Shirking at THE OFFICE. Not being OUTSOURCED.


For three years now, going onto four, I have had a virtual job (no pay, worse hours, great friends) working at a virtual branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. You are probably familiar with their Scranton sales office.

The site changes with the show themes, so this year, you will find myself and my co-workers at http://www.dundermifflin.sabre-corp.com . Look for the Allentown branch. We will be sleeping under our desks there.

I mention this because, until I overdiscovered Facebook and Twitter in the last year, the DunderMifflin site was the extent of my social experience on the web. I’ll post more about it later, as the revised site rolls out.

However, I am a huge fan of THE OFFICE for the usual reasons (funny, outrageous, at times touching) and the not-so-usual reasons, that there is a bit of truth under all the nonsense. No matter how ludicrous the character, you can always look inward or to a co-worker (if I had them anymore) and spot some trait that you share, good or bad. That makes it real, to a degree, and even a learning tool for your job performance.

So if course, I welcomed the return of the show, and it didn’t disappoint. Scranton is feeling the uncertainty of a new corporate owner, the story stayed in the office itself, which is the beauty of this show. While it will use outside settings at times, whole episodes can be contained in that office park and still be amazing and funny.

Jim and Pam may be heading for a little dust-up over how each approach practical jokes.  Dwight bought himself some power by buying the office complex. (I had a set of keys on one of those belt cords like Dwight’s. Plenty of keys with no identifiable purpose. I stopped when a kid came up to me, pulled down on the keys, snapped them back and they hit me square in the balls).

Ryan still is oblivious to real work and is always scheming. Scranton now has two HR execs, Toby and Gabe, and both form a barrier to Michael, who has been forced to fire his punk nephew, handling it Michael-style: by spanking him in front of everyone. Kelly did her exec training, but no clue as to what it has done for her. Everybody is hard at work.

The best was the cold open, started by Andy, of a LIP DUB, essentially a music video to a great garage-rock classic NOBODY BUT ME by THE HUMAN BEINZ. Shot in one take, it was a blast, and my favorite scenes were Gabe’s Charleston and Creed’s interrupted guitar solo.

The episode had the duty of trying to hint at or set up the storylines for the year, so it crammed a lot of items into a half-hour, possibly too many for some. I expect these to play out and resolve over the next few episodes.

This is an office, albeit an exaggerated one. Everyone working person can identify with someone there, some activity there.

That is why the follow-up from NBC, OUTSOURCED, didn’t work for me. Forget that the first episode obviously has to introduce a large number of characters, or that it resembles THE OFFICE in style, or that someone will bitch POLITICAL CORRECTNESS in the characters (That was not a problem for me).

The best joke, and maybe only I saw it, was that the boss drank PC Cola, (Politically Correct?).

However, talk about the wrong subject to joke about at the wrong time. OUTSOURCED begins with a scene of a once busy office that is now vacant because everyone was laid off and their jobs sent to India. As someone who has been looking for work for over a year after 27 years in the same business, along with millions of others looking for work, this really cannot be funny. This is just a reminder of tragic issues and is uncomfortable, at the very least.

Add in that outsourcing is soon to be the subject of a congressional bill to ban or limit it, and it becomes more distasteful. Outsourcing is done solely to cut costs for the company by allowing them to tap a much lower pay scale for call centers, production, etc.

Last night on ABC News, David Muir went back to his hometown, Syracuse NY. He visited the now shuttered SYRACUSE CHINA COMPANY, which is world renowned for quality plateware. The company is not out of business, it has moved all operations to China. That means more unemployment in Syracuse, and a product that is not made where its name implies.

That is the problem in laughing at OUTSOURCED. Forget the quality of the jokes, the easy target nature and the predictability of how the characters will triumph (Did anyone really think the quiet girl would NOT make the upsell?). The situation is not funny to millions right now. To some, it is devastating, and the fact that it mirrors the actions of so many companies today makes it more so.

I had problems watching UP IN THE AIR, a really good movie , because so many of the unemployed people hit so close to real life. OUTSOURCED doesn’t yet have that human element, and may never, at least not as I look for work, and probably after, as so many that I know look for work.

So, NBC, time to shelve OUTSOURCED as wrong place, wrong time. Trust me, the audience knows.

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