Why mockumentaries work: “The Office”


By Alison Tobin

The mockumentary sitcom (also known as mock-documentary) is a very popular form of television show today. I personally love mockumentaries and did not even realize that most of my favorite shows (“The Office”, “Parks and Rec.”, and “Modern Family”) all fall under this category. Mockumentaries are like a spin on sitcoms; they have the feel of a documentary or  a reality show, but have fictional characters and fictional content. They are essentially fictional reality shows.

“The Office” is one of (if not the) the most popular mockumentaries out there. The rating of “The Office” is 8.8/10 stars on IMDb. “Parks and Recreation” is not far behind with 8.5/10 stars. It is hilarious in such a weird way. But what is it that makes this TV show so funny? Why is “The Office” so popular?

I’ll admit that “The Office” had a slow start for me. So many people suggested I watch it and told me how great it was, but at the beginning I did not understand what they were talking about. Once I got past the short six-episode season 1, it began to pick up. It turned into a show that I could not stop watching by season 3 and I found myself borderline binge-watching it. I began to question why. It is very addicting because I find myself laughing at and enjoying every episode. A lot of the reasons behind the greatness and hilarity of “The Office” can be traced back to the fact that it is a mockumentary.

At times the characters in a mockumentary sit down in front of the camera alone and just talk which comes from a lot of improvising from the actors and actresses. In an article from mtv.com titled “Steve Carell, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogan, others reveal magic behind improv comedy” Larry Carrol quotes “The Office” star Phyllis Smith saying, “‘I happen to be partial to Steve Carell,’ she said. ‘I’ve watched him take one scene and do it 12 diffscreen-shot-2017-02-23-at-2-56-35-pmerent ways, and be brilliant in every one.’” The improvising and having characters refer to the camera throughout the show creates
some awkward humor and awkward humor is just simply the best. There is just something so funny about Jim Halpert glancing at the camera while we are watching Dwight get mad because he put his stapler in Jell-O or listening to Phyllis complain to the camera about Angela in regards to the Party Planning Committee.

“The Office” also does not need a lame laugh track or other sound effects. For example, the sitcom “The Big Band Theory” uses a sound effect of people laughing when something happens in the show that is supposed to be funny. “The Office” does not use a laugh track and to me that makes the show funnier. It is just true, real, natural humor that is not forced.

Another great thing about mockumentaries is how well you get to know the characters. In “The Office” it does not tascreen-shot-2017-02-23-at-3-01-51-pmke long for us as viewers to get to know that Michael is a jokester who sometimes (or all of the times) makes bad decisions and would rather do anything but work or that Angela
is snotty, judgemental, and often negative and uptight. This is because of how we get one-on-one of them sitting in front of the camera. We get to hear what they are thinking and how they feel. It is funny to hear what they say as if no one else is around. Their true personalities really come out and shine when it is just them and the camera.

“The Office,” like other mockumentaries, has a simple plot and overall theme that is able to entertain people in a light-hearted way that attracts people to the show. “The Office” fans like that the show is so simple and positive. It primarily takes place in the office of the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. However, it still manages to not be boring. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about how I want to work there. In an article from the-artifice.com titled “The Mockumentary Sitcom: A Closer Look at Form,” Jane Harkness writes, “Successful mockumentaries are good at heart: characters struggle and face hardship, but the general tone is positive.” Michael has his girl problems, Kevin drops his giant pot of chilli, Oscar struggles with people in the office being awkward about him being gay, Pam and Jim experience hardships in their marriage, and so on. There are occasionally sad things that happen in the show but for the most part it is nothing too devastating (except for maybe Kevin’s chilli mishap – see it here) and that is generally the nature of mockumentaries.


However, the hardships that the characters do face are very real and relatable. The show appeals to people because it is realistic. This is another way in which a characteristic of a mockumentary contributes to the greatness of “The Office.” Personally, I was hooked on the NBC show “Superstore” because I had a part-time summer job working retail and the show took place in a retail store and was centered on the employees and their struggles at work. In the same way, people who work in an office can be attracted to and hooked on “The Office.” The ordinary people who watch the show relate to the struggles of the characters because they are ordinary too. Mockumentaries focus on middle-class people so many of the viewers can relate to all of the things that happen in the show. It depicts real lives of real people with real jobs. Jane Harkness also writes in the article, “We see exaggerated versions of ourselves in these shows: our socially awkward or overly-eager bosses (Michael Scott and Leslie Knope), our slacking co-workers (April Ludgate), the office romance that everyone gossips about (Jim Halpert and Pam Beasley), our self-proclaimed “cool dad” (Phil Dunphey), and our ditzy sister (Hayley Dunphey).” The characters also make mistakes like real people do. For example, no one will ever forget Holly’s honest mistake in “The Office” in which she mistook Kevin for having a mental disability. We are able to connect with the characters and feel for them because they are similar to us and are extremely realistic.

I would just like to thank mockumentaries for existing. They are very refreshing form of television show that gets us away from all of the drama-filled shows out there and provide us with quality, funny television. They are successful for so many reasons. They require a certain type of skilled actors and actresses and have to be funny but when done right, they are a huge hit in the TV world.



7 thoughts on “Why mockumentaries work: “The Office”

  1. I was always a huge fan of The Office after many people had shared with me just how great the show was. I had never seen or even knew what a mockumentary was until I started watching this show. It is such an interesting way to feature characters in a television show and somehow it just worked. The Office has a way of making the characters feel real and personal just like you expressed in this article. I think it is important to note just how relatable the characters really are like you said in your ending paragraph. I am surprised that it only has a 8.8/10 rating though, I would give it a 12/10 if that were possible. I definitely agree that rockumentaries are refreshing and I think this show worked because the cast was just as refreshing as the way it was documented.


  2. I found this to be one of my favorite posts, everything in here is something I definitely agree with. However, I definitely love season 1, especially the basketball episode. I think season 1 is even dryer than most of the series itself, but that’s why I think it’s so great. One of my favorite things I’m glad you mentioned was the part about improvisation, which many people actually don’t know about. I love improv, I feel like you get a much more realistic reaction/response, as well as it being 9/10 times funnier than something originally scripted. I’ve also actually had a few debates with some of my friends with whether Parks and Rec is better than The Office. I sincerely believe The Office is much more original, superior in character, and has honed in on better storyboards.

    – TJ Rotolico


  3. I really enjoyed this article! I do love mockumentaries especially “The Office.” That show is hands down the funniest show to ever have existed (in my opinion). I do agree that mockumentaries allow the viewer to get to know the characters and let their personalities shine through. I tend to draw more to shows with complex plots and unique characters but the plots to mockumentaries tend to be simpler and like you said “light-hearted” which I know I need here and there. It is nice not to think when watching TV sometimes! – Alexa DiFilippo


  4. Sarah Seero- having an older brother i’ve been familliar with The Office for what seems like a long time, i too enjoyed the show. i never really knew there was a term (Mockumentary) for the style of this show but i do agree that a huge part of how and why we get to know these characters and see them as relatable is due to the style of the show, theres something about the mockumentary style camera angles and interveiws that make it seem like your part of the office environment. I thought you made alot of really good points about the situations the characters face and making the relatable and described the style of the show very well


  5. I agree that mockumentaries can do things that other genres of television cannot. Even though “The Office” is fictional, there is an illusion of reality due to the way it is executed. I also agree that the one-on-one interviews that happen throughout each show add a type of humor that laugh track sitcoms cannot replicate. However, as you mentioned, “The Office” also has pieces of drama within the show; which adds another dimension to the show as a whole. You remark that this makes the show relatable to the average people who tune-in, because of the sense of realism. I would also argue that the use of drama and true to life hardships may spice up the formula of the show and make sure that the humor does not become monotonous.
    -Cameron Surette


  6. This is a very cool piece and I enjoyed it especially because I love mockumentaries and especially The Office. They do work and there are hilarious. I thought the point of getting to know each character in depth was very interesting because it’s true, but I had never thought about that. The plot is simple but structured and it’s very funny. People enjoy them (I think) because not only are they very funny, but in the case of The Office, I would LOVE to work in an environment like that and to see it simulated in a show is hilarious.

    –Matt Morr


  7. As a binge-watcher of The Office, Trailer Park Boys, and Parks and Rec, I think this article is perfect. The lives of these caricature-like office workers are entertaining to watch as they portray all of the dull occurrences that happen on a daily basis on an exaggerated level. Although they may find difficulty in their lives (that link to Kevin’s chili was absolutely perfect), the general tone of the show comes around to a positive feeling that makes everyone feel better at the end of the half hour. Lastly, I never noticed how specifically these characters fit into their stereotypical roles as you mentioned in your conclusion. Overall, a great read and an entertaining topic.

    -Ian McNeice


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