Two decades ago, TV’s most distinctive stories were defined by a tone of ironic detachment. Today, they’re more often sincere and direct. How did we get here?
Ricky Gervais, who awkwardly danced onto TV as Brent in the groundbreaking comedy “The Office” in 2001, was recently interviewed about his and Stephen Merchant’s creation. “Now it would be canceled,” he said, meaning a cultural rather than commercial verdict. “I’m looking forward to when they pick out one thing and try to cancel it.”
Gervais later wrote on Twitter that his remarks were a “clearly a joke.” I believe the “joke” part. The “clearly” is debatable, given Gervais’s long history of posturing that his humor is too real for the thought police. Either way, it was an odd claim to make right as his widely praised series was being celebrated for its two-decade anniversary.
But if Gervais did not entirely have a point, he was at least near one. “The Office” might well be received differently if it were released today (if the Ricky Gervais of today would even create it). But the reasons go beyond “cancellation” to changes in TV’s narrative style — which have happened, at least in part, because “The Office” and shows like it existed in the first place.