Three days, eight hours, and sixteen minutes.
That’s the length of time since I last watched an episode of The Office. The longest I’ve gone without indulging in the mockumentary series is three weeks. It’s a trivial addiction but one I’ve a hard time explainingAt this very moment, I have access to a lifetime of media. Between Prime, Netflix, HBO, and Hulu, I’ll never want for television again. (And yes, I’m a millennial. I’m only paying for one of those accounts. Don’t hate the player hate the game.) Every week, whether it’s custom content or licensed media, something new premieres. Netflix just added the Matrix trilogy to their library and an original called Wine Country. Hulu has the most current season of Preacher ready for consumption along with recent episodes of Superstore, Saturday Night Live and Bob’s Burgers. HBO has new episodes of Chernobyl, Gentleman Jack, Barry, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. And I haven’t even checked Prime yet.
Between Prime, Netflix, HBO, and Hulu, I’ll never want for television again.
It’s a tumultuous ocean of streaming content and I’m drowning in watchlists. So why do I on a regular basis return to this lighthouse of slapstick and satire? I, and several million Netflix subscribers, owe the world an answer. It’s the most watched show on Netflix, followed (not closely) by Friends. According to an article by The Wall Street Journal, The Office took up three percent of all minutes spent by users on Netflix. That’s a total of 52 billion minutes. 98,868 years…and I’m not even using keleven to get there!
Originally, the sitcom aired from 2005 to 2013 on NBC. The initial debut was well received but as the seasons continued, ratings fell. Granted, the show utilized a new take to get laughs, setting aside the familiar set up of a studio audience. Instead characters broke the fourth wall with viewers through acknowledging glances and intermittent “confessionals.” But not even this answers the question of the show’s continued and growing popularity.
First, I love The Office because it acknowledges the absurdity of the American workplace. The setting is an average company on the verge of irrelevancy, in a mediocre town, with characters that mimic corporate stereotypes we’ve all met. The literal office is decorated in the humdrum trappings of modernity…file cabinets, pallid carpeting, and various beige walls. It’s mundane, familiar and far too relatable in scene and personality. Even now I can pick out the Oscars, Phyllises, Stanleys, Pams, and Michaels from amongst past coworkers and bosses.
It’s mundane, familiar and far too relatable in scene and personality.
Second, I will watch this show again and again because it’s hopeful. The writers take mundane and despondent characters and progress them toward the types of people we want to be, not defined by sales numbers and invoices, but rather by our potential and love for one another. Pam realizes her worth and takes chances. Angela opens her mind and silences her prejudices. Michael becomes self-aware, able to build the family he’s always wanted. Jim evolves past office prankster, taking on the challenges of adulthood. And…Meredith receives her Ph.D.
To not be defined by sales numbers and invoices, but rather by our potential and love for one another.
In the midst of this heartwarming growth, the series intertwines observational humor and hilarious gags. One of my favorites comes from Michael during episode 2 of the fourth season as he tells Darryl to stop feeding a squirrel just before everyone is about to run the “Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin Scranton Meredith Palmer Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race for the Cure.” Darryl responds, “Look how happy he is!” Michael yells back, “He’s happy because he’s insane.” I’m tearing up just thinking about it. And then there are crowd favorites like “Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.” and “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.”
Basically, I think The Office meets us where we are and lets us laugh about it. It takes the oft dead-end situation we confront in 9-to-5’s and offers up possibilities for shared humanity and happy endings. And before I get too grandiose…the show is just fucking funny. What other program has ever made you laugh about HR representatives and incompetent management. None. Exactly. Now excuse me as I rewatch season 2, episode 12.