20 Feb TV Recommendation: A Retrospective on The Office (U.S.)
“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”
Dunder Mifflin’s own Pam Beelsy (Jenna Fischer) summed it up best. For those of you that don’t already know, The Office is a single-camera mockumentary that chronicles the fictitious inner-workings of a paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The “documentary,” set to take place over the course of a nine-year timeframe, captures The Office employees at the highest and lowest points of their lives in common situations that feel all too real.
Under the tutelage and direction of Branch Manager, Michael Scott (Steve Carell), Dunder Mifflin tends to be a bit more outrageous and silly than your prototypical work environment; however, that does not diminish the striking parallels between the show, The Office, and the mundane activities that occur day to day in all offices. Everything from the diverse group of people with different aspirations and backgrounds, to the inter-office relationships, to the employees’ home lives is uncanny; and I can’t help but think that working in an office everyday helps a person appreciate the simple brilliance of this TV show that much more.
I started watching The Office when it first premiered back in 2005. It was around the time I first started to become emotionally invested in stories and characters (2005 was also the year How I Met Your Mother began). The Office was my favorite TV show for the first 6 seasons or so, but it fell out of favor for me when I left for college, catching only a few episodes here and there. Though the show did take a notable dip in its success and in the quality of its output during that time, the reason I didn’t stick The Office can be solely attributed to the Thirsty-Thursday nights of college life (The Office was a staple in NBC’s primetime lineup on Thursdays). I had been waiting for my opportunity to finish the series out and see where the story of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company concluded. Now, working in an office and dealing with the same cast of characters every single day, it made sense for me to go back and finally finish what I started…. And you know what? I cannot stress enough how glad I am that I did.
I started watching The Office initially because of Steve Carell. He was really starting to blow up after a successful run as a correspondent on The Daily Show and some notable film roles such as the hilarious Brick Tamland in Will Ferrell’s Anchorman. I found all of Carell’s projects to be hysterical and I was immediately captivated by the show. Michael Scott is unlike any boss I’ve ever had. He doesn’t always think before he speaks, but he is far smarter than he appears and he views all of his employees as family. Michael is a friend first, an entertainer second, and maybe a boss third.
Along with Michael Scott, there is his #2, Assistant (to the) Regional Manager, Dwight Schrute (Riann Wilson). Dwight has got to be one of the most unique TV show characters I’ve ever seen. He is Dunder Mifflin’s top salesman and has an unmatched tenacity when it comes to selling paper. Dwight also owns a beet farm with a bed-and-breakfast, and has a bevy of obscure interests ranging from weaponry, to bears, to star trek. The “frienemy” dynamic he shares with his fellow salesman, Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) is also probably the funniest relationship of the entire show. Contrary to Dwight’s passion for being a salesman, Jim has more of a laid back and apathetic approach to his work. He views his position at Dunder Mifflin as “just a job,” spending most of his time at the office pulling pranks on Dwight and flirting with the receptionist, Pam Beesly. Pam is an incredibly thoughtful and admirable character with a creative outlet in art. In my opinion, Pam displays the biggest growth out of any character over the course of the series. She rises from receptionist, to saleswoman, to office administrator; all while becoming a stronger and more secure person. Pam breaks off her dead-end engagement to warehouse worker, Roy (David Denman) and finally follows through on a much healthier relationship with Jim (the two later start a family together as well).
The Office really took off in season two for me when I got acclimated with the rest of the Dunder Mifflin staff. I am generally drawn to character driven stories, and The Office predominantly works in a series of character arcs as opposed to a general overlaying plot. Recurring characters such as Ryan (B.J. Novak), Kelly (Mindy Kaling), Darryl (Craig Robinson), Angela (Angela Kinsey), etc. all began in the background; but eventually became integral pieces to the show. The Office also added more characters along the way including two of my absolute favorites Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) and Erin Hannon (Ellie Kemper). Andy is wildly insecure and he usually goes over the top to try to impress his peers. Erin is a very loving and bubbly character that seems to always get caught up in the crazy office antics, but generally maintains a positive and happy vibe throughout.
The Office is a near-perfect sitcom for the first five seasons or so. There are a few inconsistencies in the story towards the end, but overall, the show was nothing short of a smash success. After all, its UK predecessor only lasted a total of 12 episodes (dwarfed by the 201 of the US counterpart). The Office was just the starting point for many of its talented actors and actresses as well. John Krasinski went on to become a full-blown movie-star, Craig Robinson has had utterly hysterical roles in films alongside Seth Rogen, Mindy Kaling is the creator and star of her own show on the Fox network called The Mindy Project, and Steve Carell is up for an Academy Award this year for his role in the new film Foxcatcher.
In my opinion, the show knew itself and its audience very well. The showrunners must have sensed that what they had in these characters and actors was special, and they let those aspects loose so that a plot could form organically. Take Andy and Erin for example. Some of their history appeared to just be character quarks at first, but as the story went on, the details they shared in passing became larger plotlines and drove them to actions you’d believe those kinds of people to make. Andy’s desire to make his parents proud was the source of his insecurity; just like Erin coming from an orphanage explains some of her odd behavior and her love for the office family (Spoiler: Viewer beware, you may be a little disappointed in the end if you “shipped” Erin and The Nard-Dog). Also, it seems as though the actors were given a bit of free-range to improvise in the latter seasons and I noticed a dramatic increase in cursing as the show wore on (by the way, does anyone else think a well placed censor could be every bit as funny as a character actually saying “fuck,” or “shit” itself?).
The reason The Office was able to have the run it did all goes back to the characters. Sure, some of the end may have been rushed, and in no real office do you have upwards of 10 employees stick around for 10 years; but does that really matter? In the end, we needed some form of closure for all these characters because we care for all of them deeply. The Office was able to take a group of ordinary people, and made us, the viewers, love them ferociously. That is a true testament to the beauty of the show. Pam was absolutely right; there is a lot of beauty in ordinary things.