Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tom's America: The Coco Channel

H and I have been watching a lot of The Office on Internet reruns of late. I am convinced that is the best show currently on television. Maybe I'd feel differently if I were a more skilled Lost or Mad Men watcher, but I'm not, so this is where we are.

One thing that I missed the first time it aired was the way the show was attempting to draw subtle parallels with the Global Financial Crisis. The tension between the firmly fairytale-realm Michael Scott and the realism attempted by the "financial strife" plotline served to exacerbate the most common criticism of the show (which I at once am usually totally un-bothered by and have to admit I have no pithy answer to), which is that there's simply no diegetic support for the notion of The Office as real-world documentary. It's hard to accept Michael Scott never having things thrown at him on the street because all of America is watching him refuse to grow up week after week, but it's impossible to accept the behind-the-scenes meltdowns of the company being filmed and broadcast without consequence.

This is why it is so lucky that NBC has been airing a competing take on the same events. What a compelling drama we have had, in those late-night hours! What biting theatrical commentary has been passed on the classist strife of our time! The serial drama, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, has delivered in ways The Office's writers simply cannot compete with. In Jay Leno, we have a true villain, a puffed-up henchman to put The Office's Charles Minor to shame. He works so well because hating him makes us feel clever: to despise Jay Leno is to see through his mugging, eyebrow-twitching "working class shmoe" schtick. Not watching Jay Leno is its own reward, the gift that keeps on giving.

To see ourselves as The Office's hero - John Krasinski's hapless Jim Halpert, desperate to be an old-school, stand-up guy - is hollow because recent plotlines revolve around Halpert simply not being very good at his job. Whereas to feel for Conan O'Brien is to see through the eyes of the ultimate good guy done wrong. When was the last time fiction gave us a guy this hard-done by what Freud called ananke, the unmovable forces of cruel fate? O'Brien swaggered cliffward like the Tarot's Fool: wearing a grin, his little dog making wisecracks from behind the podium.

The concluding episodes of Late Night with Conan O'Brien became a glorious ceremony in which we burned our betters in effigy for their sinful excesses. That ceremony should have been allowed to conclude in earnest. The fantasy of O'Brien as latter-day Girolamo Savonarola, leading a postmodern Bonfire of the Vanities every bit as urgent as that of renaissance legend, was one that should never have been undone.

Just as I can, for the most part, accept that Dunder Mifflin is a real company in an alternate reality in which The Office is not broadcast, so I can see the Picasso that O'Brien sprayed with Beluga caviar as the real thing, as long as I am allowed to. No communion I ever attended ended with the priest explaining that there'd been a lot of distressing talk on the Internet and he wanted everyone to be clear that those wafers weren't really a dude. O'Brien's acknowledgment of his part in the pageantry of the whole affair was the only bum note in his final episode: the shock-headed psychopomp would have been forgiven had he extended the deception at least until his first post-tv interview.

And so now, with the drama concluded, we have Jay Leno on late-night television, which we had all along, and which was a sorry state of affairs. And we have Letterman, the grand old man of late-night, looking on with bemused disdain at the whole thing. And have we Conan? To say we do not would be to deny his final message to us: "Don't be cynical. I hate cynicism. It's my least favorite quality."

Do this in memory of him, for this is his show.


someonefromsometime said...

I was going to ask you to write something exactly like this! Not only because i love "Coco" but because as you should know, The Office is one of my favorites of all-time.

I suppose The Office does do a decent enough job relating to real life events, not only the global crisis bit many other things presented to us through Michael and his obsession with"treny" things like youtube videos, music and clothing; as well as with episodes like "the wedding." But a Sofsty-analysis of The office will have to wait for another day.

On the subject of Conan, I thought his last episodes were Fantabulous! All the ways he uses metaphors and jokes to portray the way corporate america is run and his disillusion by the way he was treated. I think he did a marvelous job saying that although he's pissed, he is still grateful for the 20 years he was a part of NBC. Despite the bad way of ending their relationship he was still man enough to acknowledge that it was NBC who made it all possible in the first place. Also his showing of emotion(almost crying) made his speech feel all the more authentic, including his "don't be cynical" message.

I know it sucks that Conan got screwed but it "happens to the best of us." I Truly hope he finds a way of giving us entertainment,which i completely believe brings him joy.

I could be wrong, I think I'm not.


p.s. it was a bitch typing this with one hand. I hope to gain the abilities of Boris(from Goldeneye) and be able to type one handed...

Homage said...

I think one of the most interesting things about The Office is the way that Michael Scott is completely unable to process things like an adult, and is characterised week after week as a tragically infantile dolt, and yet he is often held up as one of the most successful middle-managers at Dunder Mifflin, a comparative paragon of corporate success. Whereas Jim Halpert, a character whose obsession with very conspicuously being seen to be acting like an adult is often used to almost absurdist comic effect, is repeatedly shown up basically to just not be a very good manager of people.

someonefromsometime said...

Yea exactly!

I love how he's usually stupid(you said it more eloquently) but in several situations he's made the sale or fix the problem or whatever. It would of been weird if they made a complete dumbass :)

neocowboy said...

I dislike the dog in traditional tarot cards. Somebody should kick it. In traditional Korean tarot cards the dog is in the Fools travel bag.

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