I'm a TV junkie. The ironic thing is though... I watch very little TV broadcasts upon first premier. While the sitcom schedule is in full swing during weeknights, I'll spend my time watching baseball or the continual flow of DVD's that arrives at my home via Netflix. With the exception of very few shows in the last five years, I've always played catch-up on DVD. With the window of release shrinking between first-run and DVD production, it just makes sense. The idea of getting hooked on a show and then having to wait an entire week to see more is a pretty frustrating idea. I'd rather have control of the entire season and take my time with it or devour it in one sitting. I caught up to "The Wire" after nearly three seasons. With "24", I watched sporadic episodes during the first season (and we all know how chaotic that can be) and then started over and patiently waded through each season upon release to DVD. "Generation Kill" is currently waiting for me on two discs "tivo'd" by family. So, with those admissions of procrastination out, is it any wonder that I'm probably the last person on the planet to finally dig into "The Office"?
After tearing through the first two seasons on disc over the past couple weeks, I finally understand what all the fuss is about. I completely understand the 'adorability' of Jenna Fischer as Pam. I "get" why Rainn Wilson is so popular and inspires snickers whenever he turns up on-screen in movies ("Juno"). And I'm fully ready to proclaim "The Office" as yet another high watermark in the rapidly evolving culture of modern sitcom comedy. Like "Arrested Development", this is comedy for the ADD crowd... and that's by no means an insult (though with movies, that statement is truly condescending). The visual gags, the quick reaction shots and the witty dialogue come so fast that if one turns away, they're liable to miss the funniest moment of the episode. I admire comedy that works competently- comedy that relies on reaction shots and silence to garner the biggest laugh. "The Office" excels in it. But buried amongst the laughs, there also lies real heart. While boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) continually makes me want to rip his face off, at times his character breaks through with an emotional reverberation that balances the obnoxious with the human. Examples such as his sealing the deal with a prospective client (Tim Meadows) over dinner at Chili's by shedding his insecurities and acting like a normal guy or the way he walks the young daughter of Human Resources employee Toby (Paul Lieberstein) to her car after forming a gentle bond during the "Bring Your Daughter To Work" episode give us glimpses into a fully realized character. He can repulse or surprise at any second. "The Office" is full of these dynamic moments.
Though there are plenty of characters to like, I think my favorite is Stanley, played by Leslie David Baker. Sure, I'm becoming increasingly wrapped up in the sexual tension between Pam and Jim (John Krasinski) that, I hear, is building towards a huge kiss that had all the fans rejoicing, but it's Stanley who gravitates around the edge of the frame and cracks me up with every single line reading. His world weary, supremely pissed off demeanor feels like so many people I know. In the words of Danny Glover, if anyone is "too old for this shit", then it's Stanley. Here's a man who just wants to come in, do his work, eat his lunch and do his crosswords. If that's not the realistic American work ethic, I don't know what is. While "The Office" is full of larger-than-life caricatures, Stanley feels authentic. And that's the greatness of "The Office"- it never sacrifices comedy for authenticity. I bet 1 in 5 people who watch the show think "wow, that's my office". The show may have been culled from a distinctly British outlook, but Steve Carell and company have transformed it into a remarkably apt take on small town America... insecurities, indecision and all. Did I also mention it's incredibly funny?