I haven’t watched The Office on purpose in a while, although I see an episode now and then. Once upon a time I was a big fan, but I bailed before Steve Carrell did because something was wrong. For whatever reason, I just didn’t enjoy the show anymore. Other shows popped up (Community, Modern Family), and I moved on.
Then last week I heard Stephen Merchant talking about the original version of The Office, which he helped make with Ricky Gervais. In talking about their approach to making the show, Merchant said he and Gervais were really after reality. They wanted viewers to see themselves, their coworkers, and other people they know on the screen. If you watched the show, you probably experienced recognition every episode.
In talking about Gervais’s approach to his character, David Brent, Merchant said Gervais was intensely concerned about about the truth. When they were hashing out specific scenes, Gervais was always dedicated to whether or not his character actually do or say something that was in the script. That was the filter the show.
Without being condescending, I’d say the current version of The Office is after absurdity rather than reality. I don’t envision the show’s producers, writers, and actors making impassioned arguments for what the characters would and wouldn’t do.
There’s nothing wrong with absurdity per se, but I think what you end up with is less like the original version of The Office and more like The Simpsons—a funhouse mirror instead of just a mirror.
Now that I think about it, once upon a time I was a big fan of The Simpsons too. But these days I’m more interested in the truth.