Over the past couple of years, young people have become gradually less enamored with the shows made for our age group. Shows aimed at teen viewers that are lacking in complexity and missing a certain realistic and cringe-inducing sense of humor. The younger audience secretly wants this. The television show The Office is the opposite of these unappealing and unrealistic shows, and is making a major comeback among young viewers. The people who like it, like it a lot, and they will watch the same episodes over and over. The show has a cult-like following of die- hard fans; they know every line by heart and have an opinion about every character. But why? Why is this show whose premise is so mundane, a show about an office workplace, so incredibly popular among 21st century teenagers?
To give a little background on the show, it originally aired in 2005 as an American adaptation of the original (shorter running) 2001 UK version, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. It’s set in a modern American office, Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, where the employees range from your normal everyday businessman to some pretty outrageous and abnormal characters.
Characters include Jim Halpert from sales, the likable everyman of the show, who’s crushing on the receptionist Pam. Jim’s deskmate Dwight Schrute, an overachieving salesman who lacks social skills and common sense. And of course there’s the boss, Michael Scott, who’s at times unlikeable (in the best way) and who desperately craves the approval of his subordinates. Part of the reason that the show is so identifiable is the diversity of characters and the creativity born from the boring workplace setting. Swap out work for school, and it’s even more relatable. The environment filled with unusual characters can be compared to the setting that teenagers face every weekday. The writing and cast of characters make the show lighthearted and quirky, but also real and attractive to young viewers. We have those extreme characters in our own lives, and if we could step back and look at them, they might seem downright absurd.
Considering that many episodes of The Office have definite “adult themes”, why do young viewers seem to enjoy the show so much? When asked about why she watches The Office, sixteen year old Anni Gordon says, “I started watching it when I was in 7th grade. There isn’t much profanity and the themes never get too dark, and honestly even if it was more ‘adult’ I think that teens in high school should still be able to watch it.” Why do young viewers enjoy such adult oriented humor? The Office is an enigma. It takes something that should be dreary and makes it witty and fast paced. This may be one of the reasons that the show is making such a comeback. The hilarious tediousness may be cathartic to stressed teenagers. It isn’t super dark and stressful, which appeals to many young viewers. Anni says, “I can see how some people might get bored of the show’s monotony, especially when they first start watching it. But, I would say that they just have to stick with it ‘cause eventually you fall in love with all the characters so that anything (even just working in the paper supply industry) they do is fun to watch.” The often silly and fast paced writing saves the show from being just another sitcom. It’s able to maintain a perfect balance between dullness and humor. Viewers enjoy The Office because it isn’t particularly intense, and they can just enjoy the comedy without being stressed out. Teenagers can dip their toe into adult life, without any of the real adult stress.
Another reason that the show may be making a comeback is the extent and speed at which it can be disseminated via the internet. Though it’s not being promoted as a new show anymore, The Office is constantly getting free promotion online. Social media, memes, clips, gifs, and parodies helps word to get around quickly. Shows like The Office get a lot more face time among young people on the internet, and a new lease on life. All you have to do is open Instagram or Twitter and you’ll be bombarded with The Office fan pages, tweets, and hashtags. Social media allows things to be shared in seconds, with exponential growth, so they become popular much more rapidly than they used to.
It’s hard to believe that The Office was not very popular when it first came out, and was even at risk of being cancelled during its first couple of years. This was back when the only access to television shows was on actual network channels, and all that ratings mumbo jumbo. But it was the first of its kind, with its quirky characters and unique sense of humor, and it remains interesting and compelling. It has themes that appeal to young and old alike, but has enjoyed a new audience with internet program watchers. It’ll probably keep on gaining new fans in years to come, even when people no longer know what paper is.