Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Top 10 T.V. Shows: 1. The Office

I first watched The Office when I was around fifteen. My uncle bought me the Complete Series when we were at a Borders in Connecticut. I had only heard about it, and when I watched it, I wasn't impressed. I was too young, and it was too different from anything I'd ever watched. It was too stayed, and too quiet.

I have a few friends who have loved it since it first aired. It was through their persistence that I kept giving the show further chances. I've watched the whole series a good five or six times over the years, but it wasn't until the last viewing, very recently, that I really felt how brilliant the whole thing is. Considering I'd watched it only two or three months prior to that, what had changed?

I've always watched The Office as a comedy, which is what it's always been sold as. And it is funny. Painfully so, in some cases. But it's a little too natural, I think, for it to really work for me on that level. While the U.S. adaptation of The Office ratchets up the humour, the original doesn't ever set up jokes. They happen as a result of the behaviour of the individuals, but they're never laboured, and they never feel written. It was when, on that last viewing, that I decided to watch the show not as a comedy, but as a story, that everything fell into place. It sounds odd, I know, but it made a huge difference. The show is so well written, and the characters are so perfectly portrayed, that you can't help but feel for them. Even when you wouldn't like them in real life.

David Brent feels there's a rivalry between him and his boss, that they're in competition with one another to be the most popular. It doesn't exist. It's entirely in his head. It's the most realistic rivalry on television, I think, for that reason. Unlike America's Michael Scott, who is a git, but a well-meaning one, David Brent is just plain deluded. There's almost nothing to like about him, and what little there is would be quickly undermined by his attitude and behaviour. He works, though, because we fear we might be him. We'd have no way of knowing if we were, so who's to say?

The heart of the show has to come from elsewhere else, then, if the lead is as emotionally unappealing as he is. The relationship between Tim and Dawn proves to be the most touching aspect of the program, and it's the reason I kept coming back. Their love for one another is so palpable in the performances that you want them to be together, desperately. Fans of the U.S. version will insist that we all felt the same way about Jim and Pam, but those people are watching a stretched out, distilled version of the brilliance that is Tim and Dawn. There's no comparing them. During the Christmas Special which served as the finale for The Office, I was literally on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen between them, and I already knew from having watched it before. When they finally kiss at the Christmas Party, I don't know that any individual event so small as that has ever made me feel as good. I cried out of sheer joy. Because we all want that.

I'm admittedly not always in the mood to watch The Office, largely because it does make me incredibly uncomfortable. Originally, it was placed at #5 on this list, but as I began writing the entry, I realized how strongly I feel for the characters, and as I think that's the highest indicator of great entertainment, I had to readjust the list. As I said yesterday, The Wire is the best show ever made. But The Office is a quiet little masterpiece, and it makes you care in a way that is utterly remarkable.

I once told a friend I thought the U.S. version of The Office was better than the original. He countered that, while The Office (U.S.) may provide more laughs than The Office, it is by no means a better show. And he was right. The characters who populate The Office (U.S.) are just that; they are characters. Genuinely funny (for the first three seasons), and enjoyable, yes, but they are not real people. The denizens of The Office are human, and profoundly so. If you let yourself, you'll love them for it.

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