November 2nd, 2018 – The Office is my favorite show. It helps put me to sleep most nights, not because it’s boring but because it’s one of my go-to shows to enjoy as I force my phone out of my hand and go to bed. I’ve watched the entire series multiple times. I still tear up at the to-camera confessionals in the series finale. I met Jenna Fischer one time at a book signing and forgot how to put words together. I don’t, however, think the show should be brought back.
Steve Carell, who played inappropriate but well-meaning boss Michael Scott, agrees with me – somewhat. In an interview with Esquire, he said he loves the show too much to bring it back, and he also thinks people wouldn’t accept it today because our climate has changed so drastically in how we respond to offensive behavior.
“Apart from the fact that I just don’t think that’s a good idea, it might be impossible to do that show today and have people accept it the way it was accepted ten years ago,” Carell told Bruce Handy. “The climate’s different. I mean, the whole idea of that character, Michael Scott, so much of it was predicated on inappropriate behavior.”
In an earlier interview with Time, Carell explained in greater detail that the show existed in a certain time and place with a special cast, and that’s enough. Despite my love for so many older shows, I always land on that side of the argument, as well. I think a show that got to explore so many topics and so many storylines for nine seasons can probably rest easy with binge watches on Netflix.
The Esquire profile of Carell is long but well worth the read especially if you admire the actor’s work outside of Dunder Mifflin. But back to the point of predicting The Office’s reception in 2018. My guess is if the episode where Phyllis gets flashed in the parking lot in season three were shown for the very first time tomorrow, you would see a flurry of outraged op-eds across a variety of media outlets.
They would also likely be from writers assigned to that story who don’t regularly watch the show but knew they had to join in on all the other clickbait-y headlines. Or they would be people who willfully try to misunderstand the concept of the show and clutch their pearls as a means to push their own narrative.
Carell noted that while much of what Michael (and Todd Packer and Creed, for that matter) does is insanely over the line, it’s not done to applaud his behavior but for another character to call it out.
“I mean, he’s certainly not a model boss. A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That’s the point, you know? But I just don’t know how that would fly now. There’s a very high awareness of offensive things today—which is good, for sure. But at the same time, when you take a character like that too literally, it doesn’t really work.”
You know, that is the point. The show is a form of satire through and through. If you didn’t know that the writers were trying to make you incredibly uncomfortable at times, you probably haven’t watched too many episodes. You definitely haven’t made it to “Scott’s Tots.” (Look, he thought he was going to be a millionaire by the time he was 30; maybe 50. We don’t know.)
So while I agree with Carell that the climate toward offensive, demeaning behavior, especially in the workplace, has thankfully begun to shift, I hope we aren’t afraid to keep showing the layers of that behavior through storytelling. I hope we don’t let planned outrage keep showrunners from creating stories that force viewers to put in a little effort.
After the 2016 presidential election, someone was telling me about ways to reach people with opposing views. She asked me “well, you know the thing about how people aren’t convinced by facts anymore…” I still think that’s such a hilarious, albeit sad, line given its conclusive nature. We just accept that people won’t believe facts anymore because a few people keep saying it.
I think it would be a mistake for networks to shy away from uncomfortable, boundary-pushing humor just because we think people can’t understand the difference between the word “offensive” and the crazy idea that characters can be flawed. Michael Scott is incredibly flawed…on purpose. I understand what Carell was saying, but I also think many of the writers and creators probably feel like they’ve been thrown into a conversation in which they don’t belong.
In the Esquire profile, Handy leads into the conversation about The Office in today’s climate by saying:
“But the rules of comedy have changed quite a bit in the last half decade, even in the last year. Jokes and characters that once seemed harmless might now generate social-media outrage, if not boycotts and involuntary sabbaticals.”
The thing is, many of the jokes and characters on The Office were never meant to be seen as harmless. They were intentionally crass and immature and intrusive. They were thoughtfully placed in scenes so that their terrible decisions would be amplified. If we’re truly getting to a point in our society where we recognize unacceptable behavior, The Office shouldn’t be in the middle of a discussion about whether or not it would make it to air today; it should be the inspiration for a new comedy.
I don’t think the show is aging poorly; I think our society is, and that makes it easier to simply label the show as offensive instead of recognizing what it’s saying about our offensive world.
But seriously, it had a nice, long run. Don’t reboot it. Give me a call. I have some other ideas.
Melissa Jordan is a writer living in Los Angeles with her dog…nephew being only a 15 minute drive away when the 101 isn’t too bad. You can follow her on Twitter @mjjordan7.