By Josh Axelrod
A little context:
During my last few semesters of college, I fell in with a group of weirdos who were obsessed with “The Office.” They were to “The Office” what am I am to “Community” (see my bio).
My experience with “The Office” was pretty lukewarm. I started watching around Season 4, enjoyed it for two seasons, then lost interest. It’s not that I stopped enjoying it. I just got busy, and unfortunately I had to downsize. And Dunder Mifflin got the axe.
I decided this summer, in order to understand my friends’ references and reconnect with Jenna Fischer (who had by far the prettiest smile on TV), that I would binge all nine seasons of “The Office” from start to finish. Five seasons and seven episodes in, I have no regrets.
I’m also ready to make a bold statement: every television comedy since 2005 pales in comparison to the first five seasons of “The Office.”
Let me explain.
I’m fully aware that we are in a golden age of small screen comedy. Even dramas like “Mad Men” and “Game of Thrones” are laced with a twisted sense of humor. If you don’t believe me, check out Bronn beating up Jamie with his own hand:
But anyway, television comedy today has a little something for everyone. Like silly nerdy humor? “Big Bang Theory” has you covered. More into highbrow stuff? May I suggest “Louie” or “Veep?” Or maybe you’re into gushy romance. Hello “The Mindy Project” and, to some extent, “Parks and Recreation” (Ben and Leslie are the new Jim and Pam). Having now watched the first five seasons of “The Office” back-to-back, I think all of these shows owe Michael Scott and his underlings a huge creative debt in one way or another.
“The Office” in its prime was perfect. It was “Seinfeld” in a corporate setting, in the sense that it was about a group of inherently bad people who like to poke fun at cultural standards. But whereas “Seinfeld” was a show about nothing, “The Office” was about a little bit of everything.
There’s dealing with a buffoonish boss who really means well. Finding love at work. Losing love at work and desperately trying to get it back (is there anything grosser than the Dwight-Angela-Andy love triangle?). Pushing the boundaries of what you can say on TV. Corporate hierarchies. Office outings and parties. Diversity Day. Bobbleheads. Literal gaydars.
And I can’t think of a show with a better cast than this. There isn’t a weak one in the bunch. Even “Community” had Pierce and “Parks and Recreation” has Crazy Craig.
Just look at Steve Carell. “The Office” doesn’t work if you can’t laugh at and with Michael Scott, but Carell imbued him with so much empathy you couldn’t help but feel for the guy. Even when he was accidentally outing Oscar or assuming Daryl had been in a gang, you knew it was coming from a genuine place. Plus, his romance with Holly Flax is beautiful, mostly because it proves that anyone, even Michael Gary Scott, can find love.
And then there’s Dwight. Who saw him coming? Rainn Wilson owned that role. I would argue that he was the original Ron Swanson: that one character on every sitcom that is unabashedly him or herself with no fear of judgement. Think Sheldon Cooper on “Big Bang Theory,” Morgan Tookers on “The Mindy Project” and Detective Boyle on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” They’re all very different personality-wise, but they were all born with no shame. Thank Dwight Schrute for that.
But most importantly, JIM HALPERT AND PAM BEASLEY. Oh my god that chemistry. This was the most excruciating “will they/won’t they” since freakin’ Ross and Rachel. And when they finally did, it was so low key that it felt like they had been together all along. “New Girl”: that’s how you handle that sort of relationship, not whatever the hell your third season was. “Mindy”: follow Jim and Pam’s lead, not Nick and Jess’s.
Like I said, all the supporting players are also pitch perfect. Creed gets one line an episode and it’s always gold. Holly thought Kevin was mentally challenged for like, five episodes. Toby putting his hand on Pam’s leg before promptly announcing his move to Costa Rica is by far the most awkward moment in television history.
Of course, this is also the show that introduced us all to Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak, who claim to have based most of Kelly and Ryan’s relationship on their own. Whatever the case, look at their post-”Office” careers: Kaling has her own show, and Novak has had roles in everything from “Inglorious Basterds” to “Saving Mr. Banks.” Plus, thanks to Kelly Kapoor, this exists:
The point of all this: no show today can quite live up to the comedy nirvana that was the first five seasons of “The Office.” Not only that, most of them owe their very existences to “The Office.”
“Parks and Rec” and “Modern Family” copied their documentary format. “New Girl” and “Mindy” tried to take Jim and Pam’s relationship and repackage it with varying degrees of success (you grab dat ass Dr. Castellano!). That show perfected the awkward comedy that has worked so well for Selina Meyer and Louie on “Veep” and “Louie,” respectively. And Michael Scott is a higher-functioning version of “Big Bang’s” Sheldon and “Silicon Valley’s” Richard Hendrix.
Yes, “The Office” does eventually lose a little bit of its luster later in its run. And it also owes a lot to comedy giants like “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and, of course, the British original.
But those first five seasons were a showcase of what television comedy looks like at its finest: a smooth ride that leaves everyone satisfied.
That’s what she said.