Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Office Party

Season Two of the NBC show The Office was certainly a good season for the comedy. It saw an uptick in ratings, Steve Carell winning a Golden Globe for Leading Male in a Comedy, and the show won an Emmy for Best Comedy. It is also the year where the show clearly separated from, and some would say surpassed, the hit British version it was based on. I recently finished watching this season on DVD and would like to comment on it.

I watched the pilot of The Office when it first came on. I was interested in the show based off of Carell's involvement. I tried to get my friends to watch it with me, but halfway through the pilot, they walked off, citing that the show was boring and unfunny. I too stopped watching the show after a few episodes, only to return about a quarter of the way through the second season. Watching the entire season, catching the episodes I had missed and revisiting the ones I had caught, was a very funny experience.

The genius of the show is not in the lines that are read, but how those lines are read and how people react to them. Steve Carell, as oblivious boss Michael Scott, gleefully announces many things that probably sounded better in his head. John Krasinski's Jim is the Everyman in the series, with his bemused smirks and sideway glances directed to Jenna Fischer's Pam. And as dysfunctional as Michael and Rainn Wilson's Dwight appear to be, you don't have to scratch the surface too deep to realize everyone working a Dunder-Mifflin is slightly skewed. Even Jim and Pam and their unrequited dynamic is dysfunctional. And it is all realistic. It is exaggeration based on fact. Everyone has worked with a Michael or a Dwight or even a Toby, Michael's perceived archnemesis.

I watched a few episodes while doing other things, and one misses a lot of humor by not paying attention. The reactions, the long, awkward pauses, mean nothing if one isn't watching. But even the over-the-top moments are hilarious because they are so rare. You feel the show lurching and powering to that moment where everything explodes, and it does with hilarious moments. Michael is set up to say something incredibly dumb, or racist, or sexist and Carell takes a few long moments to get there. Michael Scott and Dwight are often the source of these moments, but it fits in perfectly with their characters that the exaggeration comes from them. The rest of the office just sits there and ignores them.

It can not be said enough that although the opening credits only list five “stars”, the rest of the cast is excellent. Many of them play characters that share the same first name. In fact, one actor, Creed Bratton, plays Creed Bratton, and the character is somewhat based off his real life. Angela Kinsey plays uptight Angela Martin to perfection, often drawing upon her own office experiences (Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey have remarked in interviews that before they became actresses, they were essentially stuck in the world The Office paints). Also, the cast often writes episodes. Mindy Kaling (Kelly), B.J. Novak (Ryan), and Paul Lieberstein (Toby) all have written or co-written episodes. In fact, Novak is a producer and Kaling is a story editor.

The friendship of the cast and crew comes across clearly in the commentaries. They pal around and point out who wrote what and how they couldn't stop laughing at certain scenes. Sitcom commentaries are always more fun than drama commentaries because they often include a lot more of the cast. In the commentary for the episode titled “The Secret”, Jenna Fischer threatened to reveal the secrets of everyone in the commentary. She keeps on delaying the reveal until the end credits, where she starts to reveal her own secret, only to be cut off by the finishing of the track.

The other extras on the DVD set are hilarious. There are the PSAs that aired with such gems as Dwight giving advice on how to avoid bears to Jim saying it is ok to call a foul in basketball. There are also promos for The Office that appeared during the Olympics. Of course, there are the requisite blooper reel, with Carrell mainly cracking up and causing other people to crack up. Also, about half the episodes have commentaries and all of them have deleted scenes.

Imagine viewing your every day life through a slightly cracked looking glass. That is The Office. The dialogue is the most natural I have ever seen, with it appearing natural and not “read”. I watched an Office episode then a Seinfeld episode, and while both were funny, Seinfeld felt really “sitcomy” when compared to The Office. There has been many times while I was watching the show that I felt the need to cover my eyes or change the channel because of the level of awesome akwardness. The show is a critical fave and is a cult hit and it is safe to say that it is the funniest show on TV and in the space between new Lost episodes, my personal favorite show.


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