“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days, before you’ve actually left them.” The ultimate clue to understanding if a TV show is good enough might be noticing if there’s the desire to go on forever: if the answer is yes, it’s a favorite.
The Office is the American adaptation of a 2001 BBC series of the same name, and it’s just pure comedy. Produced by NBC, created by Greg Daniels and co-written by Ricky Gervais (who played the role of the boss David Brent in the British version) and Stephen Merchant, it is a mockumentary, character-driven series about a fictional office of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company and the lives of its workers in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The idea of a crew filming a fictional documentary serves as a premise for a new, clever and effective style: the use of a handheld camera often shows events from behind curtains or glass windows – through rapid zooms and pans – and emphasizes the scene with interviews and characters’ direct looks, which break the fourth wall to give a sense of both realistic and exaggerated tone.
Despite a unique visual approach, the real driving force of the show is the characters: an ensemble cast of surreal, well-defined, complementary and irresistible humans is the essential cog in the wheel that is comedy writing: behind every punch line there’s not only a refined technique on why, when and how to make you laugh, but a coherent motivation that follows the character’s storyline. Michal Scott (Steve Carell), the worst boss possible who believes he’s actually the best, is incompetent, ignorant and unpleasant, desperate for attention but also empathetic and very lonely – a gold mine for laughter.
His nuanced humanity imposes on the audience an ambivalence of cringe and compassion that is hardly seen on screen, and he was so relevant for the series that when Carell left the show after season 7, the producers tried to move on without him but it all went downhill. All the other characters have different but equally attractive and funny features, which allow a change in focus within each episode and a multi-layered comic effect.
Even the special and theme-based episodes (repetitions of a certain topic or time of the year, like Christmas or Halloween, often seen in other famous sitcoms like Friends, Parks and Recreation, New Girl and How I Met Your Mother) are well used in The Office to extend and explore variation. In this way health-care, a fun run, conflict resolution, first-aid and dinner parties create memorable inside jokes using context not just as a setting, but as a real tank of comedy that can fuel both characters’ and story dynamics. The series won four Emmys, including one for Outstanding Comedy Series in 2006. It has a perfect finale, its iconic version of the theme song by Jay Ferguson was actually voted by the cast, and like all series that end up shaping pop culture, it has a dedicated online section called Dunderpedia.