…Of “The Office”.
I would and will argue that seasons 2 through four (yes, four, not three, and I’ll explain) are all time classic television. I haven’t watched enough sitcoms to say that they’re among the best sitcom seasons ever for sure (the “I Love Lucy” Hollywood season and the run of “The Honeymooners” are the only two sitcom seasons I can think of that match up to the brilliance of “The Office”‘s season 2, though), but I know enough about good writing to say that they HAVE to be up there.
(Expect an in-depth analysis of “Dinner Party” at one point after I finish the series.)
That episode, by the way, along with “The Deposition”, is why I simply cannot rank season 4 behind seasons 2 and 3, at least not significantly. “Dinner Party” is probably the single best comedy episode I’ve ever scene. When a show can pop out an all-time classic like that alongside several other great episodes, it’s hard for me to call that a decline.
Season 5 definitely started off the decline. None of it was BAD, per se, and it definitely did a lot to redeem itself with the Michael Scott Paper company story arc, which was superb. But it also clearly wasn’t on the level of seasons two through four.
I think I’m starting to get why, too. The decline of “The Office” has not been precipitous, nor has it been steady. Season two was such a huge improvement from season one that with the exception of “Diversity Day” it was as if they were two totally different shows – which, in a way, was true. Season one was the British “Office”, only cast differently. Season two was a distinctly American show right from episode one.
The moment when I realized the difference came when I read the comment in a review for the season 6 premiere, “Gossip”. “Gossip” is a solid, workmanlike episode of “The Office”. The premise – Michael is upset about being left out of the office gossip, and then learns a startling fact about an employee that turns out to be true – is can’t miss, and predictably Carrell and crew ham it up to very funny results.
But there was also nothing particularly special about it. Compared to the episodes “Gay Witch Hunt” and “The Dundies”, both classics, the episode is undoubtedly mediocre.
Let me clarify – the episode itself is NOT mediocre. It’s good. But it’s mediocre when compared to the season premieres of “The Office”‘s best seasons.
And this just tends to be true throughout. The Michael Scott Paper Company arc was excellent, but no episodes in that arc -even the best ones – contained any episodes as good as, say, “Office Olympics”, “Gay Witch Hunt”, or “The Client”.
This is only noticeable when you look back on things, though. The pattern that struck me was that what I considered the best episodes of season 5, and now the early parts of 6, were clearly inferior to the best episodes of seasons 2 through 4.
Another telling comparison is the two-part Jim/Pam wedding episode, “Niagra”, to the early season episode “Phyllis’s Wedding”. When I finished “Niagra” I thought, “That was a fairly solid episode. Not great, but good enough.” But when I compared it to “Phyllis’s Wedding”, an episode with a similar premise, it was very clearly inferior.
Also, I don’t like the new Pam. Fischer does her best, but the character has turned into a kind of obnoxious loud-mouthed salesman, and she’s lost a lot of charm. Shy wallflower Pam, whose biggest confidence booster came when she told the truth to all of her colleagues about what she thought of them, was much more likable. Pam as a salesman was a mistaken development. Pam was an artist, and a dreamer, and as a salesman she loses a lot of what made her different than everybody else. Now she’s Just Another Employee.
Jim was always kind of douchey, but Jim-as-boss makes Jim a douche with power, and that makes him seem more unlikeable as well – pranks on Dwight are much easier to swallow when both sides are on the same level power-wise. I do like seeing his slow transformation into Michael, though.
Anyway, so far I don’t think I’m going to deviate from my original plan: Watch until Steve Carrell leaves then skip to the finale. After that, I suppose I’ll focus some more on “Parks and Rec”. You guys better be right about that show.
On the flipside, I really like new receptionist Erin.