The American adaptation of The Office is, in its own way, the most consistently interesting show on stateside television. It’s a network microcosm show, one that reflects the nature and fate of the network that carries it. The Sopranos was that show for HBO, from the way it served as the flagship of a new era of bold, original programming, to the way it exhibited sometimes too much ambition for its own good, to the way its controversial ending signaled a period of instability and bad decisions for the network. The Office, too, shows us what’s happening at NBC. It led the charge in the heady, late-period days of the network’s Thursday night comedy domination, only to echo NBC’s steady decline in overall quality and viewership despite ever-rarer moments of brilliance (Kings, anyone?). I may be getting ahead of myself here, but I can’t help but see a little kismet in the fact that The Office just trotted out its first promising plotline in ages in the very same week NBC crawled out of the ratings sewer it has called home for years now. Between The Voice and Smash (the latter of which actually has a lot going for it), NBC pulled off one of its best weeks in recent memory, hinting at a potential revival if it can continue to do right by its creative resources.
And then we get “Special Project”, the first episode of The Office that has had any punch at all since the drawn-out departure of Steve Carell. The episode has Sabre corporate calling down on Dwight from on high to assemble a team and come to Florida for three weeks to develop and establish a brick-and-mortar store. Through a fairly amusing process of elimination, he ends up with Jim, Stanley, Erin, Ryan and new girl Cathy. Now, the show is going to spend a few episodes lingering in Tallahassee to see what happens with a change of scenery and essentially a change of premise, only checking in on the Scranton folks from time to time as a through-line.
I’m cautiously optimistic about this development and not just in theory. The “Florida Cast” is a mix of reliable leads and fun, if under-serviced, supporting players. There’s a combination of comedy and drama in the offing, especially with Erin’s new quest for self-determination, and The Office has always been at its best when the laughs are seasoned with pathos. If this experiment is a success, that’d be just grand. If it falls flat, that’s worth exploring, too. Either way, I’m going to do a write-up for each week of the expedition to talk about whether The Office (and potentially NBC with it) is emerging from its rut or if the whole thing is just an extended field trip episode. I hope you’ll be watching and reading along with me, as well as adding your own thoughts to the discussion.