Column: Why are TV’s two big fantasy shows so epically humorless?
One of the great mysteries of television is why so many of our favorite shows feature such dark, surreal, and often unfunny stories, complete with low-lifes from the world of crime like Ray Holt, Walter Gajdusek, or even Charles Manson. However, despite the obvious fact that the two showrunners of NBC’s The Office, Greg Daniels and Steve Levitan, would have no problem making a show that’s funny in a way that makes viewers uncomfortable, it’s just possible that these two know that there’s a way to keep audiences from enjoying or coming back for more of their dark, ridiculous content.
The two have both come to the same conclusion: “You can’t have [fantasy] drama and comedy. It’s a real paradox,” Daniels says. “I think it’s more of a challenge with a show like Office than it would be with a show like Sex and the City.”
The Office revolves around the titular news reporter, who starts his days up until his boss leaves his job at the paper in a place that smells of cigarette smoke and other things you may not want to be reminded of. The office is full of strange characters, many of which have their own personal problems, with the show’s title serving as the name of a popular brand of deodorant. His co-worker, Kelly, is an attractive woman with a dark secret. In fact, the office drama is full of stories like that.
The comedy of the show is equally weird. In a recent Entertainment Weekly cover story, Levitan tells a hilarious story about his character’s favorite joke: “I told him a joke that ended with, ‘And how do you know when you’re hot?’, and he said, ‘Well, I don’t know how to work the computer well, so I go into the bathroom and I stand in front of the mirror and look in the mirror and hope that it doesn’t flush.’ I was like