Given that this is my favorite show on television at the moment, and likely to be one of my favorite ever at the rate that it’s developing, a post of this magnitude was inevitable. The Office is right in so many ways, and that’s reflected in the length of this entry. Think of this as a very long-winded thank you letter.
It’s very, very funny.
Humor can be a strange thing. What many people don’t seem to realize is that if someone doesn’t think something is funny to begin with, you’re going to have a very difficult time convincing them otherwise. Attempting to impose your sense of humor on someone is nothing more than a colossal waste of time and effort and is only going to make that person resent you, and that’s not something you want — that is, unless we’re talking about this show. If someone doesn’t think The Office is funny, then there is obviously something very wrong with them. People like this don’t deserve your company. You should welcome their resentment.
All kidding aside, this is the funniest show that I have seen on television in a long time. In fact, I’m not sure if any show that I have ever watched has been able to deliver the laughs as consistently and as well as The Office. NewsRadio is the closest thing that comes to mind, but even that was a different brand of humor . Although there are traditional punchlines in The Office that you will get immediately, there are other elusive aspects of its humor that are more difficult to pin down. I hesitate to call them punchlines because there’s nothing instant about them. No, these are the jokes and jabs that you don’t notice until the third or fourth viewing, and often times, they’re the ones that really stick.
There’s nothing on television right now that even comes close. Conan, maybe, but his pale, anorexic figure gives him an unfair advantage. Besides, he’s a talk show host so he doesn’t count.
It’s more than a comedy.
This one’s a big deal for me. Character development is paramount: ultimately, it’s what separates the merely entertaining shows from the ones that I really care about. Sports Night, Freaks and Geeks, Firefly, Lost — they were all anchored by outstanding character development (or still are, in the case of Lost). The Office hardly looks like it belongs on such a list given its complexion, but you would be selling the show woefully short by passing it off as just another comedy.
I remember watching the original British version of The Office. It was never the humor of it that hooked me in — there were moments when I simply wasn’t able to grasp the comedy of David Brent and company. No, the reason why I kept coming back to the show was to see how the Tim and Dawn situation would eventually work itself out. Like just about everyone else who had seen the show, I was rooting for Dawn to ditch Lee and get together with Tim. The creators were aware of this and gradually shifted Tim and Dawn from a background element to something very much at the forefront. By the time I arrived at the Christmas Special, the Will They or Won’t They? saga had become the main attraction of the show, not just from my point of view but quite literally: the anonymous camera crew that had guided us through two seasons now had a voice, and it was offering Dawn another shot at what she had left behind.
We now have Jim and Pam to root for in the American Office, to even greater effect than Tim and Dawn in my opinion. The writers have paced this relationship well, keeping the tension alive with well-placed, often subtle interactions between the two in each episode, but never advancing it too aggressively. There are always obstacles keeping them apart, and part of the appeal to tuning in each week is watching it all unfold. It doesn’t hurt that John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer have managed to develop their characters into an irresistably likable duo. There are plenty of reasons to want to see them together and precious few not to, unless you’re secretly pinning your hopes on the forbidden love between Jim and Kevin. Rrawr.
Aside from Jim/Pam (Jam?), the US version has an extra thread of development that the original lacked, and that is the emergence of Michael as a relatable character rather than an incorrigible buffoon. Brent was a fabulously conceived character. He was able to conjure up a social awkwardness to any scene thick enough to cause even the most hardened soul to shrivel up. I suspect most of his scenes were conceived in the following manner:
Michael has a similar way about him, but he’s a bit easier to deal with. The writers of the American Office seem to have made a conscious decision starting in Season Two to dial down his wilder side in order to allow him to develop as an actual person. This change has created a divisive line among Office followers with some favoring the new, introspective Michael, and others wanting the Michael of old back. Personally, I approve of the decision — he’s still plenty unruly, but he’s less of a caricature now and more of a character that you can empathize with, not just laugh with (or at). You get the impression that although the employees in the office can’t stand him most of the time, deep down they really do care about their boss. Or maybe just drunken Pam does.
Making the camera an a active participant of the scene, not just using it as a viewport.
Steve, Rainn, John, Jenna and B.J. may receive top billing on the show, but I believe the camera deserves recognition as a vital player. Characters act differently when they know they’re being filmed — anyone who’s listened to the commentary tracks on the Season One DVD will have a bit of extra insight into using the camera as a tool to influence a scene. It’s a welcome departure from the standard format where the camera serves merely as a window to the action.
Take Dwight, for instance: he plays to the camera every opportunity he gets. This is especially noticeable during his scenes with Michael. It’s pretty clear that although Dwight has an abundance of (misplaced) respect for Michael, he would like nothing more than to be in his position, and he never hesitiates to let the camera know it. If it’s been recorded, then it must be true.
Jim and Pam also show great camera awareness. Jim is a natural performer and seems very much in his element as he’s being filmed, but Pam seems apprehensive of it at times. The camera serves a powerful inhibitor in her case, and I can’t really say I blame her: it does seem like it’s out to get her, always catching her at a vulnerable, embarrassing or otherwise inopportune moment. There are certainly times when the camera appears to have a mind of its own, flicking back and forth from person to person as it attempts to follow a conversation, or zooming in on someone’s reaction to what someone else said or did.
Best facial expressions ever.
This is one the things I enjoy most about the show. I have always been a fan of actors with expressive faces. There is something about contorting one’s face to say something that can make it so much more effective than simply saying it out loud. The range of emotions that some of these actors are able to convey without uttering a single word is impressive.
Jim and Pam (there they are again) are especially noteworthy in this regard — both of them have produced some particularly memorable expressions. I’m re-watching The Dundies as I type this out, and I’m at the point in the episode where Pam has been asked by Michael to pick out the highlights from past award shows. The expression on her face as she’s forced to relive her Longest Engagement Award in front of the camera for all to see is telling in a crushing sort of way. In that brief moment, you share in her depression and you forget that this is a comedy, or even a television show that you’re watching. It’s moments like this that define the show and remind me why it’s my favorite show on television.
It’s not all serious, though. This is a comedy, after all, and no episode would be complete without one of Jim’s trademark looks. There are far too many to choose from, but I offer his reactions to Michael’s “gay” comment in Basketball and Phyllis’ question about office one-night stands in Sexual Harassment as prime examples of his talent.
Fantastic supporting characters.
What a phenomenal supporting cast. Angela, Kevin, Oscar, Toby, Meredith, Phyllis, Stanley, and Kelly are all fantastic. Were Michael, Dwight, Jim, Pam and Ryan to somehow fall off the face of the Earth, we would still be left with an equally capable and entertaining group. It would be just like a line change in hockey except they would be employees at a paper company.
What’s makes this even more amazing is how well the creators of the show have been able to develop the secondary characters given the time constraints. The average running time of an episode is between 20 and 21 minutes, and still each cast member is given an opportunity to shine. How do they do it? It must be magic. That, and hiring actors who are capable of getting their point across with a single sentence, glance, or glare.
There’s so much that I could say about each of them, but then we’d have a thesis on our hands, not just than an unmanageably long posting. Suffice it to say that Lost isn’t the only show on television with an ensemble cast. I say we square them off against one another and see who’s left standing. A battle royale pitting the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 against Dunder-Mifflin’s finest… now that’s something I would pay to see. Fifty bucks says Dwight defects to Team Lost after Locke shows him his suitcase of knives.
The actors have made themselves accessible to their fans.
This one is super-neat. Take a look at Pam, Angela and Toby at MySpace. They could be responding to you as they’re filming a scene. I mean, how cool is that? We all know about actors who make appearances at conventions and other special events, but I’ve never known any to embrace the public in this manner. When you post a comment, you know that they’ll be reading it the next time they pull up their page, and that’s just an awesome thing to know. They’ve made themselves available to answer questions, divulged inside details on each episode, even posted pictures of themselves hanging out on and off set. In doing so they’ve removed barriers that traditionally separate celebrities from their fans, and I applaud them for it.
Shows like this don’t come along too often. I’ve actually been surprised by the quality of television as of late — there are a number of shows on the air right now that are really quite excellent, but none of them offers an experience quite like The Office. It’s hysterical at times, heart-rending at others. Though the hilarity of it all, you’ll find yourself caring very deeply about the characters, more than you probably thought possible from a half-hour comedy. Tell me, can you say this about any other show on television?
That is why I watch The Office.