I Love The Office
With the sudden deluge of Thursday night programming it’s easy to get distracted by all the new shows and the returning schmaltz-laden behemoths like Grey’s Anatomy and overlook the consistently excellent, veteran gems. (Really, Grey’s Anatomy? Two whole hours of weeping?) For television that is funny, well written and well acted, thoughtful, often silly and occasionally sincere, awkward and honest in the same breath, it’s hard to get better than what The Office can be at its best.
For a show that started as an intensely derivative reworking of a British show, The Office has managed to move so far out of the initial emotional and situational territory that it has far and away surpassed its original. As the head manager of the Dunder Mifflin Scranton branch, Michael Scott has developed from an unthinking, heartless buffoon into something much more complex and interesting. It’s not that he’s unthinking, we now realize, he’s childlike and eager to be liked but lacking in any rudimentary understanding of tact or social norms. Michael Scott’s childishness is also an emotional state, leading him to feel jealousy and love with equal intensity and making him incapable of dealing with either. He is also an excellent salesman, an ambitious but well-meaning boss, and occasionally a selfish bastard.
This is why television that lives for a long time can be a really amazing thing – there is no way that Michael Scott could be what he fully is today in just twelve half-hour episodes. Most of the credit for his development goes to the show’s willingness to change. Unlike so many other sitcoms or even hour-long dramas (I turn once again to you, Grey’s Anatomy), The Office has never been afraid to change. Things actually happen on The Office – Jim moved to the Stamford branch, Pam and Roy split, Michael left to create his own paper company, Michael fell in love with Holly and then had to break up with her when she was transferred. Perhaps most admirably, the writers completely refuse to limit the show to boring unresolved Pam and Jim tension and are fully able to write a funny, tense show with their two main love interests in a happy, committed relationship. Sure, like most shows, the situational status quo usually returns. Main characters who leave will come back. Mergers and takeovers happen, but end up reinstating the norm. The show has to come back to the standard arrangement, because it’s The Office, and we want to see all of our favorite characters working together. When characters come back from wherever they went, though, or they break up with each other, or get back together, they also come back as different, more interesting people. That’s how you start with one-note jerk Michael Scott and slowly arrive at the far more complicated Michael Scott of today.
It would be unfair to finish off this paean to The Office without mentioning the rest of the cast. After all, it is an office full of people, and each character is fully formed, and funny, and capable of carrying entire plots and subplots by themselves. I loved Phyllis’s wedding to Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration. I loved Kelly’s relationship with Ron from the loading dock. And maybe I love Andy Bernard most of all. (Any episode where he sings or deals at all with his college acapella group Here Comes Treble is an instant classic for me.)
Your heads may be turned by the shiny new programs, the sexy vampires and sexy doctors and sexy lawyers, the biggest losers and real housewives and people who think they can dance. You may be distracted for a while, but every week, The Office gives us another example of How To Make Good Television. We could do a lot worse than to pay some attention.