Sunday, June 29, 2008

My favorite character from The Office the topic of a fun new user experience! To all the dozen or so people who recommended the show to me, I've already commended you on your fine choice of program. Now, let's see how well you really know me. Having just watched the entirety of The Office in the last few weeks, who's my favorite character?

I'll once again express my opinion that this show is one of the best on television, and that I don't know how I got along this many years without watching it. The satire is dead-on--and it's something that you can truly appreciate once you've actually worked in an office setting. Another thing this show does well is the issue of the fourth wall. For me, breaking the fourth wall is a comedic disaster. The instant a character in a movie starts acting like he's in a movie is the instant the movie stops being funny.

"Wait, doesn't The Office do just that?" Well, yes and no. True, the characters do act like they're participating in a documentary. The Office creatively skirts this issue by having the characters acknowledge the fact that they're on a documentary from day one. The fact that people are watching this is accepted by all the characters; the layer of suspended disbelief inherent to the documentary process becomes a second layer of verisimilitude. That way, the fourth wall no longer separates the office from the "documentary".

But there is still a notion of fourth wall present, separating the production of the "documentary" from the viewers. The character Jim, for instance, always acts like Jim--as he would act in a documentary. It's a subtle distinction, but it's one that adds an incredible comedic element to the show. In essence, we get two levels to each character: the characters as they interact with each other as they passively acknowledge the cameras, and the interviews as each actively talks to the camera. And all the actors do it so well that they never break character--either level of character.

The deft handling of the fourth wall is only part of the brilliance of this show. Another part is that it portrays a love story that I actually find myself caring about. When you look at all the shows that I espouse as my "favorites", I rarely if ever buy into the love story elements. I don't care about Cameron and Chase, or Wilson and Cutthroat Bitch on House. (And honestly, I wasn't all that sad when Cutthroat Bitch kicked the bucket.) I've never cared about Jack Bauer and whatever floozy he was with at the moment. I sure as hell don't care about the Sawyer-Kate-Jack-Juliet quadrangle on Lost. I find it perplexing that, given all the intriguing things that a fan could dig into with this show, people are such diehard "Jaters" or "Skaters" (proponents of Jack-Kate and Sawyer-Kate, respectively).

Then the Desmond-Penny arc was introduced, and I became a believer. Prior to the season 4 finale, we kept hearing about a spectacular kiss that was going to "stop time". People naturally assumed this was going to be a Sawyer-Kate kiss. Perhaps the producers intended the time-stopper to be that Sawyer-Kate kiss we got. I respectfully disagree. Desmond and Penny's reunion aboard her boat was the single most poignant and emotionally rewarding moment of the show to date. And at that point, I realized that I actually could care about love stories in television shows.

Nothing is a better example of that than Jim and Pam on The Office. You're supposed to like Jim, because he's sort of the protagonist, and he's undergone a lot of character development in the four seasons we've seen so far. And there's something about him that you can't help but like: the easygoing, mischievous nature, the rapport that he naturally develops with most people he interacts with. The only thing missing from that is, of course, Getting the Girl. The end result? I honestly do care about this love story, and one of the points of interest in this show is seeing how it progresses.

On a completely unrelated note, I was wrong about the American version of Iron Chef. I used to denounce it as a less creative version of the Japanese original, where ludicrous ingredients like eel and shark fin gave way to... chicken? After watching a few episodes, yeah, it is rather less creative in its choices of secret ingredients. But after getting into the Food Network culture a bit, knowing who guys like Flay and Batale are, the show really is good. And it helps tremendously that Alton Brown does the commentary. The man is a genius, delicately balancing culinary intellect with eccentricity, and coming off as incredibly informed, throwing a generous helping of biochemistry along the way. My friend Samantha compared me favorably to Alton Brown a few times, and only recently have I begun to fully appreciate how big a compliment that is. He's awesome.

Currently listening: "Summersong", the Decemberists

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