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Breaking up with “The Office”

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As you can probably tell from my post where I broke up with “Glee”, Marc and I DVR a lot of our shows and watch them some time after air date. I don’t mention this because I think that’s uncommon or anything, but to note that we have a lot of shows we like and a DVR box with a very small hard drive. This makes us even more critical than normal of stuff sucking, since we don’t want to waste precious DVR space on shows that aren’t worth our time. Which is why last night we decided to stop taping “The Office”.

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In all honesty, it’s been a long time coming. Every week we watch the show, and every week we ask ourselves, why are we watching this show? It’s basically out of nostalgia, because “The Office” used to be the funniest thing on TV, back when it was a dark satire of life inside the modern American economy. Over time, however, it switched genres and is now a rather pointless romantic comedy that valorizes the characters that it used to viciously mock. The show used to offer up a searing critique of the way that modern corporations are ruining the American dream for ordinary working people, but now that those particular chickens are really coming home to roost in the real world, the economic fortunes on the show have turned inexplicably sunny, with the threat that they are all going to show up and find their jobs have disappeared evaporating. In fact, the company seems to have an unlimited budget for just hiring new people. They didn’t even put up more of a fight when Pam basically created a whole new job (and salary) for herself. The actors increasingly seem to be phoning it in, and worst of all, it’s sentimental for no good reason. Plus, for some reason, they seem to think that the audience should think Pam and Jim are awesome, when, if you look at it objectively, Pam and Jim are assholes. The pranks they’d play on Dwight used to have meaning and purpose, for instance—Dwight was a suck-up and pointlessly competitive at a job that Jim thought he was too good to do, so he took his frustrations out on Dwight, who had it coming. Now Dwight seems to just be the weird guy, and Pam and Jim are the cool kids picking on the weird guy because he’s weird. And we in the audience are supposed to think well of them because of all this, even though they’re actually pretty pathetic. And the capper of it all is they steal jokes from viral videos on YouTube done by non-professional people that I’ll bet they never give a dime to.

As Marc noted, it’s the same trajectory as “The Simpsons”—it started off as a vicious satire, but the writers grew fond of the characters and started to change up their motivations and their fates so that we like them more. The most recent episode was a really good example of how the show has lost its way.

To start off with, Michael Scott. As usual, Michael got into trouble and embarrassed himself. But they pulled their punches by having most of the horrible stuff that happened to him be accidental. Letting go of the balloons and dropping the bottle so it rattled around? That honestly could have happened to anyone. Even the booing bit was a pulled punch. Back in the day, they would have had Michael be horrible to Andy because Andy has a part at all, and he was jealous. But they want you to like Michael some, so instead they show him being nice to Andy by going to the show, praising his performance, and comforting him when he was down. They don’t even have the heart to put Michael through the romantic horrors he’s lived through in the past. The last bad girlfriend plot was limp and dispensed with quickly.

Pam and Jim, as noted before, are now assholes. But we’re supposed to like them and think they’re awesome because they’re “normal” compared to the weirdos they work with. In the past, the smallness of their lives and their inabilities to achieve their ambitions gave them depth, but now they’re just smug married people who sneer at people they think are below them, instead of yearning to be more than they are. In this episode, they sit in their car drinking Irish Cream and orange juice and we’re supposed to be charmed by how cute and in love they are, instead of appalled at what wankers they’re being. I don’t care about them, their marriage, or their baby. They should have written them off the show.

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Meanwhile, this last episode made it clear that they’re actually recycling the Pam/Jim arc with Andy and Erin—the salesman loves the receptionist, but he’s too cowardly to tell her, and she’s dating someone else in the company. We didn’t even get to see Gabe steal Erin from Andy, presumably because they don’t have the courage to make Gabe a real asshole or Erin stupid enough to be dating someone that’s bad for her. So you’re left with this storyline where you’re expected to feel bad for Andy, but instead you’re thinking, “I don’t know. She seems happy. He should just move on.” I fail to see why we should root for them outside of the fact that they’re both characters that we’ve come to know on this show.

Back in the day, the show did a bang-up job of portraying the awkwardness of working with people that you don’t particularly like that much. The socializing events outside of the office were awkward and forced, and many of the characters couldn’t wait to get home and live their real lives. Now, it seems like the people in the office don’t have lives outside of it at all. They only socialize with each other. The episode where Jim and Pam got married really epitomized this. Their office mates reconstruct the viral video wedding aisle dance. Except in real life, the people that did this were the couple’s actual friends, not their coworkers they have little in common with and feel so superior to. That’s because this is something that your actual friends do for you, not your coworkers. Plus, what was the point of doing that? It was amazing to watch it on YouTube, because it was original and it was awesome to see a bunch of non-professionals pull it off in one shot. A bunch of professional actors doing it in a situation where they have multiple takes to get it right? It was like an inverse of everything that made the video they ripped off cool.

So, we’re also done with “The Office”. There’s way too much good stuff on TV to waste your time on a show that’s jumped the shark.

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