The Office Grows Up
As the NBC comedy evolves, even Steve Carell’s Michael Scott has to change, says executive producer-actor Paul Lieberstein. Slowly.
A workplace satire that skewers the 9 to 5 life, The Office exposes the inanity of the modern workday, often to side-splitting effect. What began in 2005 as a carbon copy of its British namesake quickly established itself as a Best Comedy contender, and 2006 winner, in its own right. At its core is Michael Scott, the inept, unflappably optimistic manager of the Scranton, Pennsylania, branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company who inflicts pain upon his employees with his daily doses of malapropisms, political incorrectness, and histrionics. As played by Emmy nominee Steve Carell, Michael Scott is the guy you’d love to hate but can’t, because his bumbling, at times offensive, antics betray such a deep, desperate need to be liked.
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The comedy continued to push the limits of acceptable workplace behavior in its fifth season. Michael quit his post at Dunder Mifflin to start his own paper company; long-suffering receptionist Pam spent some time at art school in New York, only to return and make a bid as a salesperson. Connections were made (Michael finally embarked on a positive relationship; Office sweethearts Jim and Pam moved forward with their romance) and lost (Michael’s girlfriend was transferred to another branch; Office mates Dwight and Angela’s secret love affair dissipated in disaster). Long surpassing the breadth and the depth of its BBC predecessor, The Office serves cringe-worthy insensitivity with a helping of laughs and just the right amount of heart, and its writers take care to poke fun at the mundane, often awkward nature of cubicle life without dipping into condescension. This work-life balance has earned the show 10 Emmy nods this year, including ones for Outstanding Comedy and acting nominations for Carell and Rainn Wilson (as rigid lackey Dwight Schrute). Office executive producer Paul Lieberstein (who also happens to play put-upon HR employee Toby on the series) takes us through the season's highlights.
Allyssa Lee is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor. Her work has also appeared in Entertainment Weekly and the Los Angeles Times.