Young Adult

Whether or not you have ever watched “The Office,” chances are you are aware of its status in pop culture. It is a show that people watch on repeat: in 2020, it was streamed for 57 billion minutes (that’s more than 100,000 years). I am not here to make a defense of spending your whole life in front of a screen, but I do want to make a defense of the goodness of “The Office.”

For those who have not seen it: it is an NBC sitcom about an aggressively drab and ordinary office run by an aggressively immature and difficult boss, Michael Scott. It is a prime example of what is known as “cringe comedy,” and if you are not uncomfortable watching it, I am impressed. There is also a constant dose of mature content so proceed with caution.

My first time through, I was watching only for the romantic storyline of Jim and Pam — which is one that earns its place in the canon of great fictional romances. But even with their storyline to keep me going, I am not sure that I would have finished watching without the recommendations of people I trust. I hated Michael Scott and did not enjoy how uncomfortable the cringe comedy made me feel. There were a few other characters I became fond of but many of them I remained indifferent to. Then, in the final season, I hit a moment that, much to my surprise, was so beautiful it made me cry. Without giving too much away, it is a scene of an important reconciliation between characters and the audio is a passage from 1 Corinthians.

Then at some point, I started rewatching. I found, perhaps predictably, that the cringe comedy that had made me so uncomfortable was about 100 percent funnier my second time through when I knew what was coming. More impressively, watching Michael Scott the second time, I found that my feelings had changed from hatred to compassion, and that the compassion was quickly expanding into affection. That alone is a detail worth reflecting on. “The Office” manages to, over time, teach you to see someone who is difficult and frustrating with new eyes.

I began to learn that the final line, “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?” is a succinct summary of the entire show.

I have since learned a lot about the making of the show and about the vision of the showrunner, Greg Daniels. I heard stories about the things he would use to help the writers home in on what the show was meant to be. One was an image: imagine that you are walking through a parking lot that stretches in every direction as far as the eye can see. You are walking along, it is hot, oppressive, bleak, etc., when you look down and see a dandelion growing through the cracks in the pavement. “The Office” is about that dandelion.

Another reminder he would give them would be simply to say, “truth and beauty,” which is a shortened version of a quote from Keats. Actually, hearing that detail also made me cry. Because this thing that made such an impact on the culture, that people return to over and over again, is something founded on truth and beauty: truth and beauty which belong and point to God.

That is a stunning thing already, but “The Office” is also very intentional about seeing the truth and the beauty in the most ordinary of circumstances. No one could look at the office set of Dunder Mifflin and think it is a place of fantasy and escapism. The makers of the show took great care to keep it as grounded in reality as possible. Their commitment to making it real means that the moments of beauty, of love, of hope hit home; they hit home in a way that has a deep ring of truth to it.

In a world where all the darkness across the planet and in the deepest recesses of the soul are assailing us every time we turn to our phones, we need, more than ever, to train ourselves to see the beauty and worth of our own real and ordinary lives. And in a world where we snap whole categories of people into boxes labeled “immoral” or even “unredeemable,” “The Office” gives us practice in learning to see the humanity in a cast of characters who range from loveable to apparently bland to full-out obnoxious.

Maybe all of this has something to do with how much everyone rewatches “The Office.” Maybe people are drawn to truth and beauty. Maybe people want to find hope in drab and ordinary places. Maybe people want to learn how to love people who are not easy to love. It is a well-established characteristic of great art that it retains and even grows in value with repetition. That has certainly been my experience of “The Office.”

As with any great story, “The Office” is a reflection of the glory of the Word made flesh. It is a story of the worth and value of very ordinary human beings. It is also the story of their redemptive arcs, and I find it to be a poignant reflection of the God who was made flesh for love of us and lived with us in abject poverty. It reminds me of the way that Jesus loves and walks with each of us individually and uses the circumstances of our ordinary lives to redeem us and to draw us to him.

So whether or not you watch (or enjoy) “The Office,” maybe its place in the world can serve as a reminder for all of us to see the beauty of our ordinary lives, as well as the beauty of the ordinary people around us and the ways that God is present to us here and now.