The Office Effect and the Appeal of Workplace Comedies

It’s no secret that workplace comedies have become a staple to the comedy community. Shows like The Office, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, Veep, and the newly introduced Animal Practice all have the commonality of their work-centered plots. I recently realized how most of my comedy favorites follow this trend and wondered what exactly it is about the workplace that is so appealing as to center an entire show around it. Let’s discuss.

One thing that immediately came to mind was that workplace shows allow for a wide variety of work-related circumstances and misunderstandings that are at the heart of situational comedy. The plot of an episode can really be about anything—from an employee burning his foot on a George Foreman grill, to a mistake by a secretary which leads to 94 meetings in a single day, to a minor janitor conflict that echoes the “late night war” that occurred between Leno and Conan. The possibilities for plot lines on these kinds of shows are really endless. And speaking further to that fact, such random and crazy situations truly rely on the characters and their ability to bring comedic effect to the most boring possible situation—work.

I also noticed the fact that all these shows we get behind when premiere season rolls around have another commonality; no laugh track. I know that personally, the dry wit of my favorite comedies really hits home, as I can easily relate it to my own heavy sarcasm and lackluster view of the world. But I think it’s more than simply enjoying a sarcastic or witty joke. What is important to realize is that, with no laugh track, the actors really can’t fall back on any cushion; it’s the raw acting that draws us in. In essence, they are putting it all on the table. If an actor or actress is not funny, it is blatantly obvious, rather than on a show with a laugh track, where the audience is essentially told when to laugh. (I’m looking at you, Big Bang Theory.)

Finally, it hit me that I care about these workplace comedy character more than I do about people in my own life sometimes. We see the ability for people who seem like their lives are very boring, to become interesting, endearing characters with lives we care very much about.

Perhaps the popularity of workplace comedies is a generational trend Our parents and grandparents grew up in an entirely different world of television, where the comedy was found in the words instead of the situations, and where the situations generally remained in the home instead of venturing out into the workplace. Not to disrespect this genre of comedy, of course. Many of my comedy heroes came from this era. However, it is quite clear that these kinds of sitcoms were simply different, and those who enjoyed, say, The Dick Van Dyke Show or I Love Lucy, may not necessarily enjoy the comedy seen on TV now.

It could even be just a specific taste in comedy. I can speak personally about my family and how they (maddeningly) do not seem to understand my love for shows like Parks, Veep, and others. Maybe this television concept is simply a fad that will eventually die out. One thing is for certain, though. Comedic intent has been altered drastically with single camera comedies, and the fascination with stories situated around the workplace have changed right along with them. Comedy continues to turn on its head, and I know that I welcome the growth, expansion, and meaning of comedy as a whole.

Do you enjoy workplace comedies? What do you think builds the fascination towards them? Let us know!

About Neda

Lover of food, feminism, and television. I walk the fine line between devoted fan and crazy person.

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