The Office totally sucks this season.
A lot of people say this type of thing about a show at some point and often their reasons aren’t wholly sound. They are often unfounded, unexplained, and instead based on some weird vague feeling they have. This is understandable, but here, I will attempt to explain just why The Office has sucked this season.
The show started off in its early seasons with an excellent format (and proven in the UK). Michael was the ridiculous jerk with an air of being pathetic. Dwight was too just in a more survivalist bent. Jim/Pam had the emotional resonance. Then at the start of season 4, in an effort to keep from getting stale Jim/Pam got together and the emotional conflicts transferred over to Michael and (better yet) Dwight. It was all done rather well too. Michael’s relationship deteriorated hilariously with Jan, followed by the arrival of Holly and their unspoken perfectly suited love. Dwight’s relationship with Angela came to a crashing halt and as a result, there we were wholly empathizing with a broken-hearted Dwight (even at his most bullish times, the sign of great writing). Meanwhile, Jim and Pam were the constants; together and happy and immediately ready to play off others at a moments notice. Jim and Dwight had this nice little building arc where they were acting like (fighting) brothers. Pam was becoming more confident. To top it off the entire season finale was one of the best episodes of the show(1) that set up so many great dynamics for the season to come. It was great.
Then came this season. It was full of constant false starts, pre-mature endings, misleading development, backtracking, erroneous details, and over the top behavior (even by office standards).
Michael – rather than have a nice slow burn and build-up Michael just decides he doesn’t want anything to do with Jan’s baby (she disappears) and then pretty much gets Holly immediately (and they start doing it). There really isn’t much to the relationship. Worse, like three episodes later, Holly is transferred to Nashua because the relationship was undeclared and rather than have any kind of leniency in this, it’s just thrown at it so quickly. It’s like she had to go to do some other show. It rendered everything completely meaningless. Since that moment Michael has been languishing without purpose or interest. In the last two-part episode we are finally promised a reunion, only to be hit with another false start. She’s not there and only a crappy device leaves things up in the air. It was a waste of time.
Toby – after leaving the show, Toby shows up like 4 episodes later. The moment of his return was pretty amusing, but again, the whole arc is rendered pointless.
Ryan – Ryan comes back for a few episodes. It is also pointless(2).
Dwight/Angela/Andy – so Dwight and Angela start doing it pretty much at the start of the season. we go from empathizing with Dwight to pretty much recognizing him and Angela as be straight up dicks. only Andy remains interesting. What’s more is the cheating just goes on for half a season with nothing brewing. It’s static and Andy just comes off as pathetic.
Jim/Pam – this is the real offender. In an effort to have some kind of plot for them(3), week after week they are thrown into some kind of episodic complication: Them being apart. Her being at school. Her parents divorce. Jim secretly spending all their money on a house. The list goes on and on. And while they could use this to build and texture their relationship, every single episode ends with a “Nope! They’re perfect together!” moment that almost serves to undermine the very drama they attempted to create(4). It’s wholly inane. People liked Jim and Pam because they identified with their longing. Now, who identifies with two people being perfect for each other. Forgive the personalizing, but I’ve found the love of my life and never do we have the “oh well, we’re perfect for each other!” resolution to our problems. That’s because it’s not a relate-able phenomenon. That’s not how human beings work. It’s a how a bunch of writers approach a situation where they don’t want to mess up their two main characters, they don’t want to overly dramatize it, and they don’t want to do anything brave It’s a complete and total freaking cop out. Their drama is nothing but red herrings.
Jim – I’ve kind of been saying this for awhile, but this season confirms it: Jim is secretly a dick. Why does he behave the way he does and make the choices he does? He’s a paper salesmen in Scranton and he has a completely ‘holier than thou’ attitude towards everyone in the office. He’s thinking he’s just responding to people’s ridiculousness, but instead he’s just mean. Seriously, watch this season’s episodes again with that perspective. It’s amazing. His asides are not so much “is this really happening?” and more “can you believe these assholes?” It’s really weird. The best way to legitimize this claim I’m making is to look at the UK Office and just how incredibly Tim used the same kind of character. Tim was a loser and recognized it. He hated his position in life and it just so happened that Dawn was there to brighten up his days (he basically articulates this exact phrase at some point). Sure Tim made fun of Gareth constantly and found David ridiculous. But in some ways he recognized he was one of them. He lived with his parents. He wasn’t particularly handsome or charming. He was just a funny guy. Meanwhile, Jim always had friends and seemed somewhat popular. He was kind of a cool kid. Or at least that’s how he reacts to. Why is Jim there if he dislikes it so? What is preventing him and Pam from going off somewhere else (5). Okay I’m running on too long and I realize a lot of this seems circumstantial. I just want more people to look at Jim with this perspective.
Angela – Yeah I get it. She likes the attention of men fighting over her. The problem is she’s just stone cold biyotch about it all, whereas when she was with Dwight before she was just a straight laced priss who had a secret adventurous side (re: human).
Kevin – even the Kevin being retarded plot line was far too short. they could have got more out of that. and then once it was over there was nothing. he harbored no ill will toward holly.
Michael’s Boss – has show up a lot more this season, but he’s mostly been a heavy and they haven’t gone anywhere with the conflict. Plus he made it seem like dwight should be fired and then nothing happened. Once again. Just weird.
The Writers – This is just complaining specifically about one episode. The characters in The Office always have a certain degree of selfish meanness (Michael/Dwight specifically), heck it’s part of the brand. I’ve tolerated it cause it was sometimes funny and because it never went over the line. There was an episode this year that went over the line. That was the episode where Michael and Dwight investigate another paper company to try and steal all their clients. Sure there was a kind commentary on the Darwinistic nature of businesses, but seriously? First they construct the nicest people you’ve ever met in your life just to have them gutted by Michael and Dwight? It’s wholly manipulative and worse it wasn’t that funny. It was conniving. It was actively mean. It drove me nuts… I realize all this makes it seem I dislike mean comedy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Seinfeld is one of my favorite shows and I like Sunny and Eastbound and Down and all the shows of that ilk. It’s just those were shows built on people doing unlikable things for comedic effect. The Office is built on empathy… so this basically means the show kicks itself in the nuts sometimes by having characters do really Seinfeldian stuff. Look at how the Office UK handled a lot of David Brent’s behavior. It was less actively mean and more “I’m so awesome and trying to have a laugh” and he just fails.
This season has been nothing more than long list of bad decisions. Sure there’s been funny parts and little moments that have worked, but the entire season has been so disjointed… lacking focus… somewhat annoying… crappy… not as good.
What’s worked and why they should focus on that:
Jim/Pam -only one episode worked this season and that’s when Jim and Pam had the little war over whether or not they should get a new copier or new chairs. It was perfect. Their conflict/interaction was playful, light, and more importantly real. It’s EXACTLY what they should be doing. We know they’re great together so you don’t need to keep reminding us. Just show how they deal with little relationship stuff by being funny. Not with miraculous Deus Ex Machina revelations at the end of heavy conflict building.
Michael – I feel like this one is already blown. They should have done the slow burn w/ holly, but instead it’s crapped. I say don’t bring her back till the endgame of the show and just let Michael be amusing within office contexts. (like the chair/copier episode).
Andy/Oscar – on the business trip Andy and Oscar had this great little bonding episode. And it was done in the perfect way where they stay true to their characters and we just find ways that they get along (6). Since then, nothing has come of it. Just another false start. They should revisit this kind of thing. Even if it’s just tonally.
Dwight/Angela/Andy – something has to happen here. I have no idea what. But they just have to re-empathize Dwight. Outright make Angela more apologetic (it’s necessary at this point) and then de-patheticize Andy. You don’t have to redifine these charcters, you just have to tone down their extremes and help get them to a kind of stasis.
To the writers of the office… in conclusion, do better.
1- including the greatest line of the series, when Holly (thinking kevin is retarded) proceeds to help him count out change for the vending machine. As she helps Kevin sort out the coins in his hand she and points to one and clarifies for him “…that’s a button.” I nearly shit my pants.
2- I’m not saying that there has to even be a super-logical point to it. There should be a comidic point to it. And Ryan was used for very little laughs other than getting Kelly out of her relationship. Which, again, went nowhere.
3- Which we establish from the season before, is not wholly necessary. They’re good constants.
4- key word being attempted.
5- besides being on the show. Which writers should never work themselves into.
6- the perfect example is during Pam’s art show in season 3. No one likes her art. She’s seriously sad. Michael shows up and is his usual officing loving self and loves her drawing of the office. Pam is genuinely touched. it was a great moment that was totally in sync with their characters. The ensuing “chunky” line was a perfect example of how to alleviate the emotion too with some humor.