September 24, 2009

The Office Doesn't Make Any Sense

The Office makes no sense. The show itself. I can't believe I didn't realize this until just now.

The premise of the show (even though they never explicitly say so) is that a film crew is documenting the everyday life in the office of a paper company. This is, in and of itself, sort of amusing, but it makes for a good comedy format because you can cut in between interviews and you have interesting herky-jerky handheld camerawork. The fact that it is very easy to forget about the mechanism of the show, despite the frequency of characters addressing the cameras, is sort of disturbing since it seems to indicate that we're all so familiar with the style of reality television that we don't even notice it anymore. Nonetheless, the whole idea is that they're being filmed all the time, and there are plenty of instances where someone acknowledges the cameramen, or there is a boom mic, or the characters are trying to get away from the crew or whatever. And Michael Scott definitely acts the way he does because he is on camera. Plus, there are plenty of lines that are responses to obvious questions in the interview scenes, like when they start a line by repeating a question ("Where do I see myself in 5 years? Well..."). Still though, the idea is to make it a fairly subtle thing, to the degree that it isn't clear whether they're being filmed for a documentary or a reality show, and they've certainly done it well enough that we hardly think about it anymore.

Except that it's now so subtle that the premise no longer makes sense. Since they never explain the purpose of the documentary we don't know whether it's for a documentary film or for a reality show. If it was only supposed to be a documentary it would be over by now -- they definitely wouldn't have followed these people around for 5 years and produced like 30 hrs of programming. On the other hand, if it is a reality show, they've been on TV since 2005, why haven't the characters on it gained any notoriety at all? Any show on for that long would have to have amassed some degree of popularity. Plus, even if we're supposed to believe it is a very unpopular show on some low-rent basic cable channel, or that they edit out any references to the program, I'm sure that the people on the show would at least watch it themselves -- which means that by now, they would have found out about all the stuff from previous seasons that they didn't know about their coworkers. Which also hasn't happened. For instance, Ray or Karen would have known about Jim and Pam far earlier than they did.

The British version avoided this of course, because they only made 12 episodes. Ricky Gervais was extremely afraid of "spoiling" his creation. (How it got to be that every decent UK show is like that is beyond me.) Nonetheless, he wasn't so worried about franchising it out to nearly any country that makes TV programs. Everyone knows there's an American duplicate but you will impress people at parties by informing them of the existence of French, German, Chilean and Quebecois versions. That's right, Quebec. Here's they are playing hockey. So I'm not so sure that Gervais' "I don't want to water down my beautiful creation" stance makes any sense. Oh, and the titles of the other shows are great.*

France: Le Bureau
Germany: Stromberg
Chile: La Ofis
Quebec: La Job
Once again, Quebec comes out on top.

Anyways, I don't know how this post ended up getting this long. I guess I just find it amusing that the show is pretty popular, yet no one seems to have noticed that the entire format of the program is no longer reasonable.

*This Slate article from a few years ago about the differences with the non-English speaking versions is pretty interesting.


James Sweet said...

Oh, it's worse than that even. A similar thought occurred to me when this season started, and I've noticed that there are a number of shots where it would have been impossible/nonsensical for a camera crew to be getting them.

In the wedding episode, I think it was Andy that was driving with the two Kellys, and they were in the backseat and he was like, "Does somebody maybe want to sit up front? It's a ten hour drive." First of all, the camera angle was from over the dashboard -- but I suppose they could have set one up there. But then, wouldn't they have had someone in the film crew in the car?

You can go on and on with these. Personally, I don't mind it -- I imagine the documentary style to be analogous to the use of soliloquies. A character giving a soliloquy of their thoughts presumably is not actually speaking -- it is just a conventional way of expressing the characters inner thoughts.

I consider the faux documentary style of the office to just be a different, more imaginative convention for accomplishing the same thing. When a character, for example, gives a knowing look to the camera, they are not literally looking into the camera in-universe -- it merely indicates that the character is thinking something that might be conveyed metaphorically by giving the camera a knowing look.

At least, that's how I like to view it. Most likely, the producers realized that nobody was paying attention and said "The hell with it!" heh...

(Ryan) said...

These are all true. They've definitely given up trying to make it consistent with a documentary style show.