In lieu of humor, go with heart

There must be something in the water, or a few too many pregnancies over in comedyville, because lately everyone’s gone soft.

A few years ago, every Friday morning I would wake up in pain due to laughing myself into oblivion the previous night. NBC’s The Office hit its stride during second season, and now as they embark on their sixth year in Scranton, I’m wondering where the funny went and how they turned into the sappiest show on television.

For those of us who've stuck with the show since the beginning, now is a time of reflection. I look back on episodes like "Sexual Harassment," "The Dundies" or "Gay Witch Hunt," and see how much Michael and the whole crew have changed since then, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about all the changes. I know what you're going to say... "They have to change! The show can't go on for 5 years and not have them grow a little!" It's a good point, and of course they have to develop the characters, but that doesn't mean that all development has been headed in the right direction, and it also doesn't mean that the show's decision to stay on the air is the right one. The Office is a half hour comedy television show. Their goal is to make us laugh, in which case, they stopped doing their job awhile ago. Sure, every once in awhile something cracks me up, or I remember how much I love these characters, but I only see a further downturn from here. How can they combat that? What is their plan?

Michael Scott used to be a bafoon, but lately he's shaped up and actually been making some pretty good decisions, even been inspiring (I know, weird right?). He still screws up on a daily basis due to complete obliviousness, but his moments with Holly in the finale were so mature and out of character, that it was alarming. Looks like Steve Carell got caught up in the moment and forgot who he was playing. As we all know, the rest of the office takes their queues from Michael, so lately it feels like everyone has left the silly banter behind. The awkward silences are shorter, the Jim/Dwight competition is gone, and even Andy has simmered down. We rarely see Kevin, Creed or Darryl anymore, and despite Ryan's return to the show as temp, they haven't given him any play time since the end the "Michael Scott Paper Company" arc, not to mention the biggest change in the show, the happy coupling of Jim and Pam. It's a quandary. I rooted endlessly for them to get together, I practically wanted to decapitate Karen! But as the show joked during their first episode officially out of the couples closet, "Is the spark gone?" it rang all too true. Their relationship has been smooth sailing since the stars aligned, which is all fine and well for them, but it makes for boring television. As much as I adore "PB&J," their story is over, check your interesting plot lines at the door (even though I DID get a little misty when we find out...SPOILER ALERT... that Pam is pregnant). Even Dwight is back to defending Angela! And now we have their protege Parks and Recreation following right in their misguided footsteps. I've been keeping up with the new show (recently renewed for next season), and they too are putting forth sappy storylines about an ambitious politico, who keeps putting her foot in her mouth. Apart from the hilarious Tom Haverford (played by Aziz Ansari) and the intern April played by Aubrey Plaza (who you can bet you'll be seeing alongside the Apatow crew before long), the show is all about subtly putting out morals at the end of each episode. It's Full House without the laugh track. But with Amy Poehler going home to a new baby every night, maybe her instincts have changed. Right now it feels like the blind leading the blind.

I have a few theories as to the Office's decline, although none of them are too mindblowing. 1. writers like Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky are too busy working on other projects, like Ghostbusters 3 and B.J. Novak has been distracted by starring in Inglorious Basterds. These writers did good work on The Office, and now they're in high demand, giving them busier schedules and less time for their original baby. Or maybe they, like the audience, are just ready to move on. 2. With the writers strike throwing off their whole groove not too long ago, they all fell off the wagon. Once something is interrupted, getting it back is hard, if not impossible, just like that diet that was going so well till you spied that toblerone bar in the airport gift shop, calling your name. 3. Twitter has taken over their lives. Seriously, with Rainn Wilson, Brian Baumgartner, and Mindy Kaling all twittering away, it's amazing any of them has time to do anything.

But with all this said, The Office has always had a soft underbelly. They've built their reputation on successfully combining humor and heart. Hell, even I wanted to go to Cafe Disco. I am just suggesting that as of late, comedy has fallen a little more by the wayside. The characters used to be, you love them/you hate them, and now they're all pretty bland and full of love. Maybe I have sappy-defecit disorder. Maybe I have no soul. I just prefer watching people being awkward and uncomfortable. And I wait patiently for the day when I can once again call The Office, my favorite on-air show. Till then, re-runs.

ok, I'm not totally heartless... this was awesome.


Emerson Marks said...

I must confess, I've not seen an episode of the (U.S) Office. Nor did I realise that it's been going on for 6 years! That's much longer than the UK version ever did.

do you have a flag? said...

I love the British version of The Office! Or should I say, the original Office.