Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Office: Jumped the Shark...or Has It?

I'm a big fan of the U.S. version of the Office.  At one time, the show was probably the funniest comedy on television, and it's still among my favorites.  But the very special combination of Jim and Pam's wedding plus her pregnancy (not to mention a different actress playing Pam's mother) raises a troubling question.  Has the Office jumped the shark?



Some say I throw around that phrase too freely.  And while there's a grain of truth to that charge, it also reflects a disagreement about what jumping the shark entails.   I don't believe a show must experience an extended period of decline before jumping the shark.  For me, the phrase describes that moment when you know a show has passed its peak and will never be as good again.  Heroes jumped the shark with its anti-climactic showdown in the Season 1 finale, which was the best season of that show by far.

Besides, I actually do believe the Office has been slipping for some time.  The show has always struggled to come up with enough quality material for hour-long episodes like Jim and Pam's wedding.  And the departure of talented writer Michael Schur (aka Ken Tremendous of Fire Joe Morgan) to helm Parks & Recreation has only exacerbated the problem.  No surprise, therefore, that Parks & Recreation continues to improve in its second season, while the Office falters.

All that said, I have to raise an alternate possibility I haven't seen discussed.  It's possible that Jim and Pam's wedding episode was a deliberate parody of shark jumping.  The big clue to this possibility is Pam's prudish Memaw, who was played by the same uncredited actress who also played Michael's Nana in the episode Dream Team.  Another quintessential jump the shark moment is "same guest actor, different role."  I can't help thinking the writers slipped this in as a subversive wink to fans like me who might be worried the show was jumping the shark.



What do you think?  As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

9 comments:

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Not certain what you disliked about the episode, Big. I do think that the marriage will prove harmful to the show (just as in comics, which I think is a valid comparison). And six seasons is a pretty long run, so I get the need for fresh ideas, like making Jim co-manager.

There's a website called jumptheshark.com or something close, and where some people had valid examples, some were just ludicrous. More like someone hated a show because some character they liked was killed off. So I really am curious as to why you think this episode in particular was strained. I think almost every character was spotlighted well.

Re: HEROES, while I liked S2 less than S1, that's when I threw in the towel. When the Irish girl is left stranded in the alternate future simply because Jeff Loeb (who simply regurgitates his writing, be it comics or television, time and again) started all over again in S3. That's why I compare HEROES with the six issue comic run where a new writer and artist simply start over, disregarding everything about the previous six months. And, man, is Loeb guilty of that, too. But there are many others, as well.

But, THE OFFICE. Maybe you, or someone else commenting, could give comparisons with earlier episodes? I'll admit, THE OFFICE is one of two comedies I watch, and I really don't see much worth in PARKS & RECREATION, but I'm not biased. I don't think they are going to get better material by having "tensions rise, but in a funny way" because Jim and Pam are now married. You may be right about THE OFFICE, but not with this particular episode.

Bigmouth said...

Wayne: Part of the problem, as I mentioned in my post, was the extended length. Good television leaves me hungry for more. But the hour-long episodes like Jim and Pam's Wedding have too many jokes (e.g., Kevin wearing Kleenex boxes as shoes) that would be cut from the usual half-hour installment.

I was also annoyed by the dancing at the end. The U.S. version of the Office has always been less of a mockumentary than the U.K. original, but this felt especially contrived and sit-comish to me. Compare it to the original youtube sensation, which is infinitely funnier because it's so...real. Can you really see any Office character (besides Michael) taking over a co-worker's wedding ceremony like they did on the show? It seemed more like a Family Guy cutaway than the Office.

As for jumptheshark.com, it's virtually unrecognizable since Jon Hein sold it to TV Guide. Originally, there was a section devoted to certain events that typically signal the decline of a show, including "they did it" (i.e., two main characters finally having sex), "same character, different actor" (e.g., Pam's mother), "a very special..." (as in, "tonight, on a very special Blossom..."), etc. Marriage and pregnancy are also among these indicators of decline.

So this episode had three such moments -- four, if you included Meemaw/Nana. I'm pretty sure they meant it as parody. But if they didn't...

Bigmouth said...

Also, I don't know if you've given up on Parks & Recreation, but the second season is a lot stronger than the first. Tom Haverford as Henry Louis Gates was hilarious...

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Big, I will watch PAR, either on Hulu or during the reruns every network will have in a month or so. On YOUR recommendation.

Back to the office, I agree that maybe this was a parody of those very special episodes (didn't ER have about 90 of those?). I think, maybe, the big dance number thing at the end WAS the parody. And there were those idiot cousins of Jim's from Florida involved, as well. I think it was a parody of all the characters, well, whatever you want to call it. Not exactly shallowness or laziness in the workplace, something like that, though. And Jim's cousins fit right in, they laughed at Michael's smart car joke, and the fact that no one else in the wedding crowd jumped in (well, add Pam's friend and her sister) just meant they were too serious (see the end of my comment).

It was offset by the scenes on the Maid of The Mist, so instead of over the top, I really want to say, no, it's a parody of every wedding episode that has been over the top or, worse, overly dramatic.
And if it wasn't a parody, at least it's over, right? You know, no one else's story to complete. Though I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts they start doing something with Andy and Erin, the new receptionist.

I'm not a big fan of hour episodes myself, I guess why I maybe enjoyed this one was the hotel setting. I'm familiar with this from the writing conventions and the Sunday awards ceremonies and formal luncheon. I haven't seen Kevin's Kleenex box shoes, but close enough. I passed a kidney stone I didn't know I had at a convention in Nashville in 1994, not Andy's problem, but close (try getting a sober person you see once a year, if that, to find the nearest care station). So this time, I can forgive an overabundance of jokes.

But also, its a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. A wedding episode needed an hour, and any other way for the ending would have been maudlin. By being over-the-top, I think the parody meant to show us that of everyone in the YouTube dance (with the married couple as bystanders), only Jim and Pam will be moving forward with their lives instead of just...being there.

I still worry that the marriage might weaken many future episodes, though Pam's promotion and Jim's having his own office now (what was that before, the annex?) it might be less strained.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

And a big thank you for getting the song stuck in my head, Big. I watched the link, then the reenactment on the Today show. One of the guys was in a cast in the latter, maybe that's how Mindy Kaling had Andy hurt his the place he parks his bike and use a walker during that scene.

Anonymous said...

Hi it's Quackers from the Fuselage,

I don't think The Office has jumped any shark. The character interactions still make me laugh out loud, unlike any of the ABC comedy shows, or Sunday FOX cartoons. I guess the plot is less important to me than oh say Jim fucking with Dwight, or Michael dreaming up some stupid idea. I think it's great and most of the time the plot is great too, but when it isn't, I still like the fun.

Aaron said...

I'm late to the U.S. version of "The Office," so I haven't gone through the process that leads up to any show jumping the shark, but I have to say I enjoyed the wedding episode, and it didn't seem to have the characteristics of a shark-jumping incident. It was low-key, which I guess the show always is, funny and touching towards the end without being saccharine.

Anonymous said...

Hi it's Quackers from the Fuselage,

I just want to add: I love Pam and Jim! It's refreshing to have a couple on TV that ACTUALLY LOVES EACH OTHER! They are my comedy "constant" lol. If they ever break up THEN The Office will have jumped the shark!

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I'm curious as to everyone's input re: this week's episode. It makes sense to have Jim & Pam on their honeymoon, but I really felt the episode strained. I think it was in part due to Michael Marsden playing the insurance salesman, and Dwight and Andy work well together, I don't want to see them "teaming up" that much now that Jim's away.

Big, I did watch PARKS AND RECREATION this week, and I agree, I think it has its legs now. Last year it seemed too much of an OFFICE-style show, and it feels just right this season. I'd like to see a few more repeat Shawnee residents, maybe the ones we saw at the Town Hall meeting.