From Star Trek to Game of Thrones, many people like watching shows that transport them to a faraway place and time. In contrast, one of the only shows I watch is as mundane and realistic as you can get without being a documentary. This show is a mockumentary, called The Office – only the most popular show on Netflix as of July 2020.
Fantasy and sci-fi shows are generally very effective at helping people unplug from the daily grind and allowing them to forget their worries. Even an anxiety-inducing show, like The Walking Dead, can distract people from their everyday frustrations by gripping them with fictional frustrations.
I’m not saying there are never any everyday frustrations in fantasy shows that hit close to home, but it’s the backdrop of a show that often determines its distractibility potential more so than the actual storyline.
In other words, while both The Office and The Walking Dead may feel relatable to audiences in terms of the universal human emotions portrayed, I think the overall distance you feel from your own life is ultimately influenced by the setting of the show.
Why is The Office so Popular?
If my theory about setting is correct, then why is a non-fantasy TV show like The Office the number one show on Netflix in the midst of a global mental health crisis where you’d think escapism would be rampant? More importantly, why is it my favorite show?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I like to reframe reality more than I like to escape from it. The Office takes a mundane setting – an office – and finds the beauty and humor in it. This, in turn, reframes my view of my own office-dwelling life and makes me appreciate it just a little bit more.
In contrast, after I watch a fantasy show, it typically does not improve my attitude about my everyday life but actually does the opposite – it makes me sad to return to a sedentary office life after watching heroic feats and fantastic displays of physical strength.
The Office is Comfort TV
While I like the show because it reframes reality, I suppose another reason I like it is because it’s comforting.
I’ve read many articles that talk about how The Office is comforting because it is mostly set in a predictable location, and the characters are mostly located in predictable spots within that location. Also, it’s a comedy, so that lends to the comfortably factor (even if it does have some cringe humor).
Journalists have interviewed countless people with anxiety and depression who have found comfort in the show. They watch it over and over again as a coping tool.
The Office is Extremely Relatable for Me
Back to the reframing reality component – The Office is universally relatable in the sense that the characters are common archetypes and there are no weird fantasy creatures (except maybe Dwight Schrute); and it is personally relatable for me in the sense that I work (or worked – thanks COVID) in an office. But, let’s add one more layer – The Office is exceptionally relatable for me in particular because I work for a business and technology consulting company and spend all day writing about topics like organizational change, financial distress and mergers and acquisitions.
These real-life topics are prominent plot points throughout The Office:
- Organizational Change – When Ryan Howard joins the executive team, he must communicate some sweeping organizational changes to the Scranton branch, including a new website, new technology, a new business model and a “floor-to-ceiling streamlining.” Naturally, there is resistance and fear among employees who are intimated by their new Blackberry phones and worried about ageism.
- Financial Distress – When the Dunder Mifflin executive team holds a shareholder meeting to inspire confidence in investors during the company’s financial struggles, the team, unfortunately, does not have a plan – much to the confusion of Michael Scott. Despite his stupidity, his recognition of the need to have a plan and communicate the existence of that plan to shareholders is right on point.
- Mergers and Acquisitions – When Sabre acquires Dunder Mifflin, Sabre capitalizes on Dunder Mifflin’s strengths. For example, Jo Bennett talks about how Sabre will use Dunder Mifflin’s strong business relationships to sell Sabre’s printers. Sabre than starts heavily investing in motivating and enabling Dunder Mifflin’s sales team.
As I’m watching these scenes, I’m not necessarily always reminded of my job, but subconsciously, I feel right at home. This familiarity, though mundane, is comforting, and in such comfort and comedic bliss, I find no need to escape reality.
Instead, I have reframed reality – an awkward pause is no longer the end of the world but a humorous moment; an office environment is no longer a place of isolation but of community (even if everybody isn’t best friends).
While escapism has its place, sometimes we all need a little dose of reframed reality.