I wanted to start this piece with a famous quote from The Office. “Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.” That was my first choice, but several others came to mind: “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious”, “And I feel God in this Chili’s tonight”, “Who is Justice Beaver?” I spent an hour thinking about all the funny quotes and scenes that I remembered from the show before realizing that it was just as futile to find the best quote from this show as it is to find another comedy show that is even at par with this magnificence. Clearly, this is a biased article, but I have every reason to be biassed towards this show. A few years back, after watching The Office in its entirety multiple times, I ventured out to discover similar shows. I was aware that I wouldn’t find similarly directed content, but I was hoping to stumble upon something that at least has a similar mixture of “feel-good vibes” and slapstick comedy. I spent weeks trying to humor myself with something else. I watched/re-watched so many famous comedies, from classics such as Seinfeld, Friends, and Arrested Development, to modern shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Schitt’s Creek. And though I enjoyed watching most of them, there was just no way that they could even match The Office’s purely raw and intimate humor. I gave up on this irrational idea of finding a better comedy than The Office and began spending more time understanding the traits and nuances which make it the best comedy tv show of all time.
The American version of the show, the one being discussed in this article, is the official adaptation of the British original, which was created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in 2001. Surprisingly, the original version of the show lasted for only three seasons compared to the whopping nine seasons of the American Office. Greg Daniels, the showrunner of The Office (US), opted to present the American version in a lighter mood. He also demanded that the actors be well versed in the art of Improv, as he believed in its effectiveness while portraying naturalness. Even the audition process was extensive, and some bold selections were made by casting directors and Daniels himself. The casting team chose newcomers and lesser-known faces such as John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson over popular upcoming names like Adam Scott and Seth Rogen for the roles of Jim and Dwight, respectively. Some unconventional selections were also made. For instance, Phyllis Smith, who plays Phyllis Lapin in the show, was a casting agent who was chosen for her role by one of the show’s casting directors after she heard Phyllis read a few lines while auditioning other actors. The sheer dedication of Daniels and his team to cast actors that perfectly fit the role, rather than casting stars who would have definitely brought a lot of attention to the show, is an enormous factor for the exemplar execution of the storyline.
The show’s intimacy and comic delivery were enhanced due to several of its template-setting attributes. Daniels was inspired by B.J. Novak’s performance on Saturday Night Live and immediately decided to incorporate writer-performers in his show. B.J. Novak was the first person to be cast for the show, and this trend was followed by hiring two more writer-performers – Mindy Kaling and Paul Lieberstein. This was a legendary move since many a time, there is a lot of friction between the writing staff and the actors. Hiring writer-performers broke the barrier between the teams and merged the two spheres into a bigger, more creative sphere. Additional to redesigning the writing process, creating the show as a fake documentary (also known as a mockumentary) was an outstanding production technique. By utilizing the Brechtian technique of breaking the fourth wall, the show’s intimacy was heightened, and a deeper connection was built between the characters and the audience.
While the production techniques of the show are definitely commendable, it is the on-screen performance by the cast that truly brings life into the dry, witty humor of The Office. Two characters that undoubtedly stand out are the protagonist, Michael Scott, and his loyal sidekick, Dwight Schrute. It is widely known that both of the actors who played these characters, Steve Carell and Rainn Wilson, are masters of Improv and a lot of their iconic scenes have actually been improvised by them. For example, the kiss between Michael and Oscar happened completely out of the blue and even Oscar Nunez, who plays the role of accountant Oscar Martinez, was unaware that he will be kissing Steve Carell in that scene. On top of the exceptional performance by the lead characters, every supporting actor played their part honestly. One of the major reasons for a show’s genuineness is having a great ensemble, and not just a glorious star or two. The Office has one of the best ensembles in television history, where almost everyone from the audience can relate to a character on the screen.
The creators of this show initially focused on the white-collared segment of the population as their target audience. The show, however, was not faring too well with the stressed-out office-goers who wished to see something other than their monotonous, depressing workspaces when they were relaxing at home after a hard day’s work. iTunes dropped in at the 11th hour and saved the show, which witnessed a tremendous boost in its viewership after getting launched on the platform. Moreover, it navigated the creators to their most engaging audience, the youth, which truly appreciated all of its quirky characters and witty humor. Even the recent growth in its popularity is credited to its record-breaking viewership on modern OTT platforms, which is mostly used by the younger groups of society. It will be an arduous task to formulate something that can even match The Office’s magnetism, its ability to make the audience re-watch the show dozens of times. I lost count after watching it for the fifteenth time a while back, and I still haven’t stopped watching it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to. Although the show has not garnered as many awards as one would expect it to, it remains a cult-classic for me and for millions of other fans who, as I’m writing this, are hitting the play button on the first episode of the show after just watching the series finale.
– Shashwat Jha