The Moment When The Office Jumped The Shark

“It’s a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on…it’s all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it ‘Jumping the Shark.’ From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same.”

-Jon Hein

The American version of The Office is one of my favorite television shows, but even its most unabashed fans have to admit that its quality has declined sharply since the halcyon days of seasons 2 and 3.  I recently rewatched seasons 2 through 5, and I believe I can pinpoint the exact moment when the Office “jumped the shark.”

If you’re unaware of what “jumping the shark” means, it is a term used to describe the point where a previously successful show’s quality begins to tank.  This phrase originated from an episode of Happy Days where the Fonz literally jumps over a shark on a pair of water skis.  Despite the fact that Happy Days continued for another seven seasons, most critics and many viewers agreed that it never again reached the same level of quality that it once had.

The Office has always struck a delicate balance between reality and absurdity.  Though I wouldn’t call the early seasons “realistic” simply due to the outlandish behavior of Michael Scott  (no one would be be able to consistently pull of the stunts he does without getting fired) the first three and a half seasons primarily feature true-to-life characters and situations.  Jim’s longing for Pam, for instance, felt real.  Phyllis, Stanley, and Kevin seemed like the type of people who would work at a mid-sized paper company.  I think the novelty of the faux-documentary style and the talking-head interviews contributed heavily to the shows plausibility as well.

As the seasons wore on, the show’s verisimilitude faded.  Early seasons featured storylines such as an office vs. warehouse basketball game, a diversity seminar ruined by Michael, and a take-your-daughter to work day.  Post-season 4 storylines had stuff like an entire office taking time out to play Call of Duty,  a wedding in which ever single person in the office is an active participant and Michael attempting to get rid of his H.R. rep by planting drugs on him.  Dwight, meanwhile, went from being a slightly kooky guy to a complete psychopath (though no less funny).

The moment when the show officially jumped the shark occurred in season 5.  A little context: one of the main story arcs throughout this season was the Andy and Angela’s engagement, a development which itself could have been considered a shark jumping moment.  At any rate, Angela spent most of the first half of season 5 clandestinely sleeping with Dwight as Andy tried his damnedest to plan a wedding with a woman who showed absolutely no interest in him.  Meanwhile, Phyllis was aware of the Dwight/Angela liaisons and was using it as leverage to get Angela to do her bidding (really stupid plot point, by the way).  Phyllis eventually spills the beans to everyone but Andy.

In the next episode, “The Duel,” the show finally jumped the shark. Andy finds out about the affair and the two have a ridiculous “duel” that ends with Andy trapping Dwight with his car.  And then, the two walk back into the office and its like nothing ever happened.  The next episode, Andy and Dwight sit happily a few feet away from the woman who just broke both their hearts.  The whole thing was such a huge letdown.

I remember watching “The Duel” for the first time and thinking that it would be a pretty heavy episode, along the lines of “Beach Day” or “Casino Night.’  Instead, everything returned to the status quo, just like any other sit-com.

What makes this decline so bothersome is how good The Office was.  Seasons 2 and 3 are some of the best television episodes of any television series, ever.  The show now is just a shell of its former self.  It’s still getting by, mostly on our familiarity with the characters and because of how funny some of the actors are.  The emotional resonance, always the foundation upon which the show’s comedy sprang from, is no longer present though.  Here’s hoping Steve Carrell and the gang can get it back.


~ by fc13 on April 19, 2010.

27 Responses to “The Moment When The Office Jumped The Shark”

  1. The Office started to lose its luster when Season 4 came around. It was still a pretty good season, but that was when even the most diehard Office fans really started sensing that the cracks were showing. The four one hour episodes were the turning point of the series. And the writer’s strike made things worse. Season 5, however flawed it was, was still good television and was still very watchable. Season 6 was still pretty watchable and had some funny episodes (“Gossip”, “Niagara”, “Murder”, “Shareholder Meeting”, etc) but it was when watching The Office became a chore, when it became a caricature of itself and you only watched it out of loyalty. It was a season where funny episodes were great and terrible at the same time. Season 7 improved upon Season 6. It retained some of the humor which made it extraordinarily popular and had some genuinely side spliting episodes. Season 8 is a season which polarizes Office fans. I don’t think it was great, but it could have been worse.

    So, overall:

    Season 1 was when the show was trying to find its voice. It was very funny but it did not develop the humor we all know and love until Season 2.

    Season 2 and 3 were without questions the most outstanding seasons of The Office. A+++ stuff!

    Season 4…disappointing, but not terrible.

    Season 5-7 was when the show became hard to watch.

    Season 8 – the first sans-Carell season. Terrible, compared to Season 2-3. Supbar when compared to Seasons 1 and 4

    I do declare that episodes 7-52 (seasons 2-3) were the only episodes of The Office that were completely and utter brilliant without FAIL. The remaining 120-130 episodes from that point on were disappointing.

  2. Seasons 1-3 were some of the best sitcom epiodes in history, but starting season 4 the show really lost its luster. I kept trying to give it a chance, but the show simply wasn’t funny after season 3. Even the final Steve Carrel episode, which had so much opportunity to be great, was just awful. Similar to MASH and Seinfeld – the first 3 years, the shows are fresh and hilarious, then they start sliding downhill.

    • this is exactly correct. The Office was spectacular for the first three seasons, and then it was just awful. This is typical for most sitcoms. The first 2 or 3 years are great, but after that, it’s harder for the writers to create original interesting new plotlines and it gets stale.

  3. I love ‘The Office’ but IMO the show ‘jumped the shark once Jim and Pam got married. There were some good moments afterward but it never seemed to regain it’s momentum afterward.

  4. There was a time when the US version of the Office was the bread and butter for the creative force behind it: the recently unknown actors, producers, and writers who became acclaimed with this wildly unpredictable smash success that was simply too good to resist early on.

    With so much heart being breathed into each episode and the season’s plot, each season felt very well-coordinated, incredibly deadpan and funny, and with a gameplan in mind.

    Seasons 2 was emmy-worthy, a “how-to” guide of great comedy, a balance of wackiness and realism befitting an office setting, the right touch of drama and character development, and the perfect timing of various payoffs (2 candy bars, Dwight?)

    Season 3 continued this, but the wackiness that would plague the show and turn it cartoonish began, though subtly. Who would jump off of a roof (with any level of realistic thinking) or question if a play actor was the real Ben Franklin??? Still, the strengths of season 2 mostly remained, new characters came and went, and the plot moved along nicely.

    Season 4 came. This was the jumping of that Fonzy shark…. driving into a lake is PRECISELY the first moment I questioned the committed writers and thought….just, just…..WHY? WHAT?!!!

    Then, after the writer’s strike, many guest writers began to show up and it became obvious that the focus became divided on the show with talent’s other interests and the show itself. Plot points got lost because episodes had to be filled opposed to developed, the characters went from slight exaggerations of office stereotypes to complete spoofs to complete caricatures to absurdly unrealistic, and the show began to lose sight of its mockumentary roots. Sure, it still had its funny moments and episodes, but the overall quality felt….distracted?….during the middle of season 5 and then blatantly in season 6.

    Season 7 was a return to quality (though not form, as the show had transformed by then) for the sendoff of Carell, and season 8 was certainly inconsistent (but what else can be expected post-Michael?). The fact is the amount of soul put into the effort now lacks, and thus, the series doesn’t hold them same weight it once did (Emmy, anyone?).

    I’d rank the seasons as follows:

    Season 2: the proof is in the hardware, the gut-busting laughter, and the seamless tone of the entire season. (9.5/10)

    Season 3: it satiated those who yearned for resolution from season 2 and desired to learn more about other characters, while maintaining a certain level of realism and gut-busting funniness. The first signs that the show “could” jump the shark became known though…. “the real Ben Franklin?” Come on, now. Jumping off the roof to prove a point? Not even Michael…. (9/10)

    Season 7: while the show was in “jumped the shark which is not 30 liters behind us” mode by this point, it was obvious what happened with the departure of Michael- the creators were forced to plot out a season with care, and the hilarious episodes and purposefully driven events made for a return to certain form. (8.25/10)

    Season 5: awful middle (Moroccan Christmas and Business Trip may be series low points- until season 6, that is) but the beginning of the season and everything after the Super Bowl were classic. In fact, this season delivered one of the most unique and revered arcs of the series with Michael Scott Paper Company. (7.9/10… can’t quite bring myself to give it an 8) On a personal note, Lecture Circuit Part II, where Michael learned about Holly and A.J., aired the night that a strong relationship ended for me. I actually cried. Most argue it wasn’t a great episode, but it actually counseled (and consoled) me. Odd timing. I felt Michael’s pain….

    Season 4: awkward 1 hours and the first signs of fraying with a few episodes toward the end (post-writers strike), but a number of classic episodes. I truly think the time away during the writer’s strike created the first void in cohesiveness on the series. A few weak episodes toward the end of this season (Job Fair, Night Out, IMO) were the first “cracks” in the foundation of quality, and the “driving into the lake” bit took those inklings of going over the top of the shark and drove the series into the cartoonish. While this season still left room for redemption in future seasons (it ended with Good-bye Toby, a classic minus the stupid raccoon in the car bit), it also was the first time great characters changed for the worst. Pam lost her innocent appeal, as an example, and became a BI— oh wait, Karen said that once, too. But, she said it prematurely. (7.5/10)

    Season 1: Setting up our classic characters, but a bit TOO true to the British carnation of the characters. Each episode had its own hilarity, and this season thrived on awkwardness. But, the American characters needed to discover themselves, which they would a season later. (7/10)

    Season 8: Funnier than season 6 and a great challenge for the series to overcome with the loss of Carell. However, this was the point where jumping the shark became kissing the shark and making shark babies with it. Nellie shows up and…on that merit alone…just…takes another person’s job. The realm of the realistic was completely sent up in smoke, but there were laughs to be had for those who forced themselves to suspend disbelief. Not good, but perhaps average (at best) for the chuckles that mostly worked. (6.5/10)

    Season 6: No excuse. A lazy, disjointed season with plot points that never fully hashed out, wasted opportunities, no cohesiveness, and fewer laughs than ever… and that’s even with Michael Scott. The one and only season of the show, barring a few episodes, that I’d genuinely describe as BAD. (4.5/10)

    • Also, to elaborate on why I have seasons 5 and 7 ahead of 4. 4 began a damning downward spiral, had a disjointed feel, some bad episodes, and clearly rushed itself through angles that had great potential (Ryan in corporate) in a manner that felt unnatural. Sure, it was b/c of the strike, but it still is what it is.

      While the show completely jumped the shark by s.5, its legendary arcs with Holly and MSPC gave it a bookend feel, and I felt that it was better written overall than s.4, which struggled with hour longs early and some week final episodes.

      Now, season 7 was spiritedly absurd, yes…. but that’s where I think the writers, while not getting back to “classic Office” in feel got back to it in hilariousness, care, and attention to detail. It was the first, and maybe last, cohesive season of the show, and it was a breath of fresh air comedically. In fact, I may not have laughed more at any other season, aside from seasons 2 and 3.

  5. How realistic was it for Dwight, in season 3, to believe a Ben Franklin impersonator was the real Ben Franklin or for Jim to train him like a pavlovian dog with mints?

    • I agree, the Ben Franklin episode was extremely weak. Throughout Season 3, though, the show maintained a degree of realism that has largely disappeared in later seasons.

  6. I’d heard somewhere that someone thought The Office has jumped the shark, so I wanted to find out what some people’s thinking behind this is. After reading all the comments here though, I still don’t see it. I will admit I’ve probably only seen about 60-80% of the episodes from seasons 4-6, and probably less than half of those in season 7, but from what I’ve felt the series hasn’t jumped the shark. It feels like the same office to me. The characters have from what I’ve seen remained true to themselves, to what they were established as early in the series. Jan was already kind of crazy before dinner night. On Valentines in season 2 I think she can’t help feeling tons of gratitude for Michael standing up for her, and even though she’s just dissed him she can’t help kissing him even so. I can see how that same character can later on participate in the very crazy events on Dinner Night. And having Dunder Mifflin get taken over by Sabre feels pretty natural. It’s amazing the company lasted as long as it did, all considered. Jo is a little weird, but probably less than many of the other characters. I do believe that some places in the world have a natural tendency to attract certain kinds of people. Why not Dunder Mifflin Scranton attracting a number of weirdos and a rather incompetent and unaware boss? And someone already mentioned The Duel.

    That said though, from the more recent episodes I’ve seen, the series does seem to be slowing down some. Maybe Robert California will invigorate things a bit? Or not. I do fear that Michael’s departure may have signaled the end of the series. At this point, I actually kind of hope it reinvents itself as something different to a large extent. With something as integral to the series as Michael has been, I just don’t think it can follow the same sort of path as it used to anymore.

  7. Maybe it was because I had such high expectations for season four, but it was the very first episode, “Fun Run,” that put me off The Office. Michael Scott was always a bit over the top, but he really jumped the shark when he started to believe the office was cursed. The fact that Jan actually ended up being committed to Michael was a bit ridiculous as well–the humor of that relationship was that she couldn’t really stand him, but was attracted to him anyway. I also felt that Jim & Pam started devolving in this season, until eventually I didn’t like them at all. I can’t see Pam suddenly transforming into this perky, volleyball loving girl just because she’s finally in a healthy relationship. They could have shown her happier without changing her character.

    I don’t know. The only character that still makes me laugh anymore is Kelly. I agree that they’ve all become caricatures of themselves.

  8. This is NBC for you. They always do stuff like this. ER was on about five seasons too long. In my opinion, Friends started to slide by season 5, yet they kept it on for five more grueling seasons.

    Any show that loses its top start should just pack up and go home, but, like I said, NBC probably wants to keep it going. That’s just my opinion.

    I haven’t watched really beyond the fourth season. I thought season four was really good but knew it deep-down the quality episodes were coming to an end.

    I just watched the bloopers from season 6 and even the bloopers were kind of stale.

  9. I still do not understand why people criticise the original to be “not as funny as the US Office” when they are both completely different. Stop thinking of the original as a sitcom when it’s not. If Gervais and Merchant wanted to create a sitcom, they would have put more jokes in.

    Original = Mockumentary
    US version = Sitcom

    End of.

  10. I really liked what you wrote and what the commenter previously wrote as well. The main thing I liked from the later seasons was the evolution (or devolution) of Jan. In the beginning she is this stern, career-oriented strong woman who goes through a divorce, and her life slowly but surely takes a terrible albeit humorous downturn. She is so crazy, yet she is so familiar…like a family member that everyone loves but can’t do anything about their messed up life.

  11. Right now I’m rewatching every season on NFLX, and I think the whole season 5 was pretty awful. It’s a marked downturn. Season 6 however is just unbearable – it’s as if everyone at DM has forgotten that they are only just co-workers and became siblings all of a sudden. Right now, atfer Michael’s breakup with that bar-arcade manager, Pam and Jim are staging an office-wide pick me up, with a clipboard and Pam in charge. Jim and Pam are inviting Michael over to their home, to play “Rock Band” – as if Michael’s childishness isn’t something we know already, and the two of them all of a sudden have a real, vested interest in the emotional health of their boss, who moves on from breakups anyways, that I can recall.
    AND when Pam isn’t being the new de facto sales boss of DM, she’s talking solely about her baby Ceecee – THIS is annoying in REAL LIFE. WHY WOULD IT BE GOOD ON THE OFFICE??

  12. Interesting. I wouldn’t pick the same moment — I thought the show had already waddled into pure cartoonishness quite a bit before The Duel, so it didn’t really bother me there — but at the same time, I was still “with” the show at that time.

    To me here’s how it breaks down by season:

    Season 1 – Funny, great start, but a little dour; the characters are still becoming established and the show is finding its tone/stride.

    Season 2 – The show has found its tone/stride and turns in “the” classic season. All of the important character arcs (of the initial character batch) are established and explored here. Not every episode is perfect but it’s a great season.

    Season 3 – Season 3 feels just a touch forced, a season-long extension of the Jim/Pam conflict/drama via the introduction of Karen, but all the show’s major strengths are still in full force here, and it is a very solid season overall, with some hilarious episodes and many classic bits. (Btw this is the season featuring the whole office playing CALL OF DUTY, not season 4).

    Season 4 – Jim and Pam hook up, and the show unsuccessfully experiments with a double-episode-length format for a bit. While I wouldn’t say Season 4 is where The Office “jumped the shark,” I would say this is where things begin to deteriorate, quality-wise. It was the first season in which I began to find certain episodes or story arcs just kind of … tiresome and not-super-funny. With the Jim/Pam tension removed and some new characters introduced, the show begins its drift towards cartoonishness in this season.

    Season 5 – You know, I actually enjoy Season 5. Though the show has become even more of a cartoon at this point, I as least found it funny. I liked the story arc where Michael forms his own paper company with Pam and Ryan, silly as it was. If you go through it episode by episode, there’s still some pretty good stuff here.

    Season 6 – The Office jumps the shark here. By the end of season 5, Jim has proposed to Pam, and I believe their wedding is early in season 6. Season 6 felt “off” and forced from the get-go, with the awkward idea of turning Jim into a co-manager; but the Wedding was the episode set where it finally sank in: the Office was now just another “wacky sitcom,” and it would never be really great again. Each character had a kooky little role and they had all sort of become parodies of themselves (which in the case of characters who were already pretty cartoonish, like Michael and Dwight, proved extra painful and unfunny to watch.) Idiotic bits like Dwight as the “Recyclops” or whatever it was were introduced, trying too hard and repeatedly falling flat.

    The Wedding was the last chance The Office had to end with its dignity mostly in tact.

    Sadly, another season and a half still proved to lay ahead — and from the looks of it, a season eight as well. The opening of Season 7, with the song & dance number, made me want to slit my wrists.

    • Hey man,
      Thanks for commenting, very insightful stuff. I agree with most of what you said. Season 2 is, in my opinion, one of the better done seasons of American television, ever. It’s on par with the British Office in terms of quality, the show still had a ton of pathos with the whole Jim pining for Pam, Pam being in essentially an abusive relationship, and Michael being lonely and depressed. Yeah, some of the characters were really one-note, in particular Dwight, but the whole thing had a real weight to it that has been largely missing for the past couple seasons.

      I also enjoyed the Michael Scott Paper Company angle. I thought it actually gave the characters some, I don’t know, higher purpose or whatever you want to call it. But yeah, Season 6 was definitely the weakest season. It’s not even close. The wedding with all the characters dancing down the aisle; are you kidding me?

      I’d like to think the creators would be smart enough to end this with Carrell’s exit, before things get really out of hand. Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening.

  13. i think it jumped the shark when the show got way too concern about its corny romance content and spent majority of the airtime on it.

  14. “The Office” jumped the shark at the beginning of season three.

  15. […] The Moment When The Office Jumped The Shark April 2010 7 comments 5 […]

  16. gervais british version is unwatchgable in America without subtitles. the british accent is undecipherable here when will the drug addled loons who put these shows together wake up?

  17. It’s funny you chose this episode, because I remember when I watched Andy pin Dwight with his car, and Oscar goes “the hybrid doesn’t make noise under 5 mph, it’s genius…”

    It was the first time in the show I thought “ok, this is a little too ridiculous for me.” Again, like you mentioned, the show had many absurd moments before…many of which would never happen in real life, but they were all awkward Michael moments, or classic Dwight-isms. However – the show was still enjoyable and entertaining after that. It wasn’t until last season (season 6), that I would watch an episode and think “that was just bad.”

    Like someone in a previous post mentioned – as soon as Kathy Bates appeared on screen, it took a dive. The NY Corporate office gave the show a very real feel, and while the show was headed down for other reasons, getting rid of that aspect of the big picture storyline is what killed it. I think they wanted to keep things fresh, but as it’s put on the net…it was “an EPIC FAIL.”

    Don’t get me started on this season. The opening to the premier (the dancing and singing) almost made me shut my TV off. Steve Carrel is leaving for a reason…he knows it’s over. They are out of ideas and/or the writers are burnt.

    I hope more shows switch to the shorter season format like cable shows. I think that allows writers more time to develop good storylines and dialogue. It’s gotta be hard to write 25 solid episodes a year.

  18. Both Andy and Dwight walked back to the office “like nothing happened” because they weren’t fighting anymore. In the car, they both realized that it was Angela who was playing both of them. Dwight thought he knew about the whole thing, but Andy told him something that Angela hadn’t told him.

    So, they walked back kind of equal, and Andy immediately called the venues and cancelled, breaking up with Angela. And I think Dwight threw away something that Angela gave him.

    It wasn’t meant to be to absurd. They both just realized that Angela was the enemy, not each other.

  19. the british version had one hilarious episode: “customer care seminar”. but other than that it doesn’t come close to the US version.

    i think the shark jumping was the moment kathy bates appeared on screen. it’s lost all the old charm now. losing ny corporate, with wallace playing drums with his kid and losing his mind, was shark jumpage too. btw, i thought they never should have had jan go insane. when she was same i thought she was a quite funny straightman to michael scott’s childishness.

    • Agreed. Jan was a good character when she was relatively normal, and even during their relationship she wasn’t that bad. But at some point they decided to make her just batshit crazy, as evidenced by one of the most excruciatingly awkward 22 minutes of television ever: The Dinner Party.

  20. Do yourselves a favor and watch the UK version of the Office (the original, shouldn’t even be called the “UK” version) and you’ll realize what this show should and could have been. Ricky Gervais Office is a masterpiece. And they knew their show would Jump the Shark so they ended the show after 2 seasons with dignity.

    • Yeah, I have watched the original and I think artistically it suceeds much more than the U.S. version. I would say that season 2 of the American Office is on the same level as the Gervais Office, though.

    • I see people are still replying, so.. The ‘US’ Version started out fairly funny and interesting, but unfortunately they made most of the characters ‘cartoonish’ and that trend continues to the point that the show is unwatchable. Has been for quite some time. The original version was funny and believable at the same time. yes, it took about one episode to get used to the accents, but well worth it. ‘Jumped the shark’ is too kind to apply to this horror of a show gone completely unfunny.

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