Is "The Office" Going Down? That's What She Said...
In January NBC announced plans to carry out its hit Thursday night show, The Office, for a fourth season. This is great news for people who can’t get enough of Michael, Pam, Jim, Dwight and the rest of the rag-tag cast. But The Office’s predecessor, the British version of the same show, only lasted 12 episodes and a Christmas special. How long can a failing midrange paper stay funny? I love everyone in Scranton just as much as the next cubicle-working viewer, but I fear the Dunder Mifflin glory days can’t last. And though I don’t think the show has already jumped the shark, I’m afraid it’s poised to go off the ramp.
The Office, a sitcom that helped the comedy world appreciate a subtler, more intelligent type of humor, is now relying more heavily on plot (particularly a romantic one) than on characters or day-to-day happenings as they did in previous seasons. We like watching Jim putting Dwight’s stapler in Jell-O, or Pam waiting to transfer calls to Michael so he can have time to practice his salutations. It’s always funny when Michael says ridiculous things like, “Abraham Lincoln once said that 'If you're a racist, I will attack you with the North' and these are the principles I carry with me in the workplace.” This nonsense is the heartbeat of the show.
But now things are changing. The episodes that used to stand on their own have become much more linear and codependent. It’s funny and smart to refer back to other episodes, like Michael reusing Darryl’s made-up word “dinkin’ flicka.” But these days if you skip an episode, you’d better catch up on iTunes before next week or you’ll miss something big, like Pam and Roy getting back together at Phyllis’s wedding, or Andy’s meltdown and subsequent time in an anger management clinic.
And why does The Office need cliffhangers? Ever since Jim’s confession of love at the end of season two, the writers think it’s okay to make us wait days, or currently weeks as the show has gone on hiatus, to find out what Roy means when he says he’s “going to kill Jim Halpert.” This new emphasis on moving the storyline forward is why I’m so worried about The Office’s fate. An office is boring. It’s not an operating room with sexually frustrated beautiful doctors. It’s not a magical island where plane-crash survivors fend off evil monsters and deal with their haunting pasts. It’s a paper company. A fire in the break room due to the temp leaving a cheesy pita in the toaster oven, coupled with a passionate rendition of “Ryan started the fire,” or a rousing day of Office Olympics are about the most excitement we’re going to find in Scranton. And that’s the beauty—and brilliance—of The Office. It would be different if the show could hold a sustaining plot, but it can’t.
More than anything, though, the writers are building up Jim and Pam’s relationship too much. Relying on “will they, won’t they?” strategies is a cheap way to keep viewers, and after two successful seasons without overusing these tactics, The Office has no need to start driving the Jim/Pam saga into the ground now. Season three proves that plot-driven episodes just take away from the lovable everyday humor. Let’s hope that in the future instead of sending a perfectly good show over the shark, the writers will return to simpler, funnier episodes. That way whenever The Office does come to an end, we’ll each be able to say, in true Dunder Mifflin form, that the show “always left me satisfied and smiling… that’s what she said.”