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“That’s what she said!”

Posted by jsoliver on February 8, 2007

Since its somewhat rocky start, NBC’s The Office (an adaptation of the BBC series of the same name) has found a foothold in broadcast television and solidified itself as very popular show on this side of the drink. Adopting an unorthodox mockumentary style and an exceedingly dry brand of humor, it’s a far cry from your everyday American sitcom. Usually sitcoms are gracious enough to tell us when to be amused with canned laugh tracks and when to reflect cathartically at what Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane calls the “moment of bullshit” at the end, but The Office doesn’t have time for all that. That’s okay, though, because it doesn’t need any of that.

Often referred to as a workplace satire, it’s generally believed that The Office rings true for many in the American white collar workforce, and therefore was able to take off. Perhaps this is somewhat true, and maybe that’s what attracted its initial audience. A seasoned viewer, however, will note that this show is certainly not a television adaptation of Dilbert. What gives The Office its ability to keep viewers coming back week after week is that under its superficial layer of corporate satire, its essentially about human beings, their wants, their needs, and their desperate struggle against their own unhappiness. It may sound like the bleakest of Bergman’s films, but when good jokes are added, the show transcends mere pessimism and shows us the humor to be found in everyday problems.

Leading the topnotch cast is the supremely talented Steve Carell as Michael Scott, the well-meaning but hopelessly clueless regional manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, a northeastern paper supply company. Michael only wants the best for his employees, who he considers to be his best friends (and really, his only friends), but is constantly finding some way to inadvertently bring about some galactic screw-up. Diversity awareness day turns into “everyone adopt a hypothetical ethnicity and shout racial slurs at each other day,” office parties can’t get funding from the corporate office because he throws too many office parties, good-natured sexist jokes threaten to bring down corporate wrath from fear of sexual harassment lawsuits, sympathetic banter with the warehouse workers stirs up thoughts of unionization…the list goes on. But just when we think Michael can’t be any stupider, he makes a big sale or saves the office Christmas party or motivates just one employee. And unfortunately, as Michael’s personality ensures he has virtually no social life, we also can’t help but feel sorry for the poor guy. He really is doing his best. And thus, we can still love him.

If Carell is the glue that holds the show together, then the substance that makes it worthwhile is the turbulent relationship between Jim Halpert (the uncannily likable John Krasinksi) and Pam Beesly (the adorable Jenna Fischer). Although the two are obviously crazy about each other, situations that are far too complicated to explain here keep them apart. This is why we watch this show. We want nothing more than for these two to finally get together, and we watch like hawks to see each new development. But it still hasn’t happened, and the world keeps turning. Good thing, too, since if they did get together, The Office would effectively die. But there’s something painfully beautiful about their tragic semi-romance; it hearkens back to Woody Allen’s movies from the late 1970s. The general idea presented that plagues so many of us is simply, “Why can’t people just be in love?” The Office examines the question, but fortunately for its entertainment value, it contains no answers.

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11 Responses to ““That’s what she said!””

  1. snookju said

    Excellent analysis. You anticipated my question about a comparison to Dilbert and answered it before I could ask. Brilliant! (pronounced “BRI-yant!”)

    I am not well-versed in the world of comedy, but I find it interesting that an entire series could revolve around one central issue that seems so cliche. But since everything that matters is cliche, perhaps it isn’t that interesting. I wonder, though, whether more comedies use an ongoing plot device for continuity or simply rely on a common location for that purpose…

    You use “its” two ways. As a general rule, I only use the conjunction form in the possessive form, and otherwise just type “it is.” Writing it that way makes a distinction and avoids ugly apostrophes.

  2. rawra said

    Wonderful taste, my friend! It’s pretty cool that we can compare our reviews and see how we organized them, etc. You spelled Pam’s last name wrong though(“Beesly”)…yeah, I looked it up. Anyway, great job!

  3. I can’t imagine another actor leading ‘The Office’. The show’s humor fits Carell’s style perfectly. Some of the things that Michael Scott does are frustratingly hair brained but there’s always that one moment when the show introduces that element of pity or sympathy. I remember when one of the Scranton employees switched companies and Michael tried to maintain an air of nonchalance, even organizing a hotel party after the meetings. It ended up being Michael and another employee having a couple of drinks, making asses of themselves to visiting delegates. It was humorous, but an unfortunate moment. I sat there thinking “What a dumbass, but I know exactly how he feels.”

    Do you think the show would be such a success if it had a more pessimistic edge to it?

  4. donnadb said

    Accomplished work! You didn’t focus on the mockumentary style but on the very notion of the workplace sitcom, which gave your presentation a different feel from your classmate … a nice turn of events. It seems a bit odd to write this long a review and not mention that the show is a remake of a British series, especially since you focus so much on its uniqueness. It would also be appropriate to mention the tradition of the no-laugh-track single-camera sitcom into which this show falls, or perhaps the will-they-or-won’t-they sexual tension in sitcomes that also forms a tradition carried on by The Office. Such comparisons, even if brief, add so much information and context to your work, and reassure your reader that you are a knowledgeable guide, as we’ve been seeing in the PCO’s.

    Oh, and don’t forget to add an author’s note, as instructed here, in the comments.

  5. jsoliver said

    Author’s Note, yo: I picked The Office because there are two subject matters therein that quite honestly fascinate me in pop culture: the potential subtlety of comedy and the idea of a comic tragedy (or a tragic comedy. I’d argue that The Office is definitely a comic tragedy, but my criteria of these classifications are beside the point here). That stated, I argue that The Office is a prime example of both of these characteristics, and would even use it if I were trying to introduce somebody to comic tragedy or subtle, dry humor. In television, where the a large amount of the product created by brodcasting and cable networks is mindless schlock, it’s nice to find a show like The Office that reminds us that TV can be art, too.

  6. jsoliver said

    I TOTATALLY DID MENTION THE BBC SERIES

  7. Good review. I think you and Laura did a great job on this show. i believe your reasons for watching the show is right on. Overall, great review!

  8. Great job. I really enjoyed reading about the personal aspect of the show rather than just the topic, office-satier, deminsion.

  9. donnadb said

    Oh, so you did! I guess I got caught up in your repeated mentions of American culture, and that mention didn’t stick in my head. Let me amend my comment, then, to say that it seems strange to say that the show caught on because of its dead-on evocation of an American office when it was very closely modeled on a non-American original. If part of your point is about the American workplace and workforce, then it makes sense to look at what is distinctly American about the show, and what translates from the British version more or less unchanged. Thanks for the clarification.

  10. Good review! Jolly good show. As I mentioned on Rawra’s review, I’ve only seen the British version, but I love Steve Carell’s style.

    I love the name-dropping and cultural references, btw. It makes me feel special when I get what you’re referring to.

  11. Sarah said

    So… I’ve still never seen an episode of this show. But you describe it well, and my interest is more than peaked. I want an Office watching party (American or British, gosh I don’t care), and I want it now.

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