As proven by its enduring popularity on Netflix, The Office has taken its place in the canon of television classics, shedding the notion that it was somehow an inferior remake to its British counterpart. Instead, it revolutionized TV comedy in ways that nobody expected — or even really noticed.
For the vast history of American television comedy, the laughs have come via a tried and true formula: exposition, then a joke set-up, and then the joke. Cue the laugh track. The Office turned that formula upside-down. Its comedy wasn’t joke driven, but situational and character-driven, coming from relatable, realistic interactions. And, as in real life, those give-and-takes are sometimes extremely awkward and uncomfortable.
It’s a concept called “cringe comedy” because audiences may literally squirm as the characters on screen do awful but hilarious things that would be unbearable in real life. When Michael Scott fails to deliver on his years-long promise to pay for college for a bunch of kids, it’s extremely uncomfortable.
It’s also very funny because it’s so over-the-top terrible — it doesn’t feel like a contrived, silly sitcom premise because it seems like just the kind of boneheaded mistake of which only Michael Scott is capable. Although there were certainly earlier examples, like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office perfected and popularized cringe comedy for network TV.
Watch the video for more about how The Office Changed TV Forever & You Barely Noticed!
Cringing all the way to the bank | 0:17
One camera to rule them all | 1:29
Fact vs. fiction | 2:25
A better way to binge-watch | 3:25
Bigger and better things | 4:07
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