Everybody’s Work Family: The Office

There’s nothing new about a workplace comedy; sitcoms from the birth of the genre spent a great deal of time following characters at work, whether it was the operating room in M*A*S*H, the cab depot in Taxi, or the hospital in Scrubs. But, in my view, no show has ever quite managed to capture exactly what it means to be at work, in all its boredom and small triumphs, than The Office. A true ensemble piece that made a star out of office boss Steve Carell and a showrunner Greg Daniels, The Office was an American institution for nearly a decade. That’s actually a real surprise, given its genesis.

It is easy to forget, a year after its conclusion, that The Office was not an original show for American television. Instead, it was a remake of a cult British hit, also titled The Office, from creator Ricky Gervais. Considered a great TV show in its own right, the British Office made the “mockumentary” style famous and mimicked reality TV for its own comic gains; a mere 14 episodes long, it was a BBC hit that Daniels, an alum of institutions like Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, felt was perfect for American audiences. Of course, he was absolutely and completely right.

That rightness doesn’t manifest immediately; the pilot, a direct remake of the British pilot, feels somewhat awkward, and Carell’s childish Michael Scott seems a little out of place in the role that the acerbic Gervais made famous. But as the show grew in its longer second season, it found its heart in Carell’s take on Michael, who is by turns awkward, egotistical, and vulnerable, and an idiotic figure you can’t really help but like. The American show’s longer format also allowed for a greater development of the central romance between John Krasinski’s Jim and Jenna Fischer’s Pam, a relationship that blossomed over the first several seasons.

Of course, as with any long-running sitcom, not every season managed to hit the high notes the show reached in its initial seasons. For some critics, the show’s unending development of its characters came at the expense of its central premise; while the characters could grow, they could never escape Dunder-Mifflin Scranton. The exit of Carell in season seven was a large blow to a cast that revolved around its star character, and the writer’s interest in exploring the characters’ lives outside the office began to dilute the magic at the heart of the show.

However, one of my favorite parts of The Office was the degree to which it refocused on its huge ensemble cast. Characters like Meredith, Stanley, and Angela were given greater prominence as the main players stepped back from the spotlight, and it was delightful to see these side characters given the attention they deserved. In the end, The Office was so successful in part because it captured something essential about work: the way we strive to create meaning and forge real connections with other people, even when work itself is boring and meaningless. Daniels said in a post-show interview, “It felt very good to ultimately have an end,” but for many of us, it has been a bitter goodbye to Dunder-Mifflin.