“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.
NBC produced the show, and Greg Daniels created it. Ricky Gervais (who played the role of the boss David Brent in the British version) and Stephen Merchant co-wrote the series. 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. Interviews and characters’ direct looks often break the fourth wall to give a sense of both realistic and exaggerated tone.
A cast of irresistible humans
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) portrays the worst boss possible who believes he’s actually the best. He 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. 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.
A tank of comedy
Even the special and theme-based episodes (repetitions of a certain topic or time of the year, like Christmas or Halloween, such as in Friends, Parks and Recreation, New Girl, and How I Met Your Mother) extend and explore variation in The Office. 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. The cast actually voted for its iconic version of the theme song by Jay Ferguson. Like all series that end up shaping pop culture, it has a dedicated online section called Dunderpedia.