Academy gets it right for this 'Office' boy


Before I came down to the Shrine Auditorium to cover the Emmys, I watched five episode of "The Office" on my new Season 2 DVD -- three on Saturday night, two on Sunday morning. It was sort of my own personal psych-up medicine for the task ahead. I haven't been addicted to a TV series this intensely since "Seinfeld," and as a result I tend to lose all TV critic detachment when it comes to this show. I'm a shameless, unabashed, intensely loyal fan.

And so when it was announced by poor Bob Newhart that "Office" had indeed fulfilled its destiny and won for outstanding comedy series, I let out a yelp, followed by a sigh. I now wouldn't be forced to take Emmy voters hostage until they reversed their ballots, something I was actively pondering following Steve Carell's inexplicable defeat (by "Monk's" Tony Shalhoub) in the lead comedy actor lineup.

It was a great moment to see the entire "Office" cast and writer-producer crew up there sharing the stage and the spotlight, soaking in the moment, no doubt marveling that such a surreal event was happening at all. This was a show that, a year ago at this time, was still being pilloried for having the temerity to exist. The cult of "Office" purists considered it blasphemy that a bunch of bloody Americans would dare try to copy the glory of the British original, conveniently forgetting the fact that Ricky Gervais had a hand in the U.S. edition, too.

That the homegrown version would somehow become a success was hardly a foregone conclusion. Everything seemed to be working against it. But it survived for an old-fashioned reason: it's very, very good. And funny. And truly original in its own right. And perfectly cast. Five years from now, Carell's doltish and yet endearing alter ego Michael Scott will be hailed as one of the all-time great TV comedy character creations.

That "Office" can win an Emmy for top comedy in its second season, however, should be hailed as a huge victory for reasons beyond its mere high quality. Usually, a show that's as subtle and hip and intelligently drawn as this one generally doesn't get noticed by the awards gods for a good long while. This one won the hand of the golden girl after being on the air for little more than a single season.

"This is a particularly sweet victory for a lot of people, including (NBC Entertainment president) Kevin Reilly at the network, (NBC Studio president) Angela Bromstad at the studio and of course all of the producers involved," NBC Universal Television Group chairman Jeff Zucker said after the show.

"It's the history of so many great series, from 'Hill Street Blues' to 'Seinfeld,' that start off with great critical acclaim and achieve great Emmy success. We're thrilled that 'The Office' has joined them."

Yes, but it took "Seinfeld" four full seasons to win its lone comedy series Emmy. That "Office" has been recognized right away can be ascribed to a few factors: 1. It's just that good; 2. There is such a dearth of good comedy in primetime that there was little competition; 3. The show picked up critic buzz at the right time and rode that to the winner's circle; 4. It was the only decent thing on the air that hadn't been canceled yet.

While I'm loathe to bestow credit on the voting members of the academy of Television Arts & Sciences, this is one that not only did they manage to get right but that they got it long before they had any right to. "Office" has all the earmarks of the kind of acquired taste that typically gets recognized in year five, if at all.

God knows there was again plenty of head-shaking absurdity to be found Sunday night, in particular the victories of Shalhoub (number three) and "The Amazing Race" (number four). I'm not big on honoring the same show or person over and over almost like an idiot savant repeats numbers. But I have to admit I'll probably lobby for "The Office" to win a bunch of these little statues in a row because it's already feeling like a show for the ages a mere 28 episodes into its life.

As I sit here, I keep thinking the academy is going to figure out a way to screw this up and give it to "Two and a Half Men" instead. But since Emmy voters have handed us this "Office" gift, we should probably just accept it gracefully as the glorious aberration it is.