The Office: How The Show Made A Calculated Decision To Lean Into Internet Culture
“I am King of Forwards. It's how I like to do business.” - Michael Scott
Was The Office the first sitcom soaked in Internet culture? Jerry had a Powerbook on Seinfeld and sure, Chandler probably emailed Ross at some point, but the Friends’ lives didn’t revolve around viral content.
Michael Scott’s life did. He lived for funny memes! He even was inspired to create his own, like Lazy Scranton, his answer to SNL’s viral Lazy Sunday.
Then there was parkour, the “Internet sensation of 2004.” As usual, Michael and friends were a year or two behind, but that didn’t stop them from getting in on the craze.
Despite Pam and Jim’s very specific requests, the gang can’t resist taking over their wedding with web-inspired fun. “I bought those boat tickets the day I saw that YouTube video.”
And despite Angela’s protests:
The entire office staged an elaborate attempt to win the Internet.
It wasn’t just the characters who were influenced by Internet culture. The writers were inspired as well. “I always credit YouTube for changing the way we look at things,” says director Paul Feig. “YouTube was real life captured and you have The Office, where the humor is all behavioral. It’s about how people are reacting to each other.”
Ah, the reactions. While The Office was a monster hit in its original run, the series might be even more popular in its Netflix/Peacock afterlife. And the reason?
It’s gotta be the memes.
“There is practically an Office meme, joke, or episode for any and all occasions,” says TeenVogue. “The comedy’s enduring relatability, absurdity, and meme potential continues to be a driving force in keeping its popularity alive.”
Search “the office” or “michael scott” on Know Your Meme and you’ll fall down an endless rabbit hole of reactions that can punctuate any online conversation.
The endless gifs and videos live on in business as well as pleasure. “As an HR person, I sometimes cringe," Sheri Leonardo, senior vice president for human resources at Ogilvy Public Relations, told NPR.
"Some of the stuff is so outlandish, politically incorrect, morally incorrect and everything else,” she says. “But at the same time I say, 'God, I would love to take clips of this and use it for training, because it's so perfect.'”
At this point, The Office is a comedy perpetual-motion machine -- the memes drive the show’s streaming dominance, and fan binging feeds the memes. The ubiquity of the social pics and clips may also explain the show’s dominance among Gen Z, a group of viewers too young to have stayed up to watch the show’s original run. Geez, even Billie Eilish samples Office dialogue, turning Michael Scott into a pop icon.
“The omnipresence of memes and reaction GIFs suggests The Office has become a kind of universal language,” suggests The Ringer’s Alison Herman. “I can personally attest to its omnipresence in dating app bios as an easy shorthand for ‘I’m ‘quirky,’ but in a socially acceptable way.’”
Viewers are only doing what Michael Scott himself originated, sending funny Internet memes to friends, family, and coworkers -- whether they want them or not.
As Michael himself says, “I don't come up with this stuff, I just forward it along.”
For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:
For ComedyNerd exclusive content and more, subscribe to our fancy newsletter:
Top image: NBCUniversal