Two things happened in the past couple of weeks. First, I bought Gabrielle a sweatshirt for her 18th birthday that says, “Schrute Farms Bed and Breakfast.” Second, Gabrielle told me her friend’s yearbook quote was, “I’m not superstitious, but I’m a little stitious.”
That was enough to compel me to watch the television show “The Office,” all nine seasons of it, once again. If you are not an Office fan, you’ll want to skip this column this week. If you are, welcome to the fold, my friends.
Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking long and hard about the appeal of this show, especially when my husband walks by while on his way to read a book about magnets or listen to a podcast about quantum physics. When he’s in the vicinity, I’ve noticed I tend to crouch a little lower in front of my laptop, hoping at first that he won’t see me. When he asks me what I’m doing, I’m usually a little vague, with “Nothing” being my No. 1 response. That generally isn’t a complete enough answer though, and I’m forced to admit what I’m watching. His response?
“Haven’t you seen that, like, a dozen times?”
I then become both indignant and embarrassed.
“No. Not a dozen. This is my third.”
He doesn’t say much after that, but he walks away looking pretty baffled.
Which brings me back to why this show is just so good.
Obviously, it’s smart and funny. It can’t not be with lines like, “What are my flaws? I sing in the shower. Sometimes I spend too much time volunteering. Occasionally, I hit somebody with my car.”
The characters are unique and, as such, memorable, centered about the boss of “The Office,” Michael Scott, who is so flawed you regularly cringe because he says things like, “I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”
The documentary-style format is different, with the characters regularly interviewed by an unseen crew as their days working at a failing paper company are recorded.
But all of those things aren’t enough to make you want to watch it again and again and again. And as I’ve left season one in the dust and smoothly rounded the corner well into season two, I’ve come to the conclusion that it has to do with the concept of the office itself. Not the actual space — although that is certainly key as nearly every episode is centered around this gray room accented by nothing but staplers, Mr. Coffee and ringing telephones — but the way the show constantly makes you recognize, commiserate with, and ultimately appreciate the ordinariness of what life is like inside it.
Importantly, in the American version of the show with Steve Carell, ordinary is not necessarily ugly, boring or bad. (In the British version with Ricky Gervais, ordinary is simply unrelenting, which might explain why the show was short-lived.) In the American version, ordinary just is. And what you do with it, especially if you can find distinction, happiness, acceptance or love within it, creates a type of beauty whittled down to its essence.
In turn, the characters are just as complicated as the idea of finding magic in the mundane. Yes, they often verge on being caricatures for the sake of a good joke, but in time, you learn they are multi-faceted, all there in this same space because they just want to protect themselves. It’s not heavy handed, but every once in a while, you see their vulnerability, and the dark fear directing it, and, like a click, you suddenly understand the ridiculousness of Michael Scott or Dwight Schrute for what it is: They just want to be loved.
And then, of course, there is Jim and Pam. Isn’t theirs the ultimate modern-day love story? Their long, drawn-out courtship, grounded in office pranks, yogurt-lid medals, simulated high-fives and margaritas at Chile’s, is just so damn satisfying to watch. You want so badly for them to get together, but Pam is engaged to terrible Roy and what can Jim do except hope she finally sees the light? The angst is good TV right there, made original because of the relatability of its breadth.
Interestingly, when I first watched “The Office,” William was very sick and we weren’t sure if he was going to get better. It was the most terrible time in our lives, and I was desperate for something to take away the endless worry. I found solace in these little 21-minute episodes, which were funny enough to distract me and founded in a world that was so real that I was able to escape mine.
The second go-around I simply started watching because I missed the characters. And now this time, I’m doing it partly because it’s Gabrielle’s favorite show and I want to connect with her as much as I can before she leaves for college.
And so, as I head to the elliptical machine simply so I can watch two episodes guilt-free, I leave you fellow Office lovers with this everlasting gem:
“Make friends first, make sales second, make love third. In no particular order.”