Great episode of The Office last night. (As for the overhyped musical episode of Scrubs, go here to hear it done right. And Joss Whedon wrote the music himself, instead of hiring pros.) Yet again, I’m amazed at the attention to detail in this sitcom. There are no blank spaces; the characters seem to be thought out down to the atomic level.
For instance: Andy inviting Michael to watch a football game together–"Cornell vs. Hofstra–bl-owout!" The line captures his frat-boy unctuousness, smug aggression and East Coast provinciality in four words. For another instance: prim Angela’s torturously strained one-word greeting–"Oscar"–to her returned gay coworker, and then her surprising, tearful attempt to befriend him out of distress over Dwight’s departure.
For a final instance: The brief exchange between Jim and Ryan, who snarkily blew off Jim’s offer to play a prank on Andy ("Ask me again ten years ago"). Jim: "I liked you better as the temp." Ryan: [exhales softly] "Me too." You get so much in that moment: Ryan, who started as a one-joke character as the put-upon temp, has become a full-time staffer and a bit of an ambitious jerk, increasingly cold to his coworkers and his girlfriend–yet he’s fully aware of his bitterness (over taking a job he swore to avoid) and his creeping jerkitude and he’s aware that there’s probably nothing he can do about it. His line and his delivery–he doesn’t even bother to look up from his computer–gives you more characterization than most sitcoms would in a whole episode.
One other level of detail: There’s a lot of TV on this TV show–people reference it and analogize it to their lives the way they do in real offices. In the first season, Dwight offered to make a Survivor-style "alliance" with Jim; recently, Michael likened an office sales competition to The Amazing Race; and last night, Andy overshared about his evening plans: "TGI Wednesday! Gonna go home, gonna get my beer on, gonna get my Lost on." (Ironically, Dwight, Andy’s nemesis, is also a Lost fan–and there’s a post to be done sometime on how The Office is basically a sitcom version of Lost, right down to the dwindling Stamford branch members as the Tailies.)
You’ll notice none of these are NBC shows, an admirable departure from most network self-referentiality. (Even on the excellent 30 Rock–who the hell thinks Liz Lemon would watch Deal or No Deal? And God help Los Angeles if 24’s CTU is really relying on Fox News for its intelligence.) Apparently, it’s hard to find someone in the Scranton branch who watches NBC. I told you the show was realistic.