Sunday, May 19, 2013

How Does The Office Compare to Seinfeld?

The Office went out in style the other night, with an episode that had the perfect blend of comedy and sentimentality. The days leading up to the series finale reminded me of 15 years ago, when my parents and their friends were talking constantly about the upcoming Seinfeld finale.

The Office and Seinfeld were the two funniest sitcoms of my lifetime and both lasted nine seasons. But which show was better? Many of my friends' parents would say Seinfeld. Most of my friends would say The Office. As an unbiased lover of both shows, I figured I might as well pit them against each other in a 10-category, battle-royale breakdown.

YouTube clips will appear throughout the post, in homage to Michael Scott, who didn't work for five days after he discovered the site. I tried to keep most of them under a minute long.

As always, feel free to skip over the clips if you'd prefer to simply read the less-than-insightful analysis of both shows.

Let's break it down:

Alpha Dog
Regardless of the strength of the rest of the cast, every sitcom has a main character that carries the show. Cheers had Sam Malone, I Love Lucy had Lucy, Frasier had Frasier, and Friends had nobody. The Office and Seinfeld had two of the best alpha dogs ever in Michael and Jerry. These two characters could be broken down in an entire post of their own, but we'll attempt to do it within this one anyways. Michael was inappropriate during an incredibly PC time in our country, yet in many ways he was a great guy. It's hard to imagine another character pulling off the animosity Michael showed Toby but the friendship he showed some of the other characters.

Michael Scott -- Hatred of Toby

Michael Scott--Friendship

On the other hand, Jerry was just a full-time asshole, which was on display as all the people he had wronged testified against him in the series finale.

There will probably be a bunch of disagreement about this category, but the edge goes to Michael because he seems to be a more complete character than Jerry. I can't imagine Jerry doing something like Michael does in the "Business School" episode of The Office, when he is the only one that supports Pam at her art show.
Edge: The Office

Major Supporting Characters
In Seinfeld, you obviously have George, Kramer, and Elaine. Jerry held the group together, but there were definitely episodes in which the other three stole the show. One example is when George saves the whale in Rockaway in "The Marine Biologist".

"The sea was angry that day, my friends. Like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli." Classic.

In The Office, the characters, besides Michael, that dominated the most storylines were Jim, Pam, and Dwight. The romance between Jim and Pam propelled the plot forward from Seasons 2-4. However, in the last few seasons, it was a bit of a drag that only got ironed out in the final two episodes. Dwight, meanwhile, was consistently funny in the early seasons but seemed to have difficulty carrying plotlines after Michael left. The Season 9 episode "The Farm", which profiled the Schrute family, was atrociously unfunny.

The Seinfeld supporting cast was just much more consistent for a longer period of time.
Edge: Seinfeld

Minor Characters
Seinfeld had some of the best minor characters of all-time. These are individuals like the Soup Nazi, Uncle Leo, and Mr. Peterman -- we don't know much about them, but they're absolutely hilarious.

The Office, on the other hand, had many more-developed characters. Think about how many funny characters to whom viewers grew attached. Kevin and his lovable stupidity; Angela and her obsession with cats; Oscar and his pretentiousness; Andy and his preppy roots...These characters were only "minor" insofar as they weren't integral to the plot of every episode. However, viewers loved them just as much -- if not more -- than "major" characters like Jim and Pam.

This category comes down to personal preference. Do you like one-trick ponies that make you wet your pants for one episode, or do you prefer deeper characters that make you laugh out loud once a week for years? There's no incorrect choice.
Edge: Even

The Office did a good job of connecting its plots from week to week, notably during Season 2 (the Pam and Jim storyline) and Season 5 (Michael Scott Paper Company). There were also several hilarious ongoing storylines, such as Oscar's sexual orientation, Meredith's alcoholism, and Dwight's "romance" with Angela.

Seinfeld, meanwhile, featured mostly stand-alone plots, so you could miss an episode here and there without skipping a beat. People can argue whether this is a good or bad feature of a television series. One thing is indisputable, though: Larry David was the master of weaving multiple plots together during a 30-minute episode. For example, in "The Limo," the show somehow seamlessly ties together a Knicks game, a Nazi rally, and George and Jerry hijacking a limo. For David's prowess in connecting multiple plots, Seinfeld gets the nod in this category.
Edge: Seinfeld

Best Episodes/Moments
This might be the toughest category to handicap, because it is even more subjective than the others. You could poll 20 fans of each show, asking "What's your favorite episode?" and you'd probably get at least 15 different answers. Meanwhile, the question "What's your favorite moment?" would probably make people mad at you for forcing them to choose one.

For me, the best Seinfeld episode was "The Chinese Restaurant" and the best episode of The Office was "Casino Night".

As for favorite moments, in The Office, I like Prison Mike from "The Convict".

And in Seinfeld, it's really hard to pick among the hilarious Costanza moments, but I'll take the answering machine scene.

There's really no way I can choose between the two shows in this category. Complete toss-up.
Edge: Even

Length of Peak
As was mentioned earlier, both shows lasted nine seasons. However, The Office was never the same after Michael left toward the end of Season 7. Many people were upset about the last episode of Seinfeld, but that's partly because the show was still bringing the heat during that ninth season.
Edge: Seinfeld

Seinfeld was an extremely fresh idea, a "show about nothing" that perfectly fit the comedic styles of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. In addition, Seinfeld's characters and jokes were almost all unique. However, the format of the show lacked imagination. Similar to Friends and Mad About You, much of the action was shot in a generic apartment. Also, Seinfeld used a laugh track, just like every other sitcom of that time.

The Office perfected the single-camera mockumentary, which has been imitated by some of the best shows on television (Parks and Recreation, Modern Family). Also, the writers created some of the most orginal storylines ever seen on television, including the Rabies Awareness Run episodes and anything involving Dwight's beet farm.
Edge: The Office

Offensive Jokes
When done correctly, offensive jokes usually equal hilarity. Seinfeld often broached offensive topics in episodes like "The Virgin", but Larry David didn't fully hit his offensive stride until HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm. The Office, meanwhile, never shied away from hurting feelings. Season 1's "Diversity Day" was basically one long racist joke that offended almost everyone.

Then there's this "sensitive" quote from Michael Scott.

The Office takes this category against almost any other sitcom ever.
Edge: The Office

Most Ridiculous Thing That Actually Happened
In Seinfeld, there were some incredibly ridiculous plotlines. But nothing can top when George killed his fiancée Susan by buying the cheap wedding envelopes.
(Sorry about the grainy clip.)

The Office, on the other hand, had the story of Michael sleeping with Pam's mom during Season 6.

While The Office frequently went over the top, no show can top Seinfeld in ridiculous -- yet somehow still feasible -- storylines.
Edge: Seinfeld
Final Episode
With a television show, in many ways the final impression is everything. You remember all the good times you had watching the show, who you watched with, and what you postponed to make sure you caught each episode. As weird as it is, shows like Seinfeld and The Office become huge parts of their viewers' lives.

The Seinfeld series finale left many viewers bitter. I remember my friend's mom saying that the show couldn't really be ending like that. It had to be a joke Larry and Jerry were playing on everyone. Well, it wasn't.

*SPOILER ALERT--Make sure you've watched the series finale of The Office.

With that being said, the last episode of The Office did everything a finale should do. It tied up some loose ends (e.g., Pam repaying Jim for his sacrifices), brought back old characters (Michael, David Wallace, and others), and provided plenty of laughs (Dwight [tearful]: "I can't believe you came." Michael [tearful]: "That's what she said."). It was a great ending to a series that was excellent for the most part and still pretty good at the end. Most of all, the finale reminded us how we felt about The Office and all the great times we had watching it.
Edge: The Office 

The Verdict
You know how I know this was an unbiased competition between the two shows? Because they're tied 4-4 with two "Even" decisions after 10 categories.

So that means I'm going to have to break the tie with my subjective vote. I'm giving the crown to The Office because it made me laugh out loud harder and more often for four years than I can imagine anything else doing. It's almost like the show harnessed the comedy of Dumb and Dumber for seasons on end. Also, The Office had a better opening credits theme.

Sorry if this is an unsatisfying result for you. Now you know how a lot of people felt as they watched the last episode of Seinfeld.
Final Edge: The Office


  1. This is a fine comparison of two very different shows, but I disagree with your judgment in the "Originality" criteria.

    -Full Disclosure: I am a Seinfeld fan, and I will be biased in its favor.-

    While it's true that The Office has had a nine season history full of original ideas, you should at least acknowledge that the show's entire concept comes from Ricky Gervais's series. Again, the American version took these ideas and expanded on them effectively, but this does not make the show entirely original.

    I have other ideas about how The Office smooths over its controversial comments by putting them in the mouths of characters that the audience doesn't identify with, but all I need is one point and then Seinfeld will win, right?

    1. I agree that at first The Office imitated Gervais's show to a great degree. However, by Season 2, the American version had become unique in itself. At that point, Michael also became a deeper character, not just a complete a-hole.
      I don't think I agree that the characters The Office were ones the audience didn't identify with. Most of the characters, including Michael, definitely had personality traits and conflicts that many people can relate to.

      So even though you're not alone in your criticism, no point for Seinfeld. The Office wins.