive, and the actual show was even more powerful.
Now, the romance between these two has its ups and downs across the entire series. At first, you see them alternating between coming together and keeping their distance in a variety of entertaining story lines.
However, as the show progressed, the writers took greater and greater advantage of this, prolonging the soap opera until it crossed the boundary from irritating into annoying. They shoehorned in all kinds of unnatural events to keep the lovebirds going back to square one. And it. got. OLD.
But they eventually wised up and gave the Jim/Pam arc some closure. This is perhaps the show’s greatest strength, that it knew how to recover from every fall, and it was able to run for nine seasons due to its flexible resilience.
It turns out, your brother and uncle love The Office, too. And this guy is the reason why.
Dwight is The Big Bang Theory, all in a single character. He has Sheldon Cooper’s tightly wound fastidiousness, Leonard Hofstadter’s obsessive fanboyism, Howard Walowitz’s Napoleon complex, and Raj Koothrappali’s undeserved sense of confidence, in synergy all together.
Often the butt of everyone else’s jokes, Dwight is perhaps the only competent worker in the entire office. He’s no bumbler—Dwight knows how to get the job done. But when it comes to relationships, he is the android living among humans. Petty, jealous, and occasionally—occasionally—evil, Dwight is the perfect foil for Jim, his biggest rival, even though they have a deeply buried respect for one another.
He’s so nerdy that it’s cool, and you can’t help but want to run right up to him with a big hug…because you know how much it would upset him.
And the Rest
The Office has one of the best supporting casts of any TV show ever. You can fall in love with them almost effortlessly. Whether it’s Phyllis’s motherly charms, Stanley’s covert cunning, Meredith’s out of control alcoholism, or Angela’s prickly-yet-fragile spirit (an evangelical Christian coupled with a martyr complex, but with a few bright spots of humanity shining beneath the rind—she is one of the most complex characters to ever appear in a comedy show).
I normally don’t talk about camerawork, but in this case, it cannot go unmentioned.
The Office is filmed by a single camera—usually handheld—moving through the offices of the fictional Dunder Mifflin offices where the story takes place. Intervening scenes, where individual characters are seated in the center of the camera’s view and speak directly to the audience, serve as a kind of confessional. The effect makes the The Office appear as if it was a reality TV show, with all the characters aware, on some level, that they are being filmed. The camera often wobbles (though seldom shakes), and when arguments happen between any of the characters, the onlookers will throw occasional sidelong glances at the camera, as if to say, “Are you seeing this?”
If this technique were used in any other show, it would be a disaster. Here, however, the reality-TV feel of the series actually makes it feel more immersive. You feel as if you could actually be working at this office, and that you are an employee of Dunder Mifflin, and Michael Scott really is your boss.
The true nature of the in-universe show being filmed is never revealed until the end of the series. And it left the fans with a little mystery to solve that added just enough spice to the show. The end result was something brilliant.
The Office is priceless, both as a source of entertainment, and a case study in how to do TV writing right. I would encourage anyone to watch the whole series, preferably with friends, over several weeks. Despite the show’s flaws, you will walk away with a trove of great experiences and ideas, and an appreciation for people, with all their warts.
The entire series—all nine seasons, and every episode—is now on Netflix. Catch them anytime you want. You can thank me when it is all done.