Teens and Workplace Comedies

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Over the last few years, checking your social feed without stumbling upon a meme of The Office has almost always been an impossible task. There seem to be Office references around almost every corner – just take a look at young alt-pop sensation Billie Eilish. On her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? she dedicates half of a track to her Strange Addiction, which is, you guessed it – The Office.

Netflix viewership indicates that young age groups and viewership overall prefer to watch The Office other than anything else in their spare time, with Parks and Recreation being not too far behind.

As for what these programs have in common – they are workplace comedies, each of their settings and stories mainly revolving around the life of 9-to-5 workers. With The Office, viewers get to digest moments in the life of salesmen, accountants, and other employees that make up the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, a paper company in small-town Pennsylvania. Likewise, Parks and Recreation is all about the work and friendships of Indiana government employees in the parks and recreation department.

So how is it that an overwhelmingly large number of young viewers dedicate so much time and energy into binging and obsessing over shows that are out of their usual social status, circle, and ground?

Informal fun in the formal environment. How these shows portray the characters’ lives can be, at times, caricature-esque and charmingly unrealistic.

What made The Office so captivating for young viewers – while still being a series about a dying paper company in a dying industry – is the fact that it introduced excitement, young, and naïve fun into an informal setting. Even the regional manager represents this – in fact, Michael Gary Scott is probably the most youthful character of them all. Managing to cause unpredictable yet hilarious damage to company property (see his obsession with the baler), spending his work hours goofing around and even drafting up absurd film concepts (Threat Level Midnight deserves an Academy Award), all without getting fired and sued for wasting company time is a hilarious, hopeful reminder for lively teenagers that perhaps the office killer might not have such a deadly effect on their youthful spirits when the time comes for them to step into the workplace.

The same can be said about Parks and Recreation. The show is especially exemplary because of the reason that it breaks, through its main character Leslie Knope and her co-workers, the stereotypical image of government employees being bureaucratic, mindless government drones. While it might have taken the rest of the cast a while to take there, Leslie Knope is an ambitious, driven, and well-spirited deputy director from beginning to finish. She constantly strives to make the lives of Pawnee citizens better, even if the town repeatedly rejects her attempts (see Leslie’s tax on “child-sized” sodas being the pretext of her recall as city councilwoman). What’s more, her constant, energetic influx of ideas and projects aimed at making local life better freshens up life in the office and drives the story. Throughout her character and its mission to achieve her goals, the young audience is given a glimmer of hope – that excitement and determination prevail, even in official surroundings.

Relatable characters in unfamiliar settings. Every teenager can find a character to relate to in these shows. In The Office, Jim Halpert is the goofball who resents the dullness of his work and prefers to play pranks on his work colleague instead. If you were to replace his surroundings with the halls of a high school, his character could perfectly transfer into the skeleton of a loveable jock. Dwight Schrute is the motivated salesman who fights day and night to be at the top of his game but isotherwise pulled down byhis kooky nature influencinghissocial interactions. Pam Beesly is the ambitious artist who, despite being a receptionist, preserves her creative persona through art exhibitions, doodles of her colleagues, and even going on to try her luck at art school.

Parks and Recreation has Ann Perkins. In the pilot episode, she is your average everyday citizen who is unsatisfied with the local government’s work, demanding action to be taken to fill in a pit that her boyfriend had fallen into. Throughout the series, Ann becomes a staple character that many can relate to – while her friends all have their defining characteristics, she struggles to find her identity at times, a problem a large portion of youth struggle with. Perhaps the easiest character for adolescents to get attached to is April Ludgate. Her character development is perhaps one of the greatest in TV history – blossoming from an apathetic intern into a full-time employee at the American Service Foundation. What’s more, her social intelligence grows over the course of the seven seasons, April becoming a caring, selfless, and sensitive person, different from her cold season one self. For many, her story is the perfect bildungsroman – with the help of her friends, work, and perseverance, she shed off the skin that initially made her a timid and unenthusiastic teenager, now being able to not only live a purpose-driven life but to build lifelong human relationships as well.

All in all, perhaps the driving force behind the youthful popularity of Office and Parks is their ability to connect to those who are desperate to find beauty and excitement in the most mundane of places. All of us have, at one point in our lives, wondered if our fun and excitement would change after leaving our most naïve years – after all, that’s what many of us have been told. But with Parks and Recreation, The Office, and its quirky, hopeful characters around, worries get smaller with every re-watch.

Written by: Nagy Béla-Zsolt