I must say, when looking at how hard it is to make a successful television show, it is a wonder that any survive. In many ways I liken it to a magical potion that comes together and finally works. That is one of the reasons that I like to take a moment to honor some of the best shows to have graced our televisions. On the other hand, once a television show has become successful, that does not mean that its challenges are over. It has to survive for several seasons, and just when it does that, it has to make sure that it doesn't stick around longer than audiences generally believe that it is creatively "good" and relevant. The shame is that when that happens towards the end, a show does not necessarily get the respect and recognition it deserves. Now, I know that this sounds like an unusual way to start a Marathon to Start, which is usually about one of the best shows in television, but I do this because I wanted to set up the caveat for anyone who might not understand why it is one of my choices. However, I did choose it because when looking at The Office, it is one of my favorite comedies and one of the best to hit the air of American television recently.
When The Office first came on the air, back in 2005 it was a groundbreaking comedy. It was an adaptation of the British show by the same name that had been created by and was starring Ricky Gervais. Greg Daniels worked with Gervais to adapt the show for American television. The half-hour comedy genre (especially on NBC) was just beginning to go through a transition period as Friends and Seinfeld had gone off air and the network was struggling to find a comedy to place with Will and Grace and help maintain their stronghold on Thursday nights. It took some time, but eventually they got it. It wasn't right away that The Office caught on with viewers, but by the second season I feel as if it was a show and comedy that everybody that I knew watched. Ironically, I think it was the show that I first watched on DVD and in marathon format and since that now has taken such an important place in our entertainment culture it holds an extra special place in my heart.
The Office is also amazing and was a successful show as it holds a rare and interesting ability to be able to appeal to a very broad audience. At some point or another, everybody has either had to work in or had experience with an office and office politics. This makes the fact that the show was able to capture that sentiment so well, so incredibly amazing…and funny. Who doesn't know the lazy guy that will do anything to get out of work (Stanley), the uptight, stick to the rules girl (Angela), or the guy that only says really really awkward things (Creed)? However, the way that the actors play each character take them just over the top enough to make them overtly funny. They go just one step over the line to say things that are outrageous and consequently, hysterical.
The Office won a Primetime Emmy Award in 2006 for Outstanding Comedy Series and was nominated every year in the category from 2006 – 2011. Steve Carell was also nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for the same years and won a Golden Globe for the role in 2006. One of the things that attributed to so much critical and popular acclaim is the style in which the show is filmed. It is a mockumentary with the premise that the workers in the office are being followed and recorded for a documentary. By doing this, the actors are oftentimes allowed to actually address the camera with their thoughts. Some of the funniest moments also come when the "film crew" captures moments that the characters aren't really aware of, which also creates an amazing voyeuristic style that allows for a lot of unexpected and physical comedy. In addition, because of this style, this show became very influential in television history, as it was one of the first and most successful single camera comedies. Networks had been experimenting with the format for years, but none really stuck around long enough (ex. Arrested Development) to prove the style could be successful. After The Office paved the way, shows like 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family became successful and now the approach is oftentimes used much more in new comedies than the multi-camera format.
Another element that truly attributes to the greatness of the show is the cast. When Steve Carell was cast on the show, he was just coming off a very hysterical run on The Daily Show, which was and is a breeding ground for comedic talent. The first time you see Carell's character Michael Scott you can't help but be entertained. He plays him with such realism that it is hard to believe that he is an actor and not actually the character of Michael Scott. When looking at Steve Carrell's career it is a bit difficult to even differentiate what came first – the tv star or the film star. The Office's ratings skyrocketed after The 40 Year Old Virgin became a huge success in 2005. However, after that point, I'm not sure if he became a superstar because of his continued film career or the television show. I'm not sure that it matters, because really it just means that he is a fantastic comedic star that I believe (and hope) will be around for a very long time. In addition, the casting of The Office must be acknowledged because it literally catapulted the careers of many actors who were virtually unknown. John Kraskinski is well on his way to becoming a huge comedic star, and Mindy Kaling is starring in her own series on FOX this fall. Rainn Wilson is working on developing a spin-off of the show, and although he joined later, Ed Helms is also one of the most successful working male comedians right now, and this is not even to mention what everyone from the cast will go on to do once the show ends after the upcoming season.
This also brings me to what I believe is one of my favorite aspects of the show – the storyline between Pam (Jenna Fischer) and Jim (John Krasinski). I think that hands down it might be my favorite "love story" in the history of television. I think this is for a combination of reasons, one of them being the natural chemistry that exists between the two actors and characters. (SPOILER ALERT: Skip to the next paragraph if you don't know much about their story!) You could literally see the crush that Jim had on Pam in his eyes and feel it every time they were in a scene together. In fact, sometimes I would want to fast forward to their scenes (although I never would for fear of missing some other brilliant moment) just so I could see what was going to happen. The writers of the show were smart enough to follow the best model for television relationships in that they didn’t put them together quickly. For the first few seasons, Pam was even engaged to someone else, making a permanent barrier in their relationship. That way every time Pam and Jim even got close to getting together, as an audience, we knew that it was probably still just out of reach. Even the first time they kissed, they were soon ripped apart by distance and Pam's commitment to Roy (David Denman). This made the moments they had together so much sweeter and because they took several seasons to build their love story I remember audibly cheering when something good would happen between to advance their relationship even a little. The ability to put such a heartwarming story in such a blatantly funny comedy is rare, and simply serves to make everything about the show better and more endearing. On the other hand, I have to say that by season 4, when they put them together happily dating, might be when I started to lose a bit of interest in the show. I did still love the monumental moments they hit; their engagement, and their wedding made me surprisingly sentimental. However, now that they are together, the tension and conflicts they deal with just don't always have the same impact. I don't blame the show for that, because they had to do it. They had to develop the characters in a believable way, which would ultimately put them together, I just miss those first stages of their love.
The later seasons of the show have changed considerably, especially after Steve Carell's departure. Ed Helms has now taken over as "the boss" of the Scranton branch, which was the logical choice, but he just happened to always have been one of my least favorite characters, so I greatly feel the absence of Michael Scott. That is not to say that Helms doesn't do a great job, and I know appeals to many people who love him. It will be interesting to see where the writers take the show in the final season and I think we can only hope that Steve Carell and all of the actors that have left will come back for some final appearances. No matter how they conclude it though, the show will go down as one of the greatest comedies in recent television history. It influenced a comedic style in shows that I don't believe has been paralleled since and it should be recognized for that. I know that 8 seasons of a show can be daunting, but they are only 30 minutes, and if you can't even commit to that much, do yourself a favor and at least watch the first five seasons (if not six). I don't think you will be sorry, and at very least, the one thing I know is that you will laugh a lot and I don't think that is something we can ever complain about.
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