9 to 5, What a Way to Make a Living

I might be in the minority here, but I consider Dolly Parton a visionary. Not just for her physical enhancements and her "white trash meets two dollar hooker" fashion sense (I kid because I care, Dolly), but specifically because of her ability to put the feelings of the average everyday American into song. She's had hits with songs like "I Will Always Love You", and "Jolene" about love and its loss but one of her biggest coincided with a little film she did called "9 to 5". The movie, costarring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, is absolutely hilarious. It holds up even some 27 years later (can you believe it came out in 1980? The Rogue wasn't even born yet!).

One of the reasons this movie has continued to be part of the pop culture consciousness (other than the excellent casting) is that the 9 to 5 grind is one that almost every adult tax-paying American has to deal with. Everybody's got a boss that they'd love to see get his comeuppance, and co-workers that you'd help hide bodies. The doldrums of the office (and the escape from it through flights of fancy) are something that almost everyone can identify with. We've seen similar motifs and situations used in other films. "Office Space" from "Beavis and Butthead" creator Mike Judge told this same sad tale to a whole new generation and reaped the benefits by becoming a cult hit in its own right.

In 2001 the latest successor to the "Office Place Comedy" throne was developed by a couple of Brits, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Ricky's portrayal of David Brent (the lovable but completely incompetent boss of a paper company) resonates with anyone who's ever worked for anyone else. As much as we'd all like to imagine otherwise, there's a little bit of David Brent in all of us. As brilliant as "The Office" was, it was also distinctly British. The tone just a little too sarcastic and defeatist for American audiences and (sad though it may be) the fact of the matter is that the average American can't keep up with humor when it's delivered in a British accent. "The Office" was critically acclaimed worldwide, but it didn't explode commercially in the States.

Lucky for us, NBC was spending a lot of time watching BBC programming. Having spent several years looking for the successor to "Friends" they had spent a terrific amount of money and publicity on a translation (re-imagining?) of the BBC series "Coupling". It was billed as a married version of "Friends" and the original had enough pedigree to deliver, but it didn't connect immediately and NBC canned it without much of a chance. The important thing for us is that NBC and the BBC were now involved monetarily. NBC began looking at other BBC properties, one of them the huge critical darling, "The Office". Scripts were ordered (largely just changing the pop culture references and slang for an American audience) and six episodes were shot.

America didn't seem to notice. "The Office" was not exactly a flop, but it could not be called a success in America. On any other network it probably would have disappeared. But NBC was desperate. They had fallen so far from the time when "Seinfeld", "Friends" and "E.R" were demolishing everything that stood in their path, that they literally were hanging onto any shred of hope. While viewers didn't flock to this American version of "The Office" the critics had actually been impressed. The one camera sitcom had kept enough of the things that made its British forbearer groundbreaking to impress, while altering some of the more "British" and therefore alienating attributes of it. NBC gave it another shot, allowing the writers a little more leeway to "Americanize" the show (which was really a necessity since the original only had twelve episodes and a Christmas special).

Paired with "My Name is Earl" another one camera oddball sitcom, the American "Office" finally found itself (and its audience). The numbers weren't breathtaking, but for NBC they were trend altering. They had a hit, when those had been significantly hard to come by. Sweet and sassy, hilarious and high class, "The Office" American style had actually surpassed its British counterpart. Leaving behind the "gloom and doom" outlook that Gervais brought to the original, Steve Carrell and his co-stars brought an unshakable optimism.

Yes, life generally sucks, especially when we're at work. Yet there are all these wonderful people around us to share in the inanity of these workday doldrums. They're genuine, lovable and funny just like us. Some of them are ridiculous, some of them are sweet, and some of them might become more than friends (everybody likes romance). We all have to go to work, but some of us (if we really think about it, most of us) are blessed with the ability to work with people we truly care for, and that makes the whole bloody process much more tolerable. "The Office" does exactly what comedy television is supposed to do. It reminds us that even though we spend more time at work than at home, that is not what life is really about. It shows us that if we can't laugh at the ridiculous nature of our modern life, we'll drown in it. But most of all, it makes us laugh for thirty minutes or so every Thursday night. There are much worse ways to spend thirty minutes.

Here's a video that I found hilarious (it's what prompted this blog, in fact), a little teaser for this season's "Office".

It may be unproven when compared to "The Office" but based on the preview (and NBC's strong recent record with "The Office", "My Name is Earl", "Scrubs" and "Heroes" I'll take their word for it. Here's Chuck...

And don't forget to check out "Exclamations of a Drunken Rogue".