THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Each decade, there is at least one definitive sitcom. For the 2000s, it was NBC’s The Office. Adapted from Ricky Gervais’ short but brilliant BBC original, the American take on The Office excelled at cringe-worthy and awkward moments that eventually transformed into heartfelt moments and beloved characters. Running for nine seasons, The Office has been one of the most popular shows on Netflix before transitioning to Peacock. A fan of the series during its original run, I took the last several weeks to rewatch the series from beginning to end. Like many beloved pop culture artifacts that I have given a second run, The Office does not hold up well for the vast majority if it’s 201 episodes.
The Office ushered in the faux-documentary format for sitcoms that became the template for years on series like Parks and Recreation and Modern Family. While neither of those shows ever acknowledged the filmmakers as part of the story, the device allowed for different methods of breaking the fourth wall on The Office and provided a voice for every character from main to supporting to guest stars. In the first, six-episode season of The Office, critics were not nearly as won over by the show as they would be in subsequent seasons, but fans already were invested in Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and Rainn Wilson long before they found success on the big screen. That uneven freshman run of the series gave way for the second and third years of the show which finally found their stride by telling bizarre and somewhat surreal comedy stories wrapped in half-hour chapters. It was when NBC tried super-sizing the show and milking it that things took a turn.
Like any television series, not all episodes are created equal. With network series airing an average of two dozen episodes a season, some entries feel like filler. During the 2005-2007 run of The Office, the writing staff that included Mindy Kaling, B.J. Novak, and more delivered their best efforts before stories began to repeat and jokes grew stale. By season four, the series already jumped the shark by finally coupling Jim and Pam, a decision that took investment away from the audience and forced other couples to try and take their place. The chemistry between Fischer and Krasinski was apparently not enough as The Office soon became weekly doses of Dwight pranks and that’s what she said references. After five seasons and 100 episodes, The Office was in a rut from which it would never recover.
What made The Office work so well in the first seasons was the satirical skewering of the modern workplace. From HR violations to office romances and stereotypes of colleagues we have all endured, the early years of The Office took the crass in stride with a genuine sense of positivity that was absent in Ricky Gervais’ more blunt series. Steve Carell’s Michael Scott was a jerk but one with good intentions. When the second and third seasons began to focus more on Angela, Toby, Oscar, Kevin, Creed, Meredith, and the other employees at Dunder-Mifflin, the talented ensemble shined. When it became a formula of Jim staring, Dwight being weird, Michael doing impressions, inappropriate topics covered at meetings, and a nice tidy ending, the show began to feel stale.
Long before Carell’s departure in the seventh season, the series suffered from too many characters and too many wacky and over-the-top plotlines. When Ed Helms began to factor in more as Andy Bernard and his romance with Ellie Kemper’s Erin tried to replicate the Jim and Pam dynamic, the series was grasping for original ideas. At one point, the series attempted to create a backdoor pilot for a spin-off focused on Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute that never came to pass. The final two seasons of the series limped along and retread storylines from earlier seasons and even tried to tease a rift between Jim and Pam that never came to fruition. It was a neutered season full of poor character decisions that suffered from John Krasinski and Ed Helms being absent for movie work. The only redeeming episode is the series finale that showed why this series worked in the first place.
When The Office first aired in a traditional network manner that peppered reruns between hour-long entries and stunt episodes, it was a different series to digest compared to the binge-watching method we have today. Watching five or more episodes in a row is an easy feat thanks to streaming and physical media, but it also inherently shows just how repetitive this series really was. The Office can be viewed, like The Simpsons, as standalone episodes with funny moments perfect for YouTube compilations, but viewing the entirety of a season in succession illuminates just how often these twenty-two-minute narratives relied on thin variations of the same joke over and over and over again.
The Office, viewed in hindsight and binged, is a very two-dimensional series for the majority of its run. Of the 201 episodes that comprise the series, no more than a quarter of them are of a quality that would be worthy of the recognition heaped on the show. I respect The Office for what it did for network comedy, especially in pulling away from the multi-camera studio network format, but being an important entry in television history is far different than being one of the best series of all time. Parks and Recreation, which was born of the same creative team and style as The Office, is a far more consistent and funny series that didn’t mine the same material for laughs nearly as much as this series. I wish I had not rewatched the entire series and ruined my fond memories of The Office and had stuck to the clips all over YouTube as they deliver far more laughs than each full-length episode.
But hey, that’s just my UnPopular Opinion. Tell us your take on The Office in the comments below.
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected] or spell it out in the comments below. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you’d care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!