It’s torturously bleak!
I like opening with a thumbnail summary, so that my Titans of Industry followers will not have to waste their valuable time wading through the verbiage that will ultimately end me up at the same place.
Now, for those whose time is less valuable…
Despite having spent the majority of my career writing multi-camera comedies, I invariably felt frustrated by the format’s limitations:
The modular “set-up-joke” construction of the scripts.
The story turns that were never just different from what you expect, but the considerably less believable “one-eighty” opposite.
The inability to leave the soundstage, and the limitations concerning how many sets you could use.
And the constant recycling of a musty trunk load of sure-to-get-a-laugh sitcom characters.
Writing a multi-camera comedy script felt like writing a Kabuki play. (Not that I ever wrote a Kabuki play. I’m just analogizing generally.) Every move proceeded according to long-established rules, some of them bizarre, like the requirement of mentioning the character’s name when another character was speaking to them, which dates back to radio, where the audience couldn’t see who the character was speaking to, and they therefore had to be identified.
This was definitely a rule you didn’t need anymore. But they still kept doing it. Why? It was never clearly explained.
The audience inevitably tired of the multi-camera format’s predictability. This led to the emergence of the differently formatted single-camera comedies.
Such as The Office.
For me, the appeal of shows like The Office is their liberation from multi-camera mandatoriosity. See that? Just thinking about them liberated me to invent a new word.
From a writer’s standpoint, The Office is exhilaratingly “old rules”-free. The “set-up-joke” structure has been entirely abandoned. The characters just speak in, though I’m sure it’s been carefully worked out, natural, conversational rhythms.
The stories take us to as many locations as are needed, including, when required, outdoor locations.
The actors look like ordinary people – people of various races, sizes and degrees of attractiveness. Check out the sitcoms of the past. Everybody’s attractive. And likable. The networks at the time insisted on both.
Rather than a parade of stock sitcom characters – “The Dumb One”, “The Bombshell”, “The Wise-Cracking Sidekick”, “The Decent Guy Who Never Gets The Girl” “The Curmudgeon With The Heart Of Gold” – The Office’s characters personify the broken cookies of humanity, in their myriad variations. They are truly a mess. Like you and me. Okay, I shouldn’t speak for you. A mess like me.
I also like The Office’s opening theme music – upbeat and kind of chirpily cheerful. The problem for me is, when the opening theme music is over, virtually nothing “chirpily cheerful” ever happens on the show again.
It’s just all sad to me. Scranton looks sad. Selling paper in a downturning economy feels sad. Being aware that your life is dripping away before you eyes seems very sad. Look at the characters’ faces; they look like they just came from a funeral. When they don’t look furious, terminally bored, frustrated or defeated.
Front and center in the episodes I sampled the past few nights were a neverending series of “Michael Scott” humiliations, which ran the gamut from Michael’s failure to get a paper airplane to fly forward to a brutally rejected public proposal of marriage.
It’s appropriate that Michael is the main character in the series. Check out his eyes. The guy is leading the pack in pain.
Though I like and admire The Office – and I salivate at the writing range they’re permitted – the hammering message of futility and despair makes me not at all interested in watching the show on a regular basis.
As an upbeat finale, I will pass along one moment I saw on The Office, which I found unqualifiedly hilarious. Michael and Dwight were driving a rental car to an out-of-town business appointment, using the car’s GPS apparatus for directions. Dwight is certain they are lost. But Michael insists on putting his faith in the GPS.
At which point, with utter confidence, Michael drives his rental car directly into a lake.
That one really made me laugh.