Mindy Kaling Says You Couldn't Make 'The Office' Today -- But You Totally Could
It’s one of the most tired talking points in comedy – “Could you make it today?” is the question asked of every work of humor that dared to make a joke about stereotypes before 2016. Films like Blazing Saddles and Airplane! have been mourned by their makers as relics of a bygone era when humor could be transgressive in a way which they believe is no longer allowed.
However, these discussions usually center around films from a drastically different era of American culture which have fallen out of fashion with the younger, more socially-conscious generation. The Office is not like that – though the hit sitcom was the most streamed show of 2020 by a wide margin and maintains a huge Gen Z following, Mindy Kaling believes that the show wouldn’t succeed if it premiered in 2022, as she expressed in a recent appearance on Good Morning America.
That’s kind of like saying that pizza wouldn’t sell if they invented it today.
This past Thursday, Kaling appeared on Good Morning America to promote her expansion into book publishing with her new company, Mindy’s Book Studio. As any of The Office’s cast members can expect from these kinds of interviews, the hosts immediately wanted to talk about the show that has dominated the humor zeitgeist since its premier in 2005. When asked about what her character, Kelly Kapoor, would be doing in 2022, Kaling replied, “I think she would have quit Dunder Mifflin to become an influencer, and then probably be canceled almost immediately. Actually, most of the characters on that show would be canceled by now.”
Kaling wrote 26 episodes of The Office – more than any other writer – yet she said of the series that succeeded largely because of her own talent, “That show is so inappropriate now,” and indicated that the sentiment is shared by other veterans of the legendary writing staff. Kaling explained, “The writers who I’m still in touch with now, we always talk about how so much of that show we probably couldn’t make now. Tastes have changed, and honestly what offends people has changed so much now.”
Kaling seemed to contradict herself with her next statement, attributing the show’s continued success to its willingness to offend, saying, “I think that actually is one of the reasons the show is popular, because people feel like there’s something kind of fearless about it or taboo that it talks about on the show.”
That fearlessness when it comes to uncomfortable subject matter is precisely why the show has such staying power, and it’s why we need it just as much in 2022 as we did in 2005. Characters like Michael Scott perfectly encapsulate everything that’s wrong about societal norms – when Michael makes an insensitive remark, he’s making himself the butt of the joke by exposing his own ignorance. Comedy needs those Archie Bunker types who can be believably oafish, as it’s the only way for comedians to talk about prejudice without becoming preachy.
However, whether shows like The Office are needed is not the same question as whether they’re possible. Nowadays, Kaling probably couldn't pitch a pilot that features the main character and biggest star of the series shouting Germanic gibberish in a mediocre Hitler impression like Michael did in the premier of The Office– but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for boundary-pushing humor. The continued success of the series should be proof enough that, despite the sanitized language surrounding media nowadays, there is a deep hunger for that kind of comedy that is unafraid to ask uncomfortable questions about our culture.
Consider this – The Office is one of the most popular shows among Generation Z, despite the fact that few of them were old enough – or even alive – to remember its premier in 2005. The Office was a Millenials-and-up cultural phenomenon, and GMA host George Stephanopolous’ 15-year-old daughter definitely doesn’t remember the epidemic of people repeating Prison Mike’s diatribe or the cringe-fest that was Michael’s misunderstanding of Indian culture in Diwali. And yet, Stephanopolous reports that his daughter, like so many modern-day teenagers, is obsessed with the show.
If the most “politically correct” generation who has no nostalgia for The Office can discover the show in 2022 and fall in love just as the rest of us did in 2005, then the market for that kind of humor hasn’t gone anywhere. That being said, we can probably leave “Scott’s Tots” in 2009 -- some jokes age poorly, but some were always awful.