February 9, 2008
What NBC's 'The Office' Gets RightBy Ben-Peter Terpstra
I'm an addict of NBC's wide-open comedy The Office, currently in reruns thanks to the Writers Guild strike. Based on a British series of the same name, the mockumentary introduces viewers to Dunder Mifflin, a paper supply company, and her incompetent workers. Enter: 1,001 awkward silences.
Dysfunctional relationships rule, as in so much comedy, but The Office's Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), the self-praising Scranton regional manager, and imbecile, is also likely to upset hypersensitive Democrats. For one thing, he likes insensitive jokes.
Then there's Dwight Schrute, the pasty white, paranoid would-be self-praising assistant to the regional manager. In fact, they all have issues at Dunder Mifflin. Or, "challenges."
For example Oscar, the gay Latino who skips work for shopping trips. And because this show offends the thought police, there's even an annoyingly loud and vapid Indian character, Kelly. Meredith the single mother/drunken sex addict/bad parent drinks at work, while another lies and steals. In the process, political correctness, among many other human foibles, comes in for ridicule.
The following is a sample of the comic genius of Season 1:
#1. The Latino Joke
Michael to Oscar, the Latino: "Let me ask you, is there a term besides 'Mexican' that you prefer? Something less offensive?"
#2. The Skin Curious Joke
Michael: "Why don't we go around, and everybody... everybody say a race that you are attracted to sexually. I will go last."
Dwight: "I have two: White and Indian."
#3. The Arab Joke
Michael (referring to race role-playing exercise): "You'll notice, I didn't have anybody being Arab. I thought that would be too explosive, uh, no pun intended. But I just thought, 'too soon' for Arabs, maybe next year. You know, the ball's in their court."
#4. The Gay Joke
Dwight (referring to the role-playing exercise): "Can we steer away from gay people? I'm sorry it's an orientation not a race. Plus, a lot of other races are intolerant of gays, so paradox..."
#5. The Interracial Joke
Michael: "Incest is bad; racism is bad. ...the more we can encourage interracial dating as a society, the further away we get from incest. Literally."
#6. The Indigenous Joke
Michael (at a Diversity Day workshop): "I'm also part Native American Indian."
Oscar: "What part Native American?"
Oscar: "That fraction doesn't make any sense."
Michael: "Well you know its kind of hard for me to talk about... there's suffering."
#7. The Aussie Joke
Dwight: "Uh... Outback Steakhouse! I'm Australian mate!"
#8. The "I'm PC Too" Joke
Toby: "We're not all gonna sit in a circle Indian style, are we?"
Michael: "Get out. No this is not a joke. It was offensive and lame, so double offensive. This is an environment of welcoming and you should just get the hell out of here."
#9. The Hillary Joke
Michael: "I call her 'Hillary Rodham Clinton'... not to her face. Well not because I'm scared of her. Because I'm not. But yeah..."
#10. The Race Joke
Michael Scott: "How come Chris Rock can do a routine and everybody finds it hilarious - and ground breaking. Then, I do the exact same routine -- same comedic timing - and people file a complaint to corporate. Is it because I'm white - and Chris is black?"
Notably, the last quote doesn't appear on NBC's website for some reason -- but is on the first season's DVD. And, there you have it. All the seasons consistently mock America's "Diversity Day" culture.
NBC's The Office, is that great rarity: a show with the balls and wit to consistently target all members of society. Or, humanity. Yes, even Hillary Clinton is a target, which is most refreshing in a land of repetitive Bush jokes.
In today's generic TV culture, the culturally incorrect man is the star jerk. Sometimes, he is the devil. In The Office, by way of contrast, at least Michael Scott is a likable jerk. Furthermore, the viewer can sympathize with the politically correct pressures he is under.
It may be junk food, stupid sensitivity workshops, or reverse sexism, but all of Dunder Mifflin's workers find their own coping mechanisms. For instance, Michael likes his dirty jokes -- and yet, he's most annoying when he tries too hard to be politically correct.
Best of all, The Office is a sharp snapshot of work in the age of antiseptic values.