I’m interested in how the narrative form of The Office succeeds in terms of comedy. As a big fan of both forms of the program, I wonder how the documentary/mockumentary lens lends itself to laughter. In terms of Aristotle’s Poetics, poetry is rooted in imitation, and what better way to imitate than through a lens commonly used to document reality? Through this technique, the program heightens comic effect on two levels: one, the sheer absurdity of many of Michael Scott/David Brent actions captured as though they are real; two: the breaking of the fourth wall.
Obviously the absence of the fourth wall has been utilized often in the past, but if you notice, often as a vehicle for comedy (Christopher Guest’s Spinal Tap, John Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) New NBC comedy Parks & Recreation created by Office producers also implements this technique. So why have so many television comedies, once relegated to the standard sitcom format, embraced such a change? In Jason Mittell’s Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television he writes, “Complexity, especially in comedies, works against these norms by altering the relationship between multiple plotlines, creating interweaving stories that often collide and coincide. Although Mittell is applying his argument more to the plot structure, I attest that it still works in terms of the narrative lens. By offering The Office characters their “talking head” moment, the normative television narrative is altered and the audience can now add another layer of complexity to the main A and B story lines. Because we know what Michael, Jim, Pam, etc… are actually thinking, their actions take on another layer of meaning. Recalling Aristotle’s look at action versus dialogue, because we are aware of The Office character’s inner dialogue, we see their actions in a different light. This contradiction often leads to a greater comic effect.