The Office is a single-camera network workplace sitcom that aired on NBC from March 2005 to May 2013.
It followed fourteen office workers at the Dunder Mifflin paper supply company in Scranton, Pennsylvania, seemingly for a documentary of sorts on the typical American workplace. Most of these workers were quirky, to say the least, but no matter how bizarre some were, we all knew someone just like them when we went into work at 9 AM the next morning.
This, of course, was one of the biggest roots of its wild success. They were headed by the earnestly clueless Michael Scott, who truly believes he's earned the "World's Best Boss" title we see on his coffee mug in the opening credits, while in reality, he causes most of the mishaps in the office.
Most character dynamics and architecture come from the subordinate/boss aspect of the show, meaning how each character interacts with (or in many cases, reacts to) Michael, as well as with each other as co-workers.
As the show develops, we meet some characters' family and their relations in certain episodes (Dwight's mute cousin Mose when Jim and Pam take a trip to his beet farm, Pam's mother when Michael starts dating her after Pam's wedding). However, this was never the focus of the show, because it allowed us to watch this office become a family in and of itself.
Our emotions are incredibly engaged throughout the program, simply because we relate to how real these characters are to us. The Office's tone suggests a lesson to be learned not with a family dinner and a rise in schmaltzy music towards the last two minutes of each episode, but in the dry reality of the consequences to be met when our characters make mistakes. We see how Pam suffers emotionally when she never tells Jim how she feels because she couldn't take a chance on anything. We see the true disappointment behind Dwight's façade of superiority when he can never climb the corporate ladder as he desires so deeply. And we see Michael, as stupid as he is, suffer time and time again just because he meant well. And we feel sorry for him every time.
The show's style is plain, dry, and extraordinarily real, drawn from the simple "mockumentary-style" way it's shot for the supposed purpose of an actual documentary being made. The humor is often high-brow, character-driven, and drawn out through the show's editing techniques, often leaving the audience to decide when they wish to laugh in the awkward silences, unless Michael gives the camera a look after an exceptionally terrible impression he's just done.
These candid looks to the camera also significantly moulded the show's style, just because it makes us feel like we're in on everything that's going on. Michael gives us a look expecting a laugh, Stanley gives us a look because he's over it, Angela gives us the most sour, disapproving look she can muster, and Jim and Pam always look at us as if to say, "Are you getting this? Is this really happening to us?"
The Office's principal characters (or those who appear consistently in the opening credits throughout the first few seasons) include Michael Scott, Dwight Schrute, Jim Halpert, Pam Beesley, and Ryan Howard. Michael Scott is truly what drives most storylines along throughout each episode, simply because he is in the highest position of power, and also happens to be one of the most comically aloof. His Want is to be liked and admired by his co-workers; in his own words: "I want people to fear how much they love me."
Michael, for the most part, is blatantly unaware of his needs, so I've always thought his Need is to open his eyes for once. Most of his mistakes are due to his constant attempts to satisfy his Want of being well liked, but not being aware of the necessities of a social situation, therefore leaving his Need unfulfilled. I feel as though Diversity Day, which is the second episode of season one, shows us who Michael is in a nutshell.
An HR consultant comes in to do a seminar about diversity and tolerance in the office. Michael, unaware that his blatantly racist jokes are what caused the consultant to be called in, attempts to undermine the consultant throughout the episode by talking over him and replacing his seminar with more "fun" activities, which are actually extremely ignorant and racist in reality. All of this is due to Michael just blindly grasping for people's adoration, only to create an even bigger mess he that he misunderstands even further. Despite all of this, we can't help but feel sorry for Michael while we cringe, and wish for him to achieve his Life Dream, which is finding a woman who adores him as much as he does her, and simply make his subordinates happy.
Dwight, on the other hand, has a Want of running things his way, no matter how many people he may step on in the process. Dwight is admirably ambitious, but his eccentricity and unapologetically obsessive personality puts people off around him. Thus, his Need is simply to tone it down a notch. Drop the act of superiority. His enthusiasm is wonderful, but his obsessiveness is what keeps him from achieving what he would like to.
He nonchalantly mentions early on in the series that he's a volunteer sheriff's deputy on the weekends, and takes this weekend hobby to a whole new level in the season two episode "Drug Testing", in which he finds a joint in the parking lot, and goes to extensive measures to find its owner. His obsessiveness and intensity, which is characterized in his halting way of speech, proves to rub others around him the wrong way. Dwight's Life Dream would be living happily in seclusion on his beet farm with the secret woman of his dreams (Angela) as Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin.
Jim Halpert, on the other hand, is not half as ambitious as his favorite rival salesman to mess with. In an early episode of season 1, he plainly states, "I have no future here." Jim can't believe he's just working for a paper company when he has so many other things he wants to do. He often distracts himself from the misery of his job by pulling pranks on Dwight, which often conveniently leads to Pam falling more and more in love with him.
His Want, as one could deduce, is to win Pam Beesley over, Dunder Mifflin's receptionist, and his best friend. He's deeply in love with her, but can't muster the courage, or perhaps the ambition, to express it. His Need is to find the desire to establish the life he dreams of--his Life Dream of conveying his feelings for Pam, of getting to show her every day, and finding bigger things to do than work for a paper company...things that he's really interested in. He's proven himself to be undeniably sharp and witty, and it kills him that he's using none of it at Dunder Mifflin.
His partner in crime has a similar Need. Pam Beesley has gone her whole life thinking of herself as plain, and unworthy of anything more that just that. Pam dresses the way she feels about herself, often in bland shades of neutral colors, wearing her hair with a conservative clip. She's been engaged to borderline-abusive fiancé Roy, who works in the warehouse beneath the office, for almost three years when we meet her in season one, rarely speaking her mind, and confiding mostly in Jim.
We see the most of her personality around Jim. His visits to her desk, or any little moment of theirs in general quickly becomes a treat for us, not just because of our investment in their romantic chemistry, but because we get to see more of who Pam truly is. Her Need is to believe in herself enough to take risks. Go to art school. Leave Roy for Jim, and speak her mind because she deserves to. Her Want, also similar to Jim's, is to leave Dunder Mifflin for something better, and something that interests her more than paper sales. Pam's Life Dream is simply making herself happy because when we meet her in the beginning, she is the farthest thing from it.
Ryan Howard is yet another character that seems perpetually unhappy. Unfortunately, he deals with it in much more unhealthy, heedless ways. Ryan, or "Temp", as Michael loves to refer to him, is a temp at Dunder Mifflin who seems much too smart for his own good. While his intelligence brings him an easy climb up the corporate ladder, as we see in a much later episode where he insists that Michael and the Scranton staff join him at a "virtual party" at corporate, his cynicism and materialistic world view breed him a wild unhappiness.He often copes with this by doing drugs and engaging an unhealthy and weirdly sexual on-off relationship with Kelly Kapoor, another staff member at Dunder Mifflin.
Ryan's Want is money, things, sex, and anything he may think to bring a temporary exhilaration he thinks he deserves. This leaves his Need being, really, to grow up, and derive happiness from real, simple things. He needs to stop thinking so highly of himself, develop some sort of humility, and stop stepping on other people for the purpose of his own recklessness. Ryan's Life Dream, immature at best, would most likely be to live without interference of his selfish decisions.
One thing that was so special about The Office is how unbelievably effective the tension they employed was, simply because of how real their characters were, and how convincingly they were portrayed. Each character had a very unique and well-developed personality and point of view, which really drove the tautness and rigidity of each episode incredibly well.
The large majority of the tension we see throughout the series is straight tension, meaning we know just as much information as the characters do, and we hope and fear for all of the different outcomes of their predicament. The most prominent example I can think of is Jim and Pam's "will they or won't they?" tension we see throughout seasons one through four. We know just as much as Jim does as far as Pam's feelings for him in their little moments given to us in seasons one and two, and we violently fear for him during perhaps his most vulnerable moment throughout the series, in the episode Casino Night, when he lays them out for Pam, only for her first words in response to be, "...What?"
The other most common kind of tension we see in the show is dramatic irony--usually used for comedic purposes. This means we know more than the characters, and wait for them to learn of it, or watch as other characters attempt to keep it a secret. Sometimes, this is simply a result of a character's ignorance--Michael and Dwight being prime examples. Michael believes himself to be the funniest man in the room, and Dwight thinks he's much more powerful, both in Dunder Mifflin's hierarchy and personal strength from his extensive karate training, than he really his. We just sit and wait for them to figure it out.
Many other times, it's situational. For example, in the episode "Goodbye Toby", we learn that Angela is cheating on Andy with Dwight when Phyllis walks in and sees them having sex in the darkened office. Andy is clueless in most regards, but especially this one, and we wait to see when Phyllis will reveal it to him, as well as what blackmail tactics she chooses to use against her party planning committee rival, Angela.
Each of these examples aforementioned has derived solely from these characters deepest desires, as any tension does. But again, these characters' uniquely specific personality traits, downfalls, and wants are what made this show so special. Was Angela not so puritanical and straitlaced, she could have had an open relationship with Dwight and kept no secret at all. Had Pam believed in her own self-worth and gone after what she deserved from the beginning, there would be no unbearable "Casino Night" anxiety.
Because these characters have such different points of view, we're watching a very diverse process of them suffering from their mistakes, discovering their flaws, and attempting to fix them. We are watching each of them develop as a person, and how their interactions with each other as co-workers change as the seasons go by, leaving them a family by the last one.
Most people watch a television show as an escape from their reality. They want just thirty minutes out of their day to experience something more exciting, and more glamorous than what they're living. I keep bringing up different aspects of what made The Office so special, but what I feel is the most undeniably exceptional thing about it was that it told the story of our ordinary reality in such a beautiful way. For once, people wanted to come home from working with their bizarre co-workers to watch a show about working with bizarre co-workers, and I think that is astounding.
Its theme of friendship and loyalty is something that had never been explored through a perspective of bonding in such painfully monotonous situations. Each episode represents this same idea, whether in helpless looks to the camera, meaningless mistakes made in an office that exemplify much larger and more real motifs in life, or watching relationships and friendships develop in order to escape the fact that they are working at a paper supply company in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Truth and honesty is the most beautiful thing we have, and that is why so many people loved this show as deeply as I did; it is everything that this workplace sitcom represented. No one really sums The Office better than Pam Beesley herself, as she says in the very last line of the show: "There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn't that kind of the point?"
Shelby Enlow is an aspiring television writer, lover of jazz music, undercooker of all frozen meals out of laziness. Read more of her writing over here.