Over the past decade, my tolerance for network TV has waned as sit-coms in general have lost their luster for me. I’ve had enough I Love Lucy, Cheers, Taxi and The Odd Couple to last a lifetime. And no, I didn't buy into Friends or Seinfeld because I grew weary of laugh tracks. In fact, once cable TV exploded, I wanted nothing else. And considering all the time I spent watching the “boob tube” as a younger person, I’m careful not to waste precious time I won’t ever get back on a show I don’t love. No longer do I feel the need to pass time by numbing my mind. As an adult, I practice mindful TV watching. That is, if I sit down in front of it, I’ve already decided the show is worthwhile because I will count on it to nourish my creative mind.
When friends told me about The Office years ago, when it first aired, they begged me to shake my attitude about network TV, shut up and just watch it. “Don’t you like Steve Carell and Rainn Wilson?” they asked incredulously. Of course I did! But I still couldn’t do it. HBO and Showtime had me very busy with other shows and it was more than enough. Remember The Sopranos? I’m finally over it. How about Six Feet Under? Right from the beginning, I was addicted to both, as well as many other series.
Apparently, the universe works in mysterious ways. When my 14-year-old son who began watching it on his computer let out the occasional and quite unusual cackle unlike anything I’d heard before from him, I was vaguely interested. Sometimes it sounded like he was weeping, but I knew what he was doing. Although glad he was enjoying himself, I didn’t feel the need to get in on it. It took several months for him to watch the entire series because I didn’t always give him the immediate go-ahead to buy the next season. I feel bad for that now. But when he finished, a mild but unmistakable depression overcame him. Then one day he had an epiphany.
“I’m going to watch the whole thing again,” he said joyfully. And I approved. But then he asked if the whole family could watch it. We all agreed and now I’m thrilled that we did. I thought I might suffer through it, though I’d do just about anything for my boy, and figured I could psychoanalyze it and eventually blog about it. Whether I liked it or not didn’t even matter because I would do it for him. But I was especially interested in what he found so interesting. His answer? The setting.
I learned that the show is based on an adaptation of the BBC series of the same name. It aired on NBC from 2005 to 2013. Greg Daniels is a veteran writer for Saturday Night Live (another favorite of mine) and The Simpsons. The setting is the office of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, based in Scranton, PA, where I spent plenty of time struggling with my mental health in my early 20s thanks to my ex-husband’s family. So my interest was naturally piqued. Then I found out there was no laugh track and even better was the single-camera documentary simulation. Perfect! I decided I might actually love it.
The first season got mixed reviews, even from me. I didn’t love it yet. But every season that followed had me eager to spend more time on the couch. I grew enormously attached to all the characters and their relationships to each other. Apparently, hordes of other people did too. It won several awards, including four Primetime Emmy Awards and Outstanding Comedy Series in 2006.
Steve Carell has always been one of my favorites, but each time we watch it, I believe his brand of humor is like taking a hefty dose of medicine for depression, anxiety and whatever else is ailing me at the moment. I’d like to thank the BBC, NBC, Steve Carell and the entire cast of actors, writers and producers, but especially my son, Vinny, for leading this horse to water.