Opinion: A Look at a Few Issues With 'The Office'

James Logie

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

How often do you go to watch something online, can’t find anything, and just end up re-watching The Office for the 16th time?

There’s something about The Office that is the ultimate comfort food. It’s hard to put your finger on why this is, but there’s a familiarity to it that keeps drawing us in.

There aren't too many other shows that have the re-watchability that The Office does. And people around the world feel the same way, too. In the last few years, The Office has been as popular — or probably more popular — than when it first aired.

In 2020, The Office was by far the most-watched streaming title of the year. We streamed 57.13 billion minutes of the show. That’s “the equivalent of more than 1,000 years of linear time.”

Before moving to Peacock, the time we spent watching it was 45% more than the second-ranked show, Grey's Anatomy.

And this isn’t going away anytime soon. The Office continues to find a new audience as younger generations are now discovering the show.

So, The Office is ingrained in our TV viewing, but it’s been easy to overlook there are several problems with it. Here’s a quick look at a few of them.

This is no particular order but is my opinion on six of these issues.

1. Jim and Pam Were Not the Best Couple — or People

This was a problematic relationship from the get-go. It’s also the issue when shows play the “will they, or won’t they game.” The tension between the characters getting together is what drives our interest, but when they finally get together; that thrill is gone.

Also, Jim and Pam aren’t the most redeeming characters. They have been seen as the “self-satisfied” antagonists of the show. They have a sense of being better than everyone in the office, and they’re happy to be that way. This progresses over the course of the series.

You could also argue that Jim and Pam are the worst characters on The Office. It also seems like their relationship has its foundations on terrorizing Dwight. If he wasn’t there, would they have ever progressed as a couple?

Jim treated Pam like crap several times, and he also treated the other women he had relationships with like crap, too. Jim often comes across as kind of a d-bag.

They both seemed to give up on their dreams for the other. He buys a house without telling her, then she sells it without telling him. In the end, their communication seemed to fall apart.

Basically, Jim and Pam seemed better before they became a couple and they didn’t have the foundation of a true relationship compared to the actual best couple on the show: Bob Vance and Phyllis.

2. Sabre

This could be the moment The Office started to go in the wrong direction, it’s Sabre. Looking back now, this felt like the beginning of the end.

You can only tell the story of a paper company for so long before it gets boring, but the writers looked to take too much of a change, too quickly.

This is the problem with any successful show. There’s the risk of the audience getting bored with the original format, and they take things in a new direction.

The problem is, if the show becomes a hit, it’s those first seasons that capture everyone’s heart. And it’s those seasons they will want to go back to watch.

Many people just stick to the first five or six seasons. It’s hard for writers to keep things fresh, but looking back, they may have been better off keeping the same format and formula for the run of the series.

The thing you first loved about a show is what you want to return to. But with Steve Carrell gone, it was always going to be a tall order to keep the show as good as it was.

The Office didn’t have the luxury of previous sitcoms like Friends and Seinfeld. In the 80s and 90s, a show could take its time to find its voice.

There wasn’t the risk of being canceled right out of the gate and they could take their time.

These days, a show can be canceled within just a few episodes. Shows like The Office — and every sitcom following — had to instantly come out strong and didn’t have the luxury of taking its time to find its footing.

3. Robert California

This name is another one of the markers of when the show went downhill. The character of Robert California seemed to be an intended disruption to the show.

Robert California was the complete opposite of Michael Scott. He was there to make everyone feel uncomfortable, but not in a cringey, Micheal Scott way.

But did we get too much of him? I think for a one-off episode, it may have worked, but it seemed to really derail the tone of the show.

There was a point where The Office felt like it was scrambling, and James Spader was the first of a line of guest stars to inject some interest back into the show.

By the final season, the ratings had dropped to lower than the first season. At its peak, the series averaged over 9 million viewers, and by the final season, it only averaged around 5 million.

For the 2012–2013 TV season, it was ranked 41st in the list of the top shows. A far cry from its glory days.

Robert California seemed to be one of the signals that the end was near.

4. The Change in Tone the Last Few Seasons

What’s your favorite Office episode? It may be classics like “Dinner Party,” “Scott’s Tots,” “Golden Ticket,” “Casino Night,” “Michael Scott Paper Company,” “Diwali,” or “Office Olympics.”

What about “Junior Salesman,” “Livin’ the Dream,” or “Doomsday?” If those names don’t ring a bell, it’s understandable, because they were a part of the last few seasons where the show really fell off.

The series just got really unpleasant to watch those final few seasons. Did you find yourself watching because you felt you had to and not because you wanted to?

You may have thought this, too, and felt you owed it to yourself — and the show — to see this thing through.

A lot of this has to do with the absence of the great Steve Carrell, but did the series hang around for one season too many?

The episodes with Brian the boom-guy and the issues with Pam and Jim made for a jarring experience. I realize they had to take things in a different direction, but the series had lost its magic.

It just wasn’t fun to watch The Office anymore.

Forcing David Wallace back into the show to try and create the magic of the earlier seasons just didn’t work. Andy was not a strong enough lead to carry the show, and Ed Helms was often gone making other movies.

By the end, many felt confused as to what kind of company Dunder-Mifflin even was. Was it paper, printers, both? Neither? I don’t think anyone even cared anymore.

Many people kept going for those last two seasons just to see if Steve Carrell would show up again. It’s not that there aren’t any good episodes in the last few seasons, but they were few and far between.

5. That Awful Back-Door Pilot

By 2012, The Office was winding down. But there was still interest in the show and characters. Could NBC keep this thing going?

There have been several great spin-offs over the years. A few that come to mind are Frasier emerging from Cheers, Laverne & Shirley from Happy Days, The Jeffersons from All in the Family, and Better Call Saul from Breaking Bad.

There have also been some atrocious ones aka Joey.

The idea of a Dwight Schrute spin-off seemed like a great idea. And this is what we got with the season 9 episode, “The Farm.” They call this a “back-door pilot” and it’s when an entire episode of a series is devoted to the introduction of a new spin-off show.

This new series would show us what the farm life of Dwight was like. We already knew his cousin Mose, and it would give us an inside look at new characters, and Schrute Farms — and it was awful.

This whole thing felt like a mess and I don’t think I recall laughing once. I was excited about the prospect of a Dwight-focused series, but this backdoor pilot killed it.

“The Farm” was lambasted by critics, shoe-horned into the season, and the tone didn’t resemble anything to do with The Office.

6. Will Ferrell

Ugh, this one hurt. When we saw that Will Ferrell was going to have an extended guest spot on The Office, it looked like we were in for the greatest comedy the world had ever seen.

Knowing Will Ferrell and Steve Carrell were teaming up again had the makings for absolute epicness. And it was just meh.

This went from a match made in heaven to episodes I don’t think I’ll ever watch again. I don’t know if it comes down to the writing, the performances, or if they were limited by the roles they played.

It felt like we kept waiting for this thing to get great — it just never did.

Final Thoughts

Yes, there are some problems with The Office, but we still all love it — and we always will.

It’s often said The Office wouldn’t work today. There are some other problematic things in it that may not get it onto network TV today, but I don't think that’s the case.

The fact it’s more popular now than it was when it first aired shows that it would work. The Office is continually streamed all over the world, by people of all ages. It worked then — and it still works now.

The Office is like that old friend that you can just pick up with right where you left off.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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