Is The Office worth watching?

the-office-michael-scott

Is The Office worth watching?

If you like a good sitcom, well written and performed, it is definitely worth the time investment of getting into the characters. The programme starts quite slowly, the first short series/season is effectively an homage to the original, sublime, British version. There is a lot of good stuff in that first series, but they don’t ‘find their feet’ until the second.

The need to tone down Brent/Michael Scott to be warmer and less cringe inducing after the first US season, is sometimes referred to as a ‘softening’ of the character for an American audience, as if to to make the programme a bit schmaltzy. I would disagree with that. The Brent character couldn’t work anywhere in long form, as the non successful (20 years later) specials Gervais created have shown. I would say already by the original specials (which were effectively the third series) Brent was pretty much unwatchable. There are only twelve episodes of the British original, plus the two original specials.

From here on in are some gentle plot spoilers.

Why Ryan is The best Office character

There are many great characters in The Office, Michael Scott himself of course, Dwight. Rain Wilson’s exceptional performance as Dwight – Dwight always very clearly believes everything he says, however ridiculous, and how on earth Wilson can act that, I find incredible. I guess that is what acting is, but ultimately is to my untrained eye, frankly genius. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit what I learned about acting, I learned from Jack McFarland’s ill fated acting classes in Will and Grace.

There is also Pam, very much the lynchpin, (as with the UK version she and Jim are us) and the straight as well as comedic acting skills of Jenna Fischer allows the other more extreme characters to feel more real. She grounds the programme, which helps caring about the characters. However my favourite, since you ask, is Ryan, played by BJ Novak. He is a relatively minor character, like all the characters who’s desks are in the annex, the actors are also part of the writing and production team. What I like about his character is, despite clearly being a strong exaggeration for the sake of the comedy, he is very real, as opposed to a character from a writer’s imagination. He is not a sitcom staple or stock character.

Ryan has excellent social skills, a good education, is ambitious, looks good, is intelligent and confident. Yet under the surface is a scheming, lazy, incredibly shallow, completely lacking a moral compass, douche bag.  I have met these people, men like Ryan very much exist, and that is why he is my favourite character. Someone who appears to have it all, and if they worked as hard at scheming/ladder climbing or appearing to be better than everyone else, they would certainly be very successful in life, which generally they are not.

His involvement with the Michael Scott Paper Company episodes, for me the absolute height of sitcom perfection. In those episodes, the development of those characters and Idris Elba’s character and performance, particularly towards Jim, is incredibly real as well as very funny, and I would suggest great observation and truth telling from the writers, rather than comedy writers writing purely from their imaginations.

Perhaps my love of the Michael Scott Paper Company episodes particularly relates to having started my own business, they get a lot of truth into some very funny situations, and also when younger having become unpopular with a new boss, despite having previously been at least not unpopular, and everything to try and fix it, just making it so much worse. Again, so well observed and probably lived, rather than from a writer’s imagination. Something that may be inspired from some of the writing in The Larry Sanders Show, an influence on Gervais and Merchant’s work, more obvious in Extras, their next project, but most certainly a shared influence with the US writers.

After Jan of course

Of course when I say Ryan is the best character, that is of course after Jan Levinson, who is so good to be almost overlooked. Levinson is a similar character, a different gender at a different place in her life. Very true to life albeit comically exaggerated, and with a fantastic performance, and in turn also not being over used makes her appearance on the show always exceptionally rewarding. I don’t know if deliberate or not, but senior people always landing on their feet despite being largely useless at their jobs is a theme throughout the programme. Again, this kind of reflects life, and isn’t normal sitcom material. As well as Jan always landing on her feet, David Wallace does the same.

Where the US Office fails

Amongst many superb observations in the original’s characters and stories is that of Finchy (Chris Finch). This incredibly real, toxic bully is an amazing character, but possibly the only one the US version didn’t build upon. Finch is Packer in the US one. A good character but nothing like the depth or realism of once again very much someone from life, rather than a sitcom staple, sitcom stereotype that Packer ultimately is. Albeit The Brent character possibly being so in awe of such an awful person does explain him, and is ultimately Brent’s redemption/development arc in dealing with him. Michael Scott’s arc, in his final scene, is in my opinion, very cleverly between him and the fictitious documentary crew in the airport.

Best password advice

This article was originally about password protection, and I used the cold opener at the top as a comic example, but on an update I started writing my opinions on the US sitcom The Office, partly as I like it a lot, and it was a nice excuse for some illustrations.

There is a lot of advice out there on the web on password best practices, so perhaps consider an enhanced Google search, however here are my, a web professional’s, password tips.

Password best practice

  1. Don’t use the same password for multiple logins. If a hacker gets hold of one, they can then access everything, and will immediately try that password together with your email address on every account out there.
  2. Don’t make it easy
  3. Don’t make it short
  4. Use a mixture of characters
  5. Update regularly
  6. Don’t go ‘it’ll be fine, why should I listen to web professionals?!’