This Is Why "The Office" Is So Good
[This post contains spoilers.]
Until last month, I was pretty late to The Office train. I hadn't seen a single episode since I started watching it in late June of this year.
Now, seven seasons in, I'm completely hooked. But there's one thing, one common thread that connects all its episodes, I've noticed that makes this series so damn good.
Make no mistake, The Office is a masterpiece. The show utilizes several different styles of humor, most especially in the form of naivety and dumbfound confidence found in Steve Carell's character, Michael Scott. Primarily, the show is a comedy show and is, quite obviously, designed to make you laugh.
However, and contrary to what many may say, the humor is not the reason why those who haven't watched the series to its completion (and everyone else, for that matter) keep coming back for more; it's how each episode is structured, when and where and why comedy is and isn't included, that make this show so special.
Take, for example, the episode "Did I Stutter," which introduces a workplace conflict between Michael and Stanley, a miserable old man who, despite being eligible for retirement, chooses to stay and work so his family can use the extra money.
The clip doesn't show it, but, previously, Michael tells Stanley to put down his crossword puzzle during a meeting and Stanley flat-out declines, his fuse of tolerance for Michael's often-childlike behavior totally exhausted, yet contextually irrelevant. Michael politely requests that he do it, but Stanley barks back, "Did I Stutter?!"
In a normal workplace, Stanley's response to Michael's request would be his last words; he'd be fired and cleaned out that day for insubordination.
But the workplace in The Office is anything but normal and Michael values what he perceives to be his close friendship with Stanley over their professional relationship. Subsequently, Stanley protests all existence of any such friendship.
The humor continues throughout the episode in the form of Michael trying to ridiculously make amends with Stanley. Surprisingly, we find that Michael is actually not the one who is in the wrong and is, instead, the character trying to compensate for someone else's mishap.
The way the show is designed sort of makes you dislike the character of Stanley, anyway; he's always miserable, always barking at people, and never seems to care about anyone.
As the episode progresses, it seems like Michael's plan is to simply let this conundrum blow over and pretend like it never existed for the sake of their "friendship." We're never let on to how Michael truly handles the situation towards the end of the episode, and this is crucial.
Finally, towards the end of the episode, Michael confronts Stanley. With the rest of the office watching, Stanley is not reluctant to share with Michael how he honestly feels about his lackluster leadership skills as a manager and his "damn little pea-sized mind," but Michael listens.
Stanley does not borderline-encroach anything here, he blatantly steps over all lines of professionalism during this conversation.
Michael, no longer able to handle the blatant insults, tells Stanley to stop and makes everyone leave the room. The mood is extremely tense between the other office workers, not being able to believe what they just saw Stanley do.
After a couple moments of silence, Michael speaks up through tears. "I don't understand why you keep picking on me. I don't understand but you just do, so please help me understand."
And Stanley gives it to him, calmly letting him know that he has no respect for the man. At all. It's here that the humor of the situation, the humor of the episode, dissipates entirely, and we're left in awe as we witness Stanley finally seizing the opportunity to open the watertight doors on his feelings.
Then, in a humble moment of acceptance, Michael responds sternly, still not quite understanding why on Earth Stanley doesn't respect him. "Alright, you don't respect me. I accept that. But listen to me, you can't talk to me that way in this office. You just can't. I am your boss. Can't allow it."
After some silence, Stanley says, "Fair enough," and the two part ways.
The tense mood of the moment, the empty office, the firm intonation Michael uses to get his point across to Stanley are all components of a scene that are less than common in The Office.
It's a shame that it took the entire episode for Michael to finally realize what he needs to do, but these freak dips in humor are what make us come back for more. They're the integral component of the formula that The Office uses to captivate its audience: draw you in with these light, fluffy moments of humor and exaggeration before slapping you with a deep, thoughtful, sobering moment of humanization.
Perhaps The Office does this to make a parallel with the real world, to prove that, no matter how many times they can make you laugh, the mundane universe of 9-to-5 is just that. It's not necessarily the humor that you remember.
It's how Stanley barks at Michael during that meeting, how Michael reluctantly accepts Stanley's opinion but lets him know how irrelevant it is, the immensely complex and never-ending love story that Jim and Pam share, Michael's quest of closure with his past lovers, Pam's dump of honesty during the office's beach vacation, Michael's instant chemistry with Holly, Jim's last-minute breakup with Karen after discovering the note Pam leaves for him on the yogurt lid in New York.
And it's what's different, what the show doesn't throw at you the most, that we seem to never forget.