On the Telly

So, last night, I caught a few minutes of The Office, and I'm not sure what was going on, but I'm pretty sure they were jumping a shark and then circling back to blow it up with 10,000 nuclear bombs or something? Anyway, it was bad. Is what I'm saying.

Now in its seventh season, it's gotten to that point that all long-running sitcoms eventually reach, where even within the boundaries of the imaginary, unrealistic, impossibly silly world that the show has established, nonsensical and implausible things start to happen—and you have arguments with friends or siblings that start with your emitting an exasperated sigh and observing that the show has gotten really fake, and then go something like, "The whole show is fake." "Yeah, but that was fake even within the fakeness of the show." "That doesn't make any sense." "Even fictional worlds establish boundaries that come to feel tangible." "Ooh, is that something you learned while getting that English degree you've never used?" "SHUT UP I HATE YOU!" "This is why no one takes you seriously, because you get all mad about sitcoms."

But I digress.

The point is, there is a lot of stupid stuff about this show. But one of the stupidest has to be that they're keeping up the pretense of the "documentary." Several seasons ago, when it was obvious that NBC was going to, as per usual, wring every last ounce of joy out of the show by running it way beyond even the point where all the characters were hateful caricatures of their former selves, the writers should have phased out the talking head interview segments.

Instead, at this point, the viewer is meant to believe that a documentary film crew has been following this office for seven years, but the footage has never been cut into an actual documentary for broadcast.

Which I guess might itself serve as some kind of absurdist joke, if only the show hadn't lost its humor ages ago.

The format was successful for the original UK version on which NBC's show is based, because British television doesn't work the same way US television does. Twelve great episodes and a Christmas special is an acceptable run in Britain; here, that's a miniseries—and the model depends on a show having a long enough run that its producers can make money off endless reruns in perpetuity.

Quantity over quality.

Steve Carell, the star of the US Office is leaving at the end of this season, but they're going to keep the show on the air—keep those cash cows hooked up to the milkers, boys! Yeesh.

It isn't any wonder that the best episodic television these days is on cable, where the model looks much more like the British one—shorter and irregular seasons for shows aspiring to more than the cheapest possible filler between detergent adverts.

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