The popular American version of the British Television series The Office has become so successful because it portrays an element of American life to which viewers of every age can relate. The character of Michael Scott, with his aversion to working, his predictably raunchy jokes, and his complete lack of empathy make him a hilarious character who perpetuates one of the most frequent stereotypes found on television sitcoms, the incompetent boss.
The idea of a boss stretches far beyond the stereotypical image of a man in a fancy suit ordering around his employees. In fact, almost everybody, from the youngest child to the eldest senior, has experienced a boss of some kind. Coaches, teachers, parents, and supervisors in the workplace all qualify as bosses because they have the power to make decisions and give orders. Often times workers disagree with the decisions and orders of the boss, which can cause resentment and dissatisfaction.
This feeling of resentment towards a boss is exactly the emotion the producers of The Office are exploiting. It only takes about five minutes for the first-time viewer to figure out that Michael Scott is completely unfit to be the boss of the office. He is unproductive, he is indecisive, and he is constantly distracting his employees with jokes. Since many people have had the experience of a “bad” boss, whether that be a teacher, coach, parent, or supervisor, it is very easy for the viewer to relate to the office workers as they try to deal with Michael Scott’s ridiculous antics. The show features many other characters, most of whom are fairly ordinary, with a few odd quirks. Many of them are out of shape, and they look nothing like the youthful Hollywood actors and actresses that come and go so quickly. They are just ordinary people working for a super incompetent person in Michael Scott. Viewers identify with these characters, and relate the experiences of these characters to their own situation.
No episode better represents Michael’s incompetence than “Basketball” in season one. During the show, Michael needs to assemble a basketball team from his office staff to play a game against the warehouse guys. Instead of watching his co-workers play basketball and selecting a team of the best players, Michael selects his team based on common racial stereotypes. For example, Michael is convinced that Stanley, who is middle aged and 30 pounds overweight, is an unbelievable athlete solely because he is African American. On the contrary, Michael dismisses Phyllis and Kevin’s requests to play because they are white. Once the game begins, Michael is astounded to see that Stanley is a terrible basketball player while Phyllis and Kevin are talented. This episode highlights how foolish racial stereotypes are by having the incompetent boss use them as a basis for judging the skills of his employees.
The Michael Scott character is essential to the success of The Office. Viewers can relate to the other characters in the show and understand their reactions to Michael’s irrational behavior. For some viewers, Michael’s relationship with his co-workers is so similar to their relationship with their own boss that they can easily imagine themselves sitting in Stanley’s chair, listening to Michael Scott crack his inane jokes.