'The Office' Turns 20: Here's How the Hit Series Changed Comedy


| LAST UPDATE 07/11/2021

By Molly Houghton
the office impact comedy
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The Office has provided endless laughs for a generation of Americans. From its initial premiere to continually binge-watching those episodes that make us chuckle the hardest, the television series brought on a genre of comedy like never before. But it didn't start with Steve Carell and the rest of the beloved crew; the original version of the hit show was in the U.K. - and it just celebrated its 20th anniversary since its 2001 premiere.

original The Office cast
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The Office changed the format of television comedy. But they did it, in some ways, by total accident. "We didn't even really know the rules we were rebelling against," explained Ash Atalla, the show's producer. "I was very inexperienced; Stephen and Ricky [the creators] had never written anything before, so at the center of the show were three people who, in terms of track record, had no right to be there." What a perfect place to start from for a show that altered comedic TV as we knew it.

The Office changed comedy
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"Ricky being someone that wasn't trained and having this more punk attitude, that was an inspiration for us," added Allan Mustafa, whose hit show People Just Do Nothing was influenced by The Office. "We thought, 'Oh, we could do something like this.'" One of the 20-year-old show's most impactful legacies? No laughter track. The absence of pre-recorded laughter rolling in after a good punchline was a total game-changer.

The Office UK, anniversary
Capital United Nations Entertainment via IMDb

Another thing The Office contributed? A mockumentary-style later seen in the likes of Parks and Recreation and Modern Family. "So much of comedy is to do with the gap between the sense of themselves that a character has and the reality of what they are," detailed Alex Owen, creator of mockumentary series Petrichor. "It's very convenient if you have a format where they can say: 'This is what I think of myself,' and then immediately show the way in which it's disconnected from reality."

The Office 20th Anniversary
Capital United Nations Entertainment via IMDb

And the mockumentary style also meant that the comedy felt more realistic than in the past. "In different generations, you would understand that a character was acting in a way that was deliberately to make you laugh, but you never questioned if it was real," Atalla noted. But The Office made us crack up and felt realistic - and often relatable.

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And the popular series also cemented the place of dramedy (drama-comedy) as a successful subgenre. "I don't think it invented it, but it certainly codified it in some ways: that you could be emotionally engaging and yet not compromise on how funny something was," said Shane Allen, the BBC's director of comedy. We couldn't agree more. BRB, we gotta go rewatch the whole U.S. series on Peacock now.