As heartwarming, relatable sitcoms like “Frasier” and “Friends” began disappearing from the airwaves in 2005, a groundbreaking new show emerged with a focus on the mundane, the boring and the ordinary.
“My job is to speak to clients, um, on the phone, about … uh, quantities and, uh, type of … copier paper,” salesman Jim Halpert explains in the pilot episode. “You know, whether we can supply it to them, whether they can, uh … pay for it. And, um … I'm … I'm boring myself just talking about this.”
NBC’s “The Office” follows the employees of Dunder Mifflin, a paper company, as they move through life with the same confident uncertainty that we all try to bring to it. In a masterfully directed mockumentary style, viewers watch as these workers fall in love, pursue their dreams and bond with each other in a hysterically dysfunctional workplace.
The regional manager, Michael Scott, serves as the head of a branch of the company located in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His lack of self-control and unbridled urge to say exactly what he’s thinking — which, despite his best intentions, often results in hilariously offensive or tone-deaf remarks — is offset by his overwhelming sense of love for his job and his coworkers. The wacky and ridiculous scenarios he inevitably throws himself into, mostly in the name of his career, range from amusing to downright gut-busting.
The show introduces all of its characters in a way that feels intimate and natural, staying true to its organic storytelling style. As the seasons progress, viewers learn more about each one of the employees at Dunder Mifflin and inevitably grow familiar with them. Arguably the oddest and initially most unsociable character, Dwight Schrute, begins as a robotic, success-driven salesman. But as the show continues, Dwight metamorphosizes, slowly allowing himself to open up further to his coworkers as he displays more and more heartwarming gestures of affection.
Of course, no review of “The Office” would be complete without mentioning the love story between Jim and Pam Beesly. The subplot is, in many ways, one of the most realistic fairy-tale romances in the era of sitcoms. The story is not one of inexorable pursuit or dramatic speeches. Rather, it mirrors how uncertain and awkward dating can be, especially in the workplace. It shows heartbreak in its most destructive natural form — Jim leaving the branch and his home behind after being rejected by Pam, or Pam later giving her controlling ex-fiance a second chance after Jim tries to move on.
In the end, yes, Jim and Pam get together, and their chemistry on screen is enough to bring an ear-to-ear grin and tears to the eyes of anyone watching. But even then, the writers don’t neatly wrap things up in a “happily ever after.” Later in the season, Jim having to balance two jobs and a family begin to affect their marriage. They argue, and they begin to grow apart. They go to marriage counseling. They work to rebuild their marriage and reconnect. Because in real life, in ordinary life, even the most fated romances have their bad days or months, and they take work to get them back on track.
The show’s infatuation with the ordinary gives its viewers something to grasp onto and relate to. A bizarre boss, a electrifying office romance, an annoying coworker that totally deserves that practical joke; all of us know what it's like to exist in an American workplace, and although the show can go to some eye-rolling extremes, viewers could be forgiven for believing that most of what they see in “The Office” is unscripted, even real.
“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things,” Pam muses to the camera in the last seconds of the show’s finale. “Isn’t that kind of the point?”
Liam DeBonis is the photo editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @LiamDebonis