The Office

I've never seen this graphic used in the real world to represent an office. I feel like an office is sort of self explanatory to begin with, and doesn't necessarily need a graphic denoting what it is.

I once saw a picture of two sets of footprints on a beach at sunset, along with a quote about how one set of tracks is this guy walking along the beach and the second set is God walking along beside him, forever, presumably even when he’s not on a beach. I think the quote was from the Bible, or maybe a country song. And now that I think of it, there may not have been a sunset, either. I’m pretty sure there was a picture, though.

Look, this was a rocky start, but I figured I should say something about religion since it’s Easter. So, you’re welcome.

The point is, The Office, not God, has been my second set of footprints since I was a junior in high school. Through good times and bad, on various TVs and computers, in all kinds of different frames of mind and places in my life, I’ve been sitting around watching The Office on Thursdays for five years now.

As someone who almost habitually falls in love with great shows that get cancelled (Firefly, Arrested Development, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, The Tick, Mystery Science Theater 3000…) it was great to see a show I liked getting some actual love from the network for a change. Before The Office, I had come to think that whenever network executives found out I liked a show, they picked up the red telephone and put a stop to it right away.

“Hi there, Judd Apatow? It’s NBC. We’re cancelling Freaks and Geeks. Well, Truman Capps likes it. Yeah, the one with the hair. Because if he likes it, then clearly the people who buy Axe Shower Gel and Cadillac Escalades don’t like it, and then we have an ad revenue problem. No hard feelings.”

I’ve been following the staff at Dunder Mifflin Scranton for so long that it’s like I actually know them. I’ve been familiar with the finer details of Dwight’s personal life longer than I’ve known most of my friends in college.

In my head, that sounded impressive, but now that I see it on the page it makes me look pathetic.

But it’s true – I remember when Ryan was just a put-upon temp and not this ex-con hipster archetype. I remember when Darryl was just The Black Guy In The Warehouse. I remember a time when there was no Nard-Dog. More than any other program, it’s The Office that has shown me the power of television to build a strong connection with viewers by putting the same characters in their homes, week upon week, for years, because it did that to me.

So know how much this show means to me when I say that The Office sucks now. It’s like I’m saying that one of my closest friends sucks.*

*Well, a friend who only visits me for half an hour every week eight months out of the year and tries to sell me car insurance and fast food at regular intervals during his visit. So, all in all, a pretty sucky friend.

The past six or seven episodes have shown a distinct drop in quality, and this season has been sub-par at best already. We’ve seen Michael getting lost in the city in spite of the fact that he’s got a camera crew with him, Michael’s movie, Threat Level Midnight, which played out as an extended ‘Michael is stupid’ joke, and Michael’s proposal to Holly, in which he marshals an office full of people who either barely tolerate or outright hate him into an elaborate proposal involving a few hundred candles.

And then, on Thursday, the entire office sings a modified version of That Song From Rent to Michael as a going away present. That was when I turned it off – I don’t watch Glee, goddamn it, and it’s not okay for Glee to come looking for me on my turf.

But singing isn’t the problem here – it’s the nauseatingly sweet sentimentality of the whole thing. It just feels like at some point the writers’ mission stopped being ‘Make people laugh’ and became ‘Give teenage girls lots of material so they can make YouTube The Office compilation fan videos set to John Legend songs.’

It’s not like there’s something wrong with a thing being heartwarming or sweet, but if there’s one thing that I always liked about The Office, it was its ability to be really low key and understated. Scenes or entire episodes climaxed with a sigh or an enigmatic look, and now we’ve got a room full of people singing showtunes. It’s not The Office I remember. It’s changed, and we all know how I feel about that:

One of my friends argues that The Office is evolving and I should just suck it up and deal with it, but I think the word ‘evolving’ gives the show too much credit. Evolution suggests things getting better with time, but The Office is getting worse – less groundbreaking, less funny, more safe. It’s gradually turning back into a monkey. I expect a major story arc about shit throwing in season 8.

Now, of course, this is all just my opinion – as though I even needed to say that. Maybe The Office racks up more ad revenue when the characters have become cartoonishly broad and the whole thing plays out like a Kay Jewelers ad, in which case I’m sure all the writers are all driving solid gold Batmobiles at this point. I just miss the show that made me want to be a TV scriptwriter in the first place.*

*You see that? See how that line was kind of thought provoking and slightly sentimental, but didn’t beat you over the head with nostalgia? That’s what I want to see more of. Then you finish with a joke, like in this next paragraph.

This is the problem with appropriating a television show as a part of your life: A TV show is written by a large, slowly changing group of people, at least some of whom are bound to have a different creative vision than your own. Organized religion is far less complicated.

Truman Capps will continue to watch and complain about The Office until the bitter end.