WFH has pushed people to live vicariously through office TV series
As the pandemic forced work from home upon us all, people globally began to tune into office TV shows to get their fix of the cubicle drama, water cooler gossip, unlikely friendships, and of course, the office romance. “Watching actors hold meetings, stack shelves and make calls has triggered both relief and curiosity,” writes Emma Jacobs for a piece in the Financial Times. Workplaces have felt like a distant memory, a tale we’ll tell our grandchildren someday saying ‘in my day we had to physically be at the office everyday.’
The dramas and comedies on TV acted as a sort of reminder of office dynamics from hierarchies to HR. However, even before covid-19, office dramas have always been a hit from the 2005 classic The Office, to the droll life of bureaucrats in Parks and Recreations and Brooklyn 99, and the Egyptian series Al 3eyada. But 2020 and 2021 showed an all-time high demand for these shows, with The Office being the most watched show in the US, reeling in a total of 57.1 bn minutes, followed by Grey’s Anatomy with 39.4 bn minutes, according to Nielsen.
But beyond streaming services smelling a niche and getting us hooked, why are office shows just generally so addictive? Justin Spitzer, the producer of the US version of The Office and Superstore’s creator, believes it's tied into the fact that you can justifiably put a mismatched group of people in one space and force them to spend the day together. Especially when there’s a big chance they don’t like each other. Just like in real office spaces, different backgrounds, passions, and beliefs are sure to get in the way — all with the added bonus of being able to see each coworker’s own narrative play out during their off time, adds Jamie Demetriou, creator and co-writer of the office comedy Stath Lets Flats.
The workplace is a great place to explore the human condition: Office TV shows tend to skim the surface of the usual day-to-day tasks: calls, reports, boring meetings. Instead, they focus on interactions with each other and the business in general, explains Lucy Prebble, a writer for the ongoing HBO series Succession. “Work like this is really onlys interesting when there are character or relationship dynamics being played out underneath,” Prebble says.
Will we ever see covid-time work TV shows?: Some shows, like Superstore, have already shot seasons during the pandemic, depicting patrons wearing face masks, frozen Zoom calls, and social distancing. The show touches upon some pandemic-brought corporate bad talk, with a character saying “you gotta look at it from corporate’s perspective. They love money, and they don’t care if we die.” However, Superstore is one of the rare exceptions, with most shows filming new episodes that show life as it was before. That could change if the pandemic continues to overhaul our lives and the new normal sets in as something TV and cinema need to portray. Mickey Down, who co-created and co-wrote Industry, says workplace dramas created post-2020 can’t avoid the biggest shock to workplaces in 100 years, “you have to acknowledge it.”