1. The Office (Premiered March 25, 2005)
I tried so hard to not write an entire column for this #1 like I did last week.
I know 30 Rock has won more Emmy awards this decade and I really enjoy that show, but here’s the difference for me. 30 Rock consistently puts up an A minus performance. Every week. You know it’s never going to be bad but at the same time, it’s never going to be amazing. I enjoy it and then forget it in the same moment.
I've been the first to rip The Office over the years. They have certainly posted their share of D’s and even F’s (I try to forget that strike-shortened fourth season) but their greatest episodes aren’t even on the scale.
I’d rather have to take the lows to get those highs as opposed to just maintaining the status quo.
There has never been a life-altering-I-will-remember-it-for-all-time moment on 30 Rock (yet) but there have been countless instances of that kind of experience from the folks in Scranton, PA.
I sometimes get frustrated with the romance story lines on the show but I just keep in mind that those arcs keep the show on the air for the glut of undiscerning fans that just want to be pampered with love stories (the Andy-Angela plot was abysmal – but I do have to admit that the Niagra episode this season was one of the series’ best).
So I tolerate those. I used to think that the pretend fans watch the show for the Jim and Pam relationship and that the real fans watch for the Michael and Dwight interactions. But since the show is so layered and is constantly evolving, I’m starting to wonder if Jim’s Darth Vader transformation to a corporate Sith Lord at Dunder Mifflin is not the story they’ve been trying to tell all along (I could write an entire thesis on this premise).
Or maybe that story is just taking us somewhere else (my dream series finale sequence would be Michael taking David Wallace's corporate postition and Jim taking over at Scranton. He will have fully transfrormed into the Michael we know - Michael wasn't Michael before he took over at Dunder Mifflin if you haven't noticed - and the series ends with Jim sitting at Michael's desk with that crazed look in his eye and drops a "that's what she said" joke. AWESOME).
The Office is the comedic equivalent to Mad Men for me. It might take a few episodes or it might take a few years, but EVERYTHING always pays off eventually. Nothing happens by accident (and I could write an entire book on this premise).
So that makes it like HIMYM in a way, that it feels like everything has already been planned out; but in this case there’s no past tense or story teller. So it doesn’t feel as preordained, there’s still an element of free will to these characters that is wildly intriguing.
Also, can you ever see another show getting a cast of close to 20 actors being so OK with having so little to do at times? Stanley or Creed or Kevin or Meredith may only get one line in a given episode but it’s always the line you remember the next day.
That has to be a lightning in a bottle circumstance.
I will wrap it up with this: as much as these characters hate their jobs, hate that office, hate their boss, and (to some extent) probably hate each other, they HAVE to work there. Stanley wouldn’t be able to do crosswords anywhere else. Kevin couldn’t be that incompentent for another company. Another employer wouldn’t put up with Dwight… or Andy… or Ryan… or even Jim.
So there’s a “made-for-each-other” factor that is constantly in play. We’ve seen outsiders mortified by the Michael and the gang before this light bulb finally went off over my head during the ep after the Super Bowl last year (during the CPR scene).
No other show grows the way this one does, no other show makes me cringe and cover my eyes in awkward horror the way this one does and there is no other show that’s on television right now that’s better than The Office.