Thursday, February 04, 2010

I Think I Made a Mistake

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Somehow I think I mismanaged the discussion in Arts Reviewing class yesterday during which we chose an episode of a TV series to review. ((Of course, no one really reviews a single episode anymore, not with Netflix and Hulu and several sites my students knew about.)

Anyway, the discussion never quite recovered from my saying I hated reality shows -- bad teacher; shut uuuup -- and we settled on the U.S. version of The Office, which I like for reasons I will post about when the kids have done their reviews. Tonight's episode was ground zero, and it was a transitional episode, not all that funny, filled with plot business to set up new situations and new conflicts to keep the gears turning.

One of the amusing ideas in TV criticism is The Jumping of the Shark, that moment when a long-running show has a character or characters do something that represents not invention but creative exhaustion, that moment from which there is no recovery.

Has The Office jumped the shark this season? I'm going to have to think about that.

If you are invested in the Office characters, you're are glad -- at least, provisionally -- that there's some new angst in the series collective pants. Kathy Bates is the new boss (with a Southern accent) because there's been a buyout, and buyouts are in the news, or at least were in the news a year or two or three -- okay, a president -- ago. Maybe there will be a new twist on the sitcom's preferred trope -- Steve Carell's nonsense vs. someone else's no-nonsense.

Actually, there's been very little no-nonsense in any of The Office's subordinate characters, which has taken the edge off Michael Scott's obnoxiousness. (I think this is an important difference between U.S. Office and the U.K. original, where Ricky Gervais really did make me cringe, sometimes with sympathy.)

We'll see. The students who have never seen the show must be wondering where the charm lies. I'll push back the due date and let them fold in next week's episode. If I were a new viewer, I'd lay my hands on the first couple episodes and do a little comparison and contrast, not to mention dragging in a little Marxist analysis of how subversive entertainment often isn't.

There's room, young people. There's opportunity. When in doubt, snark.

8 comments:

Peter Moore said...

You were off by 30 minutes. 30Rock is the funniest show on television

....J.Michael Robertson said...

I thought the first two seasons of 30Rock were superb as I learned about the characters and the comedy that grew out of their excess, often surreal. But this season it all seems too familiar. I love Julianne Moore to death -- but that subplot is too ... serious. Too soap opera. Too real. I can't quite describe how I find the show more predictable and less delightful.

Melissa said...

these days i feel "modern fmaily" might actually be my new favorite show on television. however, that's not why i've come to comment --

i think what disturbed me most about the most recent episode of the office is transition in david wallace's character. i couldn't help but feel broken hearted seeing him disheveled, clearly in marital trouble with his wife and fantasizing about the "suck it." i tried to determine why it upset me and i think it's because wallace was never the face of "bad corporate america." he often indulged michael, shot hoops with jim at a major company party. i felt he didn't deserve to fall, but i guess that's life.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Good point, Melissa. When a character who has been exempted from the general foolishness that suffuses most of the Office dramatis personae is turned into a bit of a fool -- the Suckit? come on -- it's a bit of a risk. In defense one might say that it shows that the "good" corporate boss is not immune to being taken down by the "bad" -- which I assume Sabre will prove to be. One criticism of The Office is that it reconciles us to the brutalities of capitalism (though perhaps it's just the brutality of being human)by suggesting at the end of the day Michael and his ship of fools are a kind of family, allowed to endure, mice among the elephants. That is, The Office is no call to revolution! But now David Wallace is broken, humbled and his inner fool exposed. Hmm. Maybe that episode was better than I thought.

Amber said...

One of my favorite papers I wrote at USF was a Marxist critique of The Office for Media Theory and Criticism class.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Got a copy??

TJ Jackson said...

The US version is good, but the UK version still had more edge and more humanity to it because of the David Brent character. There was more "stillness" to the show, allowing you to really wallow in the uncomfortable moments. The US version did a better job of transitioning some of this feel into the show than I thought it would be able to but the difference lies here: in the US version the characters appear to working with or towards a film crew, whereas in the original BBC version you felt more like you were the 10th or 11th employee versus someone watching a documentary ... a newbie who runs copies and can't say anything ... you just had to take it. This is akin to the idea of being the "4th camper" in The Blair Witch Project. My two cents ...

....J.Michael Robertson said...

That's some nice close "reading" TJ. Persuasive that the UK version was less hectic and thus (I infer) was somehow more real, at least emotionally and finally more affecting. And good to hear from you. Any Buffalo Supply updates!?