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The Office and Its Momentum

Variety, Tuesday, May 12, 2009 – Robert Abele writes about The Office 100th Episode and brings up some interesting dialog about the innovative nature of the American version.  My attention actually started with the first line, which contrary to popular practices, my attention span normally hits somewhere after the introductory blah, blah, blah.  I’ve learned to scan for information and I have an internal trigger that lets me know when the real stuff is about to begin.  So, sue me.
Anyway, I was drawn from the first sentence, “It wasn’t the ideal situation…”  I wondered what could be meant by that.  The Office is the off-spring of the British show with so many differences that it hardly looks the same anymore.  So, what could be wrong with a show that has met with its own success?  I didn’t realize I was reading that backwards.  I had put the cart before the horse, so I was thrown off by it.
The “Single-Camera Mockumentary Format” of The Office is just part of its allure.  I love how lost Michael Scott is when it comes to management, “You have to play to win, but you also…have to…win…to play.”  And Ryan is supposed to take something meaningful from that.  But, Michael is a very competent sales person.  His track record stands for itself.  Challenged by anyone in sales and he can blow them out of the water.  Even his superiors would say that, even though they can’t and won’t say anything good about his management skills.
And then, there are times when you see experience in Michael’s management abilities.  Jim took over one day so Michael could go out into the wild and try to survive.  Meanwhile, Jim was bombarded with plenty of requests when he tried to make it so that everyone’s birthday could be celebrated on the same day.  When Michael returned to the office, he and Jim shared the experience.  It seems that Michael had learned from his own mistakes, the same ones Jim had just made.
How the relationship between Jim and Pam is the perfect example of how The Office is making landmark decisions that throws traditional notions out of the window.  Sitcoms have previously made a big thing out of the chase and then destroyed the relationship once it was established.  Jim and Pam had their tensions at the beginning, but they’re over now.  The relationship is strong and its not being outplayed in the show.  It’s there and we all know it.  But, it’s not shoved down our throats and we really appreciate that.
This is the stuff of The Office.  But, there is so much more to the American version.  When Jim plays a joke on Dwight, it’s always good for a laugh.  When the entire office is placing bets, that’s just too good for television.  Getting off work early as in tonight’s episode is the stuff that makes The Office work.  There is perfect chemistry between the characters.  There is so much going on that the show can literally go in any direction and then redirect itself.  This is one perfect show.  And it’s starting to wear off on other shows.
Parks and Recreation was created with a great template in place and it’s only a matter of time before it finds its own wings.  It’s already showing signs of being able to take off, but it is still stuck in its awkward beginnings.  By the way, that’s what kept viewers watching.
I think The Office has tapped into something that is not just Americana, but deeply human.  Uttered perfectly by Jennifer Aniston in Friends years ago, “I can not not watch this.”
It has an awkward hilarity that we can’t stop watching.  The Office started off that way and it kept us watching.  I’m sure it’s that awkward hilarity that drew our attention to the British version in the first place.  The Office now has strong momentum and I think they’re going to share it with plenty of shows to follow.

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