October 19, 2007

Yeah, it turns out the beet farm is funnier as an idea than a locale

136129411-L.jpg Slate's take on what's wrong with The Office echoes my own comments about the hour-long episodes.

In seasons past, each 22-minute episode has been a model of comedic restraint. Easy jokes were avoided. Funny ones landed swiftly and moved on to make room for the next. Rather than encouraging actors to mug and showboat, the camera paused briefly on subtle glances and smirks. Mindy Kaling, who writes for the show and plays the ditzy customer-service rep Kelly Kapoor, told Rolling Stone that The Office is a show without "chuffa"—a writers'-room term for "filler that seems like it's funny but isn't really a joke."

The hourlong episodes make us wonder if there's a word for "filler that seems like a joke but isn't really funny." This season has produced a few great gags: The best, perhaps, has the officemates passing time in a dull meeting by placing bets on whether the logo of a DVD screensaver will ever alight in the exact corner of the TV screen. But we've also seen too many broad jokes that skewer easy targets: Gift baskets? Business lingo? Cat ladies?

Slate diagnoses other problems as well. I don't think it's controversial to say that Pam and Jim's happy relationship is not great for comedy. But I'll disagree a bit with the assessment of Ryan's promotion. True, it's not all that funny now. But that's because it's not the punchline, it's the set up. The more smug Ryan is at corporate, the juicier it will be when he (inevitably) comes crawling back to Scranton.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


The hour-long episodes are definitely too much. My wife actually missed the last ten minutes of this week's Office because she got distracted by our 8-month-old son and figured the show had reached a natural endpoint. She didn't realize that it just kept going from there. (And no, she's not at all stupid; she's got a master's in English Lit.)

Meanwhile, Earl seems to have really found its stride in the half-hour format. Get in, make the funny, get out. I keep wishing The Office would do the same thing. Awkward humor is great, but it gets painful when it's dragged out too long.

As a father, I'll just note that having an 8-month-old is enough to make anyone stupid.

I tend to agree that an hour is too long for a comedy in the style that The Office has previously established. Even the "supersized" episodes from last year felt slack, but I've really enjoyed the hour long offices once I stopped comparing them to the half-hour versions and saw them as a different show.

I thought there were a lot of laughs in last night's episode, but I found myself actually emotionally involved with the characters for the first time, and there were a couple of really powerful moments, that to me felt neither forced, or sacchrine. Jim and Dwight on the stairs, Michael and Jan at the end. (with that interesting shot of just their shoes, very arty), Pam and Jim kissing.

If you could erase the audience's knowledge of the pace and comedic snap of the half-hour episodes you'd have a show that would be a candidate for best drama at the Emmys.

I just rented Jake Kasdan's The TV Set. (Good, not great.) The shoes shot reminded me of the "who's talking?" shot in the newsstand scene.

I thought the half-hour episodes did a pretty great job of combining powerful moments with the laughs already. Did you really not feel emotionally involved with Jim and Pam during the first two seasons? The longer episodes don't enhance these for me.

i like them because it makes me believe in love.

also i have an eight-month old

For me in the half-hour episodes the Pam-Jim stuff felt like they were throwing a bone to the Ross and Rachel fans of the world. I suppose I was rooting for the crazy kids, but I didn't particularly care one way or another, and often, I felt like the dramatic moments caused the pacing of the show in its half hour form to grind to a halt after the laugh beats had been coming so quickly. (Not arrested development quickly, but pretty quick for a sitcom.)

I honestly think if we'd never seen the half-hour office we'd be calling it the best show of the year. I think it only suffers in comparison if you hold up the 30 minute version as the ideal. It's just different.

Am I the only one who thinks it's really weird that Slate is running a TV review as an unsigned editorial?

John - Yeah, I totally thought the same thing.

Also, Drew's wife's mistake was not to strange considering that the episodes are clearly designed to reach a natural ending point in the middle, which will help when they're aired in two parts in syndication.

The problem with The Office is not the 1 hour length or Jim and Pam. It is that they have gone outside The Office. Let me explain. The writers put Michael in a 2nd job so there is a new office and new characters to satirize. Michael's conflict with Jan is now about their homelife, not the inappropriate office relationship. Dwight has the Beet B&B to create new situations. When a situation comedy starts to have to reach outside the original situation for stories, the series is nearing the end. What's more, Dwight is becoming a sympathetic character whom Pam wants to protect instead of torment. Happy Days jumped the shark, not when Fonzie jumped the shark, but when Fonzie became Richie's buddy in a windbreaker instead of a menacing hood in a leather jacket. The Office is getting ready to jump.

@ JohnnyB - I think you're right. And I think that's a function of having more time to fill (or to play around with, depending on your perspective). But the writing is still sharp, so I think they can reign it in before the actual jump happens.

N.b., Fonzie didn't wear the leather jacket until several episodes into the series. He started as the buddy, then developed into the hood.

I can't believe I know that.

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