The American adaptation of The Office only finished airing five years ago, but it feels firmly entrenched in the early to mid-’00s cultural moment it emerged from. Mostly, this is the result of the show’s choice in pop references, Jim’s shaggy haircuts, and the fact that its humor came from characters grappling with the angst of having an unfulfilling job rather than, well, just appreciating that they had stable employment at all.
In an interview for Esquire’s November’s cover story, former Michael Scott actor Steve Carell points out another reason The Office might not work so well if it was playing today: people would have a much harder time empathizing with his bumbling character. The topic comes up when Carell mentions how The Office’s availability on Netflix has revitalized interest in the show, generating talk of a return. For his part, Carell says that he doesn’t think a reunion season would be a good idea in general, but goes on to explain, too, that he thinks “it might be impossible to do [the] show today and have people accept it the way it was accepted ten years ago.”
The rest of his explanation is worth quoting in full:
“The climate’s different. I mean, the whole idea of that character, Michael Scott, so much of it was predicated on inappropriate behavior. I mean, he’s certainly not a model boss. A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That’s the point, you know? But I just don’t know how that would fly now. There’s a very high awareness of offensive things today—which is good, for sure. But at the same time, when you take a character like that too literally, it doesn’t really work.”
This might seem like an overly cynical take on modern viewers, but Carell is right that a comedy about shitty people making their co-worker’s lives miserable, whether obliviously or not, may not be great viewing at this moment in time.
Then again, a version of The Office that trades in any effort to humanize its worst characters for total schadenfreude could end up playing very, very well today. Maybe there’s a plotline where Jim and Pam lose their house but learn that Michael has lucked into inheriting a mansion, remember all of the workplace abuse he was responsible for in a fun montage, then set out to sneak into his mansion and eat their former boss. Hey, John Krasinski said he would do a revival to see how Jim has changed over the years. Why not give him and the rest of the cast a 2018-appropriate version of The Office they could never have predicted?
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