What Makes The Office So Rewatchable?

A strangely nostalgic 20th century idyll

The Office isn’t set in the 20th century, but it feels as though it could be. The sense of timelessness was a deliberate move by Greg Daniels, who outlawed pop culture references as a general rule, to ensure that the show wasn’t pegged to a particular period. That was a shrewd move which doubtless contributes to the show’s longevity a decade after it finished airing. American critic Emily VanDerWerff goes one further. Speaking on ‘The Oral History’ podcast, VanDerWerff gives the sharp insight that The Office represents a working life that, thanks to economic instability and the gig economy, is no longer widely available to young people. When The Office started, it captured the drudgery of everyday life, says VanDerWerff, but these days, it’s closer to an escapist fantasy for anyone on a zero hours contract. “The world of Dunder Mifflin, it’s like Brigadoon, it’s in the mists somewhere, we can’t get back to it.” Actor Creed Bratton on the same podcast agrees, likening the show’s world to the fictional town of Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show, or to 1970s sitcom Green Acres. “They go to work at Dunder Mifflin and the seasons go by and the babies are born and people fall in and out of love, and I think it has sweetness.” It has sweetness, yes, but with a comedic edge that stops it from ever becoming cloying.

We can all relate 

If Gen Z are unlikely to personally experience the black hole/reliable comfort of a Dunder Mifflin-ish job these days, does it even make sense to them? Of course, and aside from the fact that they have imaginations, that’s because so much of The Office is universal. The Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, with its weirdoes and bullies and warehouse jocks and sweethearts, is a school, and a retirement home, and everywhere in between. The sibling dynamic of Jim and Dwight, or the cliques of the committees, and Michael Scott’s lonely struggle for popularity, is recognisable pain at any age. And as a viewer grows up, with every rewatch, new laughs and understanding swim into view. 

There’s joy in abundance 

There are over 200 episodes of The Office. It is not a scarce commodity that requires eking out or – to be frank – treating with any respect at all. It’s a bountiful joy. When you’ve seen it once, you can go right back to the start and use it as atmosphere, as a companion, as a marvellous, grateful alternative to all the television that makes demands of you. You know the kind of TV, with its Easter Eggs and call-backs and complicated backstories and the concomitant duty to theorise every two minutes as to what’s ‘really’ going on. The Office asks nothing of you but your company, and given that, it brings rich reward.

The hand of friendship

The mockumentary format provided by the show’s UK original builds in complicity between viewers and characters. When Pam looks to camera across a crowded room, she’s looking specifically at you. Her exasperation and shock and desperation are appeals made to you, the friend who understands. The lightly serialised, beautifully honed character comedy of The Office is your low-maintenance, always-there companion, a friend for life with a good heart and a wise eye for the beauty in ordinary things. The real question is, why wouldn’t you rewatch?

The Office: An American Workplace is available to stream on Peacock in the US and on Netflix in the UK. Listen to Brian Baumgartner’s ‘An Oral History of The Office’ on Spotify and elsewhere. 

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