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Last Lecture!

October 14, 2011

These are simply my raw notes from the last TV Cultures lecture of the semester *sniff*. I forgot to bring my notebook. Hence, typed.


Comedy and the Mockumentary: The Office

Guest Lecturer: Dr Fincina Hopgood

Mockumentary – documentary form + fictional content = mockumentary.

“Mock” – fake/not real, poking fun at

Challenges documentary’s claim to represent truth/reality

Carries postmodern traits of pastiche (homage), parody, irony and satire. The Simpsons does this a lot.

The advent of the mockumentary occurred in the 80’s and 90’s. Audience becoming more aware of the way documentary’s operate – interrogate truth claims.

Mockumentary is a quite complex form – humorous on the surface, but also a subtle critique. It is important that it has the appearance of a documentary, even though it’s not. Therefore, on purpose ‘mistakes’ – shaky camera footage, etc.

As it’s post-modern, relies that the audience is being clever, and knows what show it is copying. Therefore, The Office success dependant on rise of reality TV ‘docu-soaps’. Intellectually engaging. Active audience.

Actors in the mockumentary need to not be stars – Gervais and Carrell became stars as a result of the Office, but the profile was not there when they were cast.

Key Mockumentary Texts:

– This is Spinal Tap (1984) – genre defining. Christopher Guest, key auteur.

– Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003) – all directed by Christopher Guest.

– All these films rely on the ensemble cast (much like the Office, even though people are most familiar with Gervais or Carrell)

– The Blair Witch Project (1999) – first ‘mockumentary’ to use the form not for humour, but for horror. All about what they couldn’t show you. Shaky cam footage. Key to the film, seemed more real.

– District 9 (2009) – sci-fi genre/documentary genre – also a commentary on apartheid South Africa. Aesthetics very much borrowed from documentary.

Mockumentary form not purely for humour purposes.

TV Texts.

– Curb Your Enthusiasm (1999) Larry David playing himself as the creator of Seinfeld – commentary on the art of show business (HBO). When the form came to TV it went to the ‘quality’ networks, but later moved into the other ‘mainstream’ networks (The Office and Modern Family)

– Arrested Development (2003-2006)

– Australian TV – Chris Lilley (We can Be Heroes, Summer Heights High, Angry Boys) But before this, we had Frontline (Working Dog Productions – also produced the Hollowmen). Mockumentary a good form of local comedy for Australian TV – been done longer than American TV networks?

The Office as a transnational format

– Came to U.S in 2005. Created for BBC in 2001. Only ran for 2 seasons in the U.K, but massive reputation. Big impact. Critically etc. 2003 Christmas Specials, drawing together storylines. By this time it was very popular overseas. Christmas specials nominated for Emmy award. First British comedy show to be nominated for Golden Globe in 25 years, and won. Inevitability of U.S version after this. American version outstripping British version in terms of success?

U.K – 14 episodes. U.S – 155 and counting, even after Steve Carrell has left the show. Other versions in France, Germany, French Canada, Chile, Israel and Brazil. All follow same basic premise – setting, frustrating boss etc. Most reality show formats that go transnational are either game show formats or challenge formats.

When first season of U.S premiered, very closely followed U.K version. Didn’t go down to well with critics, seen as pale shadow of U.K. Between S1 and s2, Steve Carrell became a big success. People began downloading episodes online, Steve Carrell started settling into his own persona, and didn’t become a carbon copy of Gervais. Settled into the character. Tweaking at the level of humour and satire between versions. British humour much darker, American more light. ‘Not a copy, but an interpratation’ – more satirical, less morbid. S2 – typical American workplace. Carrell different from Gervais, and ‘that’s okay’.

***Look up quotes and reviews of the show online

Writers in second season did something that ‘was authentic to American culture’.

Office US pilot , 2005, 22 minutes (much shorter than U.K version)

Things to watch for – documentary conventions, introduce characters and setting, characters looks to the camera. Consider the evolution of the U.S series from this pilot.

As the series progressed, Pam is much more confident and assertive, Michael’s character has been softened.

Docu-soap genre

– Origins in observational documentary aka ‘fly on the wall’.

– Focus on everyday life or indviduals within institutions. Everyday ordinary stuff.

– Hybrid genre – influence of soap opera conventions such as focus on characters and emotions (eg, makeover TV). Seriality: ongoing storylines/character arcs.

Dawn and Tim/Pam and Jim – ongoing ‘soap’ drama.

Key stylistic features of the Office:

– combines docu-soap genre with situation comedy (without live audience or laugh track) Sit-com with laugh track very much an American format. The Office struggled at first because of lack of live audience or laugh track. Took longer to find audience because this version of the sit-com was slightly different.

– Uses all features of the documentary form, except voice-over narration.

– Characters look to camera seeking validation (Gervais/Carrell) or empathy (Tim/Jim) from audience.

The Office as ‘mocku-soap’

– Satire of docu-soap’s fascination with the mundane and banal

– Critique of reality Tv’s elevation of ordinary people to stars

– Self-consciousness of participants ‘performing’ for and acknowledging the camera (no such thing as ‘authentic’ character in doco’)

– Question the form and content of reality TV.

Further reading – Docufictions: Essays on the Intersection of Documentary and Fictional Filmmaking,

The Office, BFI Tv Classics series, by Ben Walters (British Film Institute, 2005)

The Office (U.S Versions), new and old ops, Tuesday nights on Eleven (good chance to look at evolution of characters).

The Office (U.K) Christmas specials, part 1, 2003, 45 minutes.

Docu-soaps formal codes and conventions

– natural lighting, hand held camera, talking heads, offscreen presence of the crew (never heard before)

– seriality eg. what happens next for the characters (special written with the fans in mind)

Features of the ‘mocku-soap’

– characters’ self-conscious performance; commentary on reality TV and celebrities.

Questions being answered – What happens to Dawn and Tim; what happens to David Brent after he was made redundant at the end of s2.


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