“The Office’s” brutal realism makes for a more sophisticated sitcom.
If you’re anything like me, then you’re no stranger to a perennial discourse over your preferred American workplace mockumentary. “The Office” or “Parks and Recreation”: which is funnier? Which series is more consistent in quality? Which has more rewatch value and is home to the most relatable, sympathetic characters? It’s a question as old as time, and the greatest scholars of our age have yet to come to a consensus.
Luckily for you, dear readers, I’m consistently right in objective matters of taste such as these and can put an end to this debate rending our country apart: “The Office” is the superior specimen of televised media.
That, however, is not to say that “Parks and Recreation” lacks merit and its own unique qualities. For one, it’s definitely a more optimistic and heartwarming show than “The Office,” but there are greater comedic highs in the writing of “The Office,” and that’s what these mockumentaries are all about.
Seasons one through three of “The Office,” I would argue, feature some of the best sitcom comedy writing this decade. The set-ups and responding jokes are based in the reality of an actual office. By highlighting the weird and ugly of our daily interactions, the show creates comedy from mundanity.
Take the aptly-titled season two episode “The Fire,” in which the office is forced to pass some time in the parking lot following an accidental fire in the kitchen and subsequent building evacuation. Our cast finds themselves playing awkward games of Would You Rather and Truth or Dare. The poorly-worded, hurtful questions and the uncomfortable mingling are lifted straight from real-life, and thus we as an audience revel in the sheer verisimilitude to our small, absurd realities. Comedy based in reality is more effective than comedy based in outlandishness.
The relatability of the show’s cast is also relevant to their comedic success. “Parks and Recreation” lacks in the realism of its characters. The writing of the show’s characters bases them around a few central traits, and especially in the first season or two, their interactions don’t feel grounded in reality. While the farce can be entertaining, it lacks the sort of substance and audience-investment realistic characters can bring to the table. In contrast, the characters within “The Office” were fully-realized from season one, episode one.
Let’s put it this way; have you met Ron Swanson? Maybe you know a sort of facsimile mustached carnivore who, if you squint, sort of kind of reminds you of Ron’s character. But I know that you know a Jim or an Angela. Hell, you know three different Kellys. I know I do.
As a veritable media expert, I can say that its realism is what makes “The Office” the more successful of the two shows. Though they are admittedly similar in setting and tone, one holds up a more representative mirror to its audience.