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The Office

The Office is a comedy set in a paper sales company Dunder Mifflin. Shot in a mockumentary style the show follows the exploits of regional manager Michael Scott whose excruciating behaviour can make life difficult for his fellow employees. NBC 2005-???

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Episode 1 - Pilot

27 March 2012

Synopsis: Welcome to Dunder Mifflin Paper Company’s Scranton branch. Unprofessional boss Michael Scott manages to distract, insult, mislead or otherwise obliviously irritate his employees. Including shy receptionist Pam, cheeky but bored salesman Jim, officious and negative salesman Dwight and the new guy, temp Ryan. Jan Levinson-Gould, Michael’s superior from the corporate office arrives to warn him that either the Scranton or Stamford branch will be closed down due to downsizing.

The Good: Comparisons with the British version of the show are impossible to ignore with this pilot episode. But the only useful purpose that serves is to highlight the few elements which didn’t seem to fit quite as well.

In general the tone and style of the show transfers across the Atlantic pretty well. The documentary style definitely makes the show standout from other sit coms. And the confessional interviews allow us to get to know Michael, Jim, Pam and Dwight much quicker than we might in another show.

The format also draws emotions from the viewer which a standard sit com might not be capable of at such an early stage in the show. The “main event” emotionally is Michael trying to impress temp Ryan by playing a practical joke on Pam. He tells her she is fired and she breaks down in very real looking tears and desperate sadness at this miscarriage of justice. Michael reveals it was a joke and she calls him a jerk and rushes out. Michael is humiliated, Ryan is deeply uncomfortable and poor Pam has given away how she would really feel if she were a victim of the proposed downsizing. It’s a taste of the power the show could have to make its audience care about these characters.

Jim and Pam are the rays of hope in an otherwise very negative atmosphere. Jim’s own practical jokes are the opposite of Michael’s. They serve to uplift and cause no real damage. The sight of Pam giggling as Dwight pulls out his stapler encased in jello was a nice nod to her obvious affection for Jim. Pam is presented as quite the damsel in distress here. Put upon to some extent by her boss and her fiancée, she dreams of being an artist – “Jim thinks they’re good” she confides.

The joyless climber Dwight seems a natural comedy character. His relentlessly officious and irritating behaviour makes Jim’s desire to play pranks on him seem eminently justifiable. I particularly liked his claim that he had suggested the company downsize during his own interview for a job.

The Bad: I wouldn’t say anything about the pilot was bad as such. But the show is certainly serving a different master to traditional audience based, punch line driven, central character focussed shows. There is little attempt to be laugh out loud funny, though one or two moments come close. The overall tone of the story is negative and depressing too. The drudgery of office life is a fertile ground for comedy but this is designed to reflect reality and all the monotony which that can entail. The fact that downsizing seems to be the arc story doesn’t help with the depressing tone either.

And then there’s Michael Scott. To make your central character an unlikeable and unsympathetic character is a risky strategy. For all the viewers who will enjoy seeing someone make a fool of themselves, there are probably as many who tune in to comedy to be uplifted and cheer a character on.

Michael is consistent in his behaviour and there is clearly a method to his foolish madness. Michael wants to be respected, he wants to be liked and he wants people to think he is funny. But his impressions and jokes are obnoxious and inappropriate (Hitler). He demeans people and misunderstands their concerns. He even buys his own “World’s Best Boss” mug and is otherwise oblivious to how other people see him (he lists God as fourth on his list of personal heroes, because he has helped the world in so many ways). It’s difficult to imagine wanting to tune in to see this version of Michael irritate and annoy every week.

Comic Highlight: Michael is in a meeting with Pam and Jan when the phone rings. It’s Todd Packer, a sales rep who Michael gets on with well. So Michael hits the button for speaker phone:
M: “Pack man!”
P: “Hey you big Queen!”
M: “Oh that’s not appropriate.”
P: “Hey is old Godzillery coming in today?”
M: “Umm, I don’t know what you mean?”
P: “Look I’ve been meaning to ask her one question. Does the carpet match the drapes?”
M: “Oh my God!” (Hangs up the phone)

That’s what I said: You can see the potential in the show and it feels totally different to other comedies. But one of the reasons for that is the negative, depressing part of it.

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