Now that I’m back online, how about something that has almost nothing to do with Gustav for a change? One of the few things that’s been nice about the hurricane evacuation (crap) is that my sister brought along the first three seasons of The Office on DVD. This is, as I’ve mentioned here before, one of our favorite TV shows, but my Uncle Wally has never seen it before. So, in the long hours after we got power back, we’ve been having a bit of a marathon. We watched the first three seasons, finishing up early yesterday. Then — lo and behold! — Erin informed me that season four was released on DVD this week, and not next week as we expected.
So Heather, Will and I sought out an open Circuit City here on the north shore last night, snagged season four, and started watching that with Wally too.
Now why, you may be asking, are we so nuts for this show? Why did Uncle Wally, when we reached the season 2 cliffhanger at 1 a.m., tell Heather to throw the next disc into the DVD player instead of waiting for morning? Why did Heather bring the DVDs with her on a hurricane evacuation, and why did we seek out the next one even in this state? Because, frankly, it’s one of the funniest shows ever to come to television.
Based on an excellent British sitcom of the same name, I initially dismissed the American version of The Office on the assumption that it, like every other American translation of a British sitcom, would suck. Then, somehow, I caught an early season 2 episode, and it was pretty darn good. And I went back and found season 1. And I started watching each and every episode as they went. And I set the DVR to record every new episode to make sure I didn’t miss a second, something I’m usually only so adamant about with more dramatic fare like Lost or 24. I fell in love with this show almost instantly.
There are several reasons for this, but the two most important ones are the writers and the cast. The writers of the show have perfectly captured the tedious, mundane agony of working in a typical white-collar office, and they present this tedium in a way that is brilliantly funny, ridiculing inane board meetings, incompetent bosses and ludicrous corporate policies in a way that anyone who has ever worked in such an office can relate to. However, they’ve managed to layer the show with deep, rich characters and compelling storylines. Everyone fell in love with Jim and Pam right away, and like so many of the great couples of TV history, people were rooting for them to get together. Then came the fear: if they did get together, what if they got boring? What if, like Sam and Diane, Ross and Rachel, once they were a couple the writers wouldn’t know what to do with them, and forced an illogical and totally hated break-up on the viewers?
Well, season four answered that question. Not only did they not break up, but we see each of them beginning to grow and change not just as characters, but as real people.
Much of the credit also has to go to the actors as well. As wonderfully-written as Pam and Jim are, they wouldn’t be nearly as effective if not for the funny, touching and truly meaningful performances of Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski. (And yes, since I know Erin will point this out, I’ve got a major celebrity crush on Jenna Fischer, but that’s fair, because Erin is still in love with James Marsters.) Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Shrute began as a character that you loved to hate, but has evolved into someone who — no matter how annoying he can be — you genuinely care about, root for, and want to see succeed. Even Steve Carell as Michael Scott is a wonderfully round character. As a boss, he’s stupid, incompetent, and has no business running his office. But the writers also take care to show us that he is good at a lot of things. He’s good with kids. He’s good at ice-skating. And most importantly, he was a fantastic salesman, which is how he got the manager job in the first place. Michael Scott is a character who was promoted out of the position in which he thrived.
What’s more, episodes like “Business School,” (season three, in which he is the only person from the office to go to Pam’s first art show, except for a rather snarky cameo by Oscar) show us that while he is, yes, stupid and ignorant, and often even selfish, he is never an unkind person. At least, not unless the person in question deserves it. (This, of course, leads to Michael’s absurd hatred of poor HR Representative Toby Flenderson, played wonderfully by show writer Paul Lieberstein. Although we never seen any reason for Michael to hate Toby so much, and in fact, it is likely that Toby never did anything to deserve it, in Michael’s mind he does deserve it. While we may never understand his reason, it’s clear that he has a reason for hating Toby, preserving his basic good-nature while still affording him someone to be really nasty to when the show needs a laugh.)
The show works because we all know someone frustrating like Michael or Dwight, a little twerp who gets too big for his britches like Ryan, a girl with the wrong guy like Pam, a guy in love with the girl with the wrong guy like Jim, and virtually every other wonderful character on this show. It’s a show that works, at its best, because of just how plain real it is.
Season five starts in just a few weeks. So if you haven’t watched it before, you’ve got a little time to track down the DVDs and check it out. I just hope we’ve got power at home again before the new season begins…
Dang. I knew I couldn’t stop from slipping in a Gustav reference.