After one week of returning back to Dunder Mifflin for an actual nine to five work day at the office, suddenly we’re thrown back into the gimmick game with “Special Project.” Needless to say, this was not the best surprise this show has ever offered.
The funny thing is that I can’t seem to reconcile the first half a dozen seasons on The Office with these last couple. What was the motivation to plan episodes that have nothing to do with running a paper company, and are more about taking the employees on wild adventures?
This past summer I watched all nine seasons of Scrubs. As I sat through episode after episode of J.D., Turk, Elliot and Carla, watching them treat patients and hang out at one another’s apartments, I was never struck with the monotony of the singular location. The great thing about Scrubs was that it had a firm purpose and that it could be creative without being absurd.
The best kinds of comedy shows thrive on theme. Instead of trying to make each episode into a new adventure or a field trip, they think about how their characters fit into the grand scheme of the show and let a word, phrase or idea guide what the episode is about.
The Office used to be like this. Even when shows involved field trips – like “Casino Night” or “Diwali” – they were based in some form of reality. Parties were held in the evenings and the employees were attendees.
But now in episodes like “Gettysburg,” “Trivia” or in the upcoming “Tallahassee,” it doesn’t seem as organic. “Special Project” was fine as an episode, setting the groundwork for a trip to Tallahassee that Dwight will take with several other members of the office to help Sabre create a few outlet stores for the company’s products. But as for content it was minimal and did exactly what it aimed to do – plan for future episodes.
Is that all that the traditional Office episode has come down to? Exposition for the next episode which will inevitably be taking place in some remote location? Next time they should just go all out and travel to another country or something. It could be just like Friends when the gang goes to London and Joey buys that ridiculous Union Jack hat. Oh wait, it can’t be just like that because that actually had significance to the plot – Ross was getting married to an English woman.
The Office is trying desperately to make itself more interesting, more relevant. Instead of going back to the types of episodes that all of its loyal fans loved, it’s trying out new styles and filling itself with all the kitsch that we loathe in other sitcoms.
All that “Special Project” left me with was anxiety. I’m nervous for the next episode of the series when Dwight goes to Tallahassee with Kathy, Stanley, Ryan, Erin and Jim. I’m unexcited for the fact that this will mean slicing the office in half and having at most half the characters in respective plots. I’m nervous about Erin not returning to Scranton (per her threat in an on-camera interview). But most of all I’m anxious about this show not getting better.
With a potential spin-off for Rainn Wilson (Dwight) and a new pilot in the works for Mindy Kaling (Kelly), it seems The Office might be at the beginning of its own unraveling. As strong as my love-hate relationship with this show has been for the past few season, I still worry about its eventual demise. It may not be perfect, but it’s still one of the better shows on television. It’s still The Office.