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The Office

An Emmy Award-winning American television sitcom

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An American Office

  • May 15, 2013
Rating:
+4
It took time for me to get into The Office. Years, in fact. I had heard all the hype about how great it was ever since it first began airing in 2005, and I had tried to take in the occasional episode. But the show's approach wasn't something I was accustomed to seeing, and it took a long time for me to understand just what creators Ricky Gervais (creator of the original British version) and Stephen Merchant and developer Greg Daniels were trying to do. But when I finally started to get The Office, I really fell in love with it.

Okay, I passed on season eight, but who didn't?

There aren't many sitcoms in the world about real adults. Usually the adult contingent on TV is represented by the parent, the conservative square, or the douchebros in their 20's who still think they're in high school. It seems like shows about adults are getting to be a once-a-decade thing. In the 80's, there was Cheers. The 90's gave us Frasier, a Cheers spinoff which established itself as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. In the Millennium, The Office decided to come along, but even so, The Office was different. Even the most adult sitcoms on TV tended to portray people leading lives of glamor. The Office took that all out for a portrayal of a workplace not unlike yours or mine.

Hell, The Office doesn't even take place in a glamorous city. This ain't Los Angeles. It ain't New York City of Philadelphia, two places which are referenced an awful lot on the show. It's not Miami or Seattle. The Office happens within the confines of Scranton, a city in Pennsylvania. Not a suburb of a large city, but a city of its own which is so insignificant that most viewers of The Office probably never heard of it until the show debuted. The characters are Rust Belt archetypes. Although one character - Andy (Ed Helms) - loves to pimp his Ivy League degree from Cornell, most of these guys nailed their high school diplomas to their walls and decided they were officially done with education. Then they took the first available open spot in whatever little place they could get into, and flipped their dream switch to the off position. None of them is working in the titular office because they want to be there. Okay, well, there's a possible exception with Dwight (Rainn Wilson), but nearly every character on the show is working at said office because they happened to fall into the position.

The Office is a branch of a struggling, rather unremarkable little paper company called Dunder Mifflin. (And later, Sabre.) The workers do the nine to five thing every day under the watchful eyes of their managers. The Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin has had several managers come in and out over the years: Deangelo Vickers (Will Ferrell), Rob California (James Spader), Creed Bratton (Creed Bratton, yes the character and actor have the same name), and now, Dwight Schrute. But the manager who is unquestionably synonymous with the position was Michael Scott (Steve Carell), the manager for the first seven seasons of The Office and arguably the very face of the show. For the first seven seasons, the operations of Dunder Mifflin in Scranton revolved around Michael Scott's ineptitude, relentless need to always be the center of attention, and a lack of self-awareness which would make a pop music diva look grounded. Michael was a terrible manager, but certain academic theories - especially the Peter Principle - argue that Michael was just given a job above his competence level. Several times over Michael's years, he's shown to be a fantastic salesman and a shrewd, tactful negotiator. He's one of those managers who would rather be a friend to his employees than a boss, and he thinks his relationships with his employees are a lot better than they are - especially with poor Ryan Howard (no, not the baseball player, BJ Novak) and Stanley Hudson (Leslie David Baker). He has a weird man crush on Ryan which Ryan finds more than a little creepy, and considers the latter his black friend, despite Stanley's contempt for Michael being obvious. Michael makes a lot of backhanded remarks based in racial stereotypes, and they naturally rub Stanley the wrong way. Michael's feelings toward Toby Flenderson (Paul Lieberstein) are quite the opposite - he hates Toby's guts for seemingly no reason, to the point where he once tried to plant drugs on Toby in order to get him arrested. (Michael had second thoughts about the plan, eventually, and the "drugs" turned out to be a salad anyway.)

Michael wasn't especially fond of Dwight, either, although his relationship with him was more like/hate. Dwight loves Michael to death, and is in fact the one employee of Dunder Mifflin who appears to have any real commitment or conviction to his job. While Dwight is just a supporting character, we probably know more about his background than we do any other character on The Office. There are some episodes which take Dwight to a farm he owns, and Dwight is also just a very animated character. He often brings props into work to make some weird point or intimidate his co-workers.

The Office is more driven by a theme than by any kind of story arc. This makes perfect sense because the show is seen through the lens of a group of documentarians who are filming the daily goings-on in the office to reveal a typical American workplace. Although a lot of the things that go on in the office space are hilarious, the real fun begins when the various characters are speaking directly to the camera. They tend to reveal their deepest, most forbidden thoughts about the others in their space. You would think they would be a little bit coy about what they say, being as they're, you know, TALKING TO A FILM CAMERA, but nope! The documentary was apparently being made for a period of ten years, and it's only over this past season - the final season of the show - that these characters are finally starting to snap out of their complacency and realize that holy shit, people are going to be WATCHING me say and do these things! Stanley has suddenly become aware of the fact that his three extramarital affairs may be broadcast ("If I turn up dead, let me save you the trouble: My wife did it.") Andy preempted his inevitable (and very deserved) firing by quitting to pursue his acting and singing careers.

The way The Office presents itself can best be described as this is the office, this is the people who work in the office. Therefore, The Office shows many shades of Seinfeld in the way it grows and develops its revolving array of characters. Their traits aren't forced on them by the writers, but they instead tend to sort of gradually crop up. I haven't seen very many character traits that feel forced, because they're organically weaved into the show by a crew of writers which involved many members of the cast. They clearly knew what they were doing, and so The Office probably has the most realistic character development I've ever seen in a TV show. Every character on the show has insufferable traits which balance out the redeeming traits. Almost every time one character is just about to soar over one line or another, the writing causes them to suddenly pull back so the audience can be reminded of that character's humanity. The most glaring example of this is probably Angela Martin (Angela Kinsey), a stern, no-nonsense worker and a homophobe who is visibly disgusted when one worker, Oscar Martinez (Oscar Nunez), comes out of the closet. (Read: Forced out of the closet by Michael.) She also carries on affairs with Andy and Dwight at the same time, and the two of them eventually end up dueling over her. According to Angela, it's the second time in her life that two men she was having affairs with fought over her in a duel. The show also did this a lot with Michael Scott. Andy's character development seems to have an arc. The only character this method missed is Dwight, who was supposed to be a little over the top and just got more absurd and paranoid as The Office moved along.

This has caused a unique problem for the show: With a cast that rotated so often, not every character got a chance to develop this kind of humanity. A lot of otherwise great characters ended up getting shafted a little bit because the writers couldn't take years to gradually work on them. The former warehouse manager, Darryl Philbin (Craig Robinson) eventually worked his way into the Assistant Regional Manager position. Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer) began as a quiet, reserved, and timid receptionist. She gradually became a more assertive risk-taker, married co-worker Jim Halpert (Jon Krasinski), worked her way through sales, and managed to bluff her way into a nonexistent position as Office Administrator. More recent characters, though, just get quirks taken up to eleven. The weirdness of Rob California is a large part of why I was put off the eighth season. Gabe Lewis (Zach Woods) doesn't seem to have changed THAT much. He was introduced in the Sabre storyline in the sixth season. Receptionist Erin Hannon (Ellie Kemper), the receptionist brought in when Pam leaves the position, just kept getting more and more lovably naive. I can't say I complain very much about the less-developed new characters, though, because they bring a purely comedic bite to the show which is sometimes necessary. Erin has become one of my favorite characters on TV. In one episode, she takes the last picture with a disposable camera, then immediately throws it into the trash, commenting about how wasteful they are and how you never get to see the pictures. Her incidents with a cake and a pen shipment are some of the most priceless scenes on the show.

The problem I have with The Office is its series of ridiculous romantic entanglements, each more ridiculous than the last. Jim and Pam I went along with because the two of them are one of TV's great couples. When the series began, Pam was engaged to a guy named Roy (David Denman), a boorish, inconsiderate, and rude person whom Pam thinks it was a mistake to be engaged to. She eventually married Jim, and their relationship went by mostly drama-free, and included a pair of kids. A turn for the worse happened in the past season when Jim took a job in Philadelphia, which I think happened because the writers got bored. But for the most part, everything went hunky dory for them. Michael also got a happily ever after sendoff with his longtime love, Holly Flax (Amy Ryan). The affair between Ryan and customer service representative Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling), I was also happy to go along with because it brought some wonderful comedic fodder to the show.

A lot of the other love triangles on The Office, though, are better for daily afternoon TV than weekly prime time TV. The serial relationship between Ryan and Kelly was pushing it as it was, but Kelly was also briefly involved with Darryl too. New worker Pete Miller (Jake Lacy), Gabe, and Andy have all been been Erin's worse half. And with an engagement to Angela also under his belt, Andy is apparently the office player. It's enough to make me go to Dunder Mifflin in Scranton and fill out an application just so I could have a shot with Erin myself. (Let's face it, Ellie Kemper is just cute as a button.)

Yeah, to cook all this daytime soap opera bullshit up, the writers must have been exceptionally bored. It wasn't as if office life wasn't being mined for all the gold that could be grabbed from it. Part of the reason the series resonate so much with so many people is that it involves a very sympathetic portrayal of office life, with workers who despise their job and often have to invent silly little time-wasters just to stave off terminal boredom. And the general story arcs were also done well: Over the course of the series, the Scranton office absorbs workers from closing branches of Dunder Mifflin. The company gets bought and merged, causing the workers to fret for their jobs. So the workers create little work parties, an Office Olympics, make silly little bets with each other, and hold absurd contests. If there's some unnecessary obligation that needs to be attended to, the office workers grudgingly take care of it, fighting fatigue and boredom the whole way. The love triangles don't enhance the series much at all. They bog it down, in fact.

The Office was supposed to have a spinoff featuring Dwight's farm, but it was shut down and the show's pilot was worked into The Office's canon for the final season. I'm glad this happened - I love Dwight, but the man is just too nutty to carry a whole show, and in any case, the pilot made it look too manic for its own good. The Office is about to end a fine run of nine years, which is perhaps for the best, so it doesn't become a franchise zombie. Even though I missed the first few seasons, I'll be tuned in for tomorrow night's finale.

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May 26, 2013
this is a cool show. ever seen the BBC version?
May 26, 2013
No, but it's in my Netflix queue.
May 26, 2013
much as I enjoy British comedies, I thought that this was one show that the American version was better.
 
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More The Office reviews
review by . September 12, 2012
Love It
This is an awesome show for sitcom lovers.
Quick Tip by . August 04, 2010
Hilarious show, with allot of dry humor. Not for all but worth checking out!
Quick Tip by . July 26, 2010
Like Seinfeld, the show has the power to remind us of the humor and importance of the most mundane parts we may over look about our lives.
Quick Tip by . June 19, 2010
Right up there in comedy with Always Sunny
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
Parts of the show are funny. My son really enjoys it, it never really snatched my interest.
Quick Tip by . June 02, 2010
Can be crass, but overall I love the show. Dwight is hilarious. And I love Jim's faces. My brothers look like him sometimes.
Quick Tip by . September 29, 2009
1 word... Amazing!
Quick Tip by . August 21, 2009
By far the best comedy currently running on TV! Great characters and genius writing.
Quick Tip by . August 21, 2009
sometimes michael scott makes me cringe so much that i have to look away. but i can't stop watching this show.
Quick Tip by . August 20, 2009
Awesome show!! Jim and Dwight are hilairous! Glad Michael Scott is not my boss!
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Nicholas Croston ()
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The Office is an Emmy-Award winning American television sitcom airing on NBC and developed by Greg Daniels. It is an American adaptation of the BBC series with the same name and depicts the everyday lives of office employees in the Scranton, Pennsylvania branch of the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Unlike many American sitcoms, The Office is shot in a single-camera setup, without a studio audience or a laugh track, and is made in the form of a documentary, or "mockumentary". Although fictional and scripted, the presence of the camera is openly acknowledged.

The Office was adapted for American audiences by executive producer Greg Daniels, a veteran writer for Saturday Night Live, King of the Hill, The Rugrats and The Simpsons. Original series creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who wrote "The Convict" episode, have production credits. It is co-produced by Greg Daniels' Deedle-Dee Productions and Reveille Productions, in association with NBC Universal Television Studios. The show debuted on NBC as a midseason replacement on March 24, 2005, replacing the sitcom Committed.

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