May 5, 2011

[TV] The Office US: Season 2

A lot of TV shows get very limited test runs in order to minimize the risks of the studio while still allowing new blood into the line-up. Such tests have yielded some pretty great shows but at the same time they've also killed a number of them prematurely.

As far as I'm concerned, a six-episode run is hardly a true measure of a TV show's full potential, especially with North American audiences. British audiences seem to work better with the six-episode serial perhaps more because of very focused storytelling and a greater chance that the show will come back for another 6-8 episode run in the future. However the average US television network program has very small chances of survival given the reliance on ratings numbers. I suppose one could postulate that it means that American audiences take a bit longer to warm up to a show compared to other markets, but that just might be perceived as racist, yes?

The fact that this show survived its very short first season was a small miracle in itself. Heck, I doubt I would have fully recommended that it get the green light myself if only based on its first limited run. But really, what can you tell about a show in just 6 episodes, right? Thankfully, this turned out to be one of those instances when Hollywood decided to gamble and went for it - much to our benefit as viewers.

The second season of US version of The Office continues the quirky adventures of the employees of the fictional paper company Dunder Mifflin. As based on the British TV show of the same name, the sitcom remains to be an ensemble show with Greg Daniels responsible for bring the show to the US.

After their very brief first season,the show continues on and starts better developing the stories of the other employees of the company beyond the more or less titular characters that get featured during the opening credits. It's this season that introduces us to Jan Levenson (Melora Hardin), who is the boss of Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) and the potential romantic tension there that is really hard to explain. Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) continue to team-up to play pranks on Dwight (Rainn Wilson) while Ryan (B.J. Novak) continues to struggle to become more than just a temp and Michael's mancrush.

Other twists include the continued engagement of Pam to Roy (David Denman), the seeds of a relationship between Dwight and Angela (Angela Kinsey), Michael's continued dislike for HR representative Toby (Paul Lieberstein) and Oscar (Oscar Nunez) turning out to be, well, not quite what anyone expected.

But at the core of things remains to be the growing chemistry between Jim and Pam that makes everyone just want to root for them to be together despite their circumstances. But such relationships are never an easy thing and don't expect a fairy tale ending for this pair within a single season - they're too good for that sort of thing after all. I have to admit that I primarily got on board with this show just to see how this particular story arc pans out - something that took years of on screen development to fulfill in a respectable manner.

As much as one can argue that certain actors certainly get a lot more screen time compared to others, you can't deny the fact that this season helped to better flesh out more of the supporting roles to truly make this an ensemble show. Each character has their respective quirks and idiosyncrasies that start out as caricatures of real people but slowly evolve into realistic personalities. They all represent archetypes that we've probably encountered in our respective work environments, thus making the show a lot more relatable. It's like the Dilber Effect in terms of relating with characters in an alternate work environment without getting quite directly involved.

I also think this season helped temper Michael's often unusual behavior in a manner that made him a bit easier to understand. Before he just seemed like an obnoxious and potentially ridiculous boss but instead he turned out to be a very well-meaning leader with limited skills other than his belief that he's funny and that he's an amazing people person. Plus we got to see a lot of his vulnerability in terms of his dealings with women when he ends up turning off his salesman charms and starts being a bit more authentic, but not by much.

Overall, the show is just funny in terms of how these dysfunctional people all come together and still manage to work. And I'm not talking about singing around a camp fire coming together but more of a somehow they don't kill one another while hitting their sales targets kind d reality. It's a tad convoluted, but frankly it works and that's enough for me.

Season 2 of The Office is a much better showcase of what the show is all about and it took good steps away from the British original to find a voice of its own. It gets 4 SQUEE moments between Jim and Pam out of a possible 5.

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