Earlier in the year, I gave the U.S. version of The Office a shot. I had my doubts. To saunter onto the territory of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant was tantamount to sacrilege. But after a shaky start, the U.S. Office proved that it had the heart, irreverence, dedication and continuous storyline that, while not as good as Gervais, was nevertheless laudable.
But last week’s episode, which dealt with sexual harassment meetings and organized labor, finally equaled the Gervais-Merchant blend of discomfiting satire and it may very well have surpassed it. Last week’s episode, with its character development, its underlying subtext of corporations crushing the soul out of humanity and the embarassing image of Michael Scott treating a forklift like a toy and driving it into a stack of shelves, pushed The Office into the oxymoron of, dare I say it, vital television.
What makes The Office so important? When was the last time, for example, that you saw any show dramatizing the way a corporation keeps its workers baited for life with impossible dreams (such as the graphic arts training program or the “human” face of a meeting in which extremely personal questions are asked and it’s really more about reporting these things back to HR)? Of course, in a world where you can be downsized tomorrow, these long-term prospects are lilttle more than prospects.
Americans spend forty hours of their week at a job and perhaps ten of those hours stuck in traffic. Out of a 168 hour week, with 56 hours devoted to eight hours of sleep, that’s about half of a waking life devoted to work. And yet there have been very few films and television that have come along to dramatize this middle-class bloc. The reason why a film like Office Space became so celebrated is because there was frankly nothing else out there which has dared to focus on this.
Until, of course, The Office, in both its UK and US incarnations.
To wit: If you are not watching this show, start from the beginning. You will encounter a show that is not only hilarious but has its finger on the pulse of one of the great American hypocrisies.
[ADDITIONAL NOTE: And speaking of television exploring hypocrisy, I should also note that Battlestar Galactica is also strong in its own ways, if only because any program with the line, “One of the nice things about being President: you don’t have to explain yourself to anybody,” is playing quite rightly with fire.]