Over the last few days, the folks at the Ringer have been running a “greatest TV character of the century” poll. While I didn’t take part, I was glad to see that Michael Scott from The Office took the top spot. Even though he may not be my personal favorite, he is quite the creation (even if his character is rooted in the original British version).
The poll paired with what has been at least a soft-stop to most of the entertainment industry has had some nice side-effects, one being this interview with Mike Schur, who has done more to make me smile over the last few years than anyone in the industry. A guiding force for The Office, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99, and The Good Place, he’s also had a hand in creating (or maybe mid-wifing) a number of great characters. The interview goes into some nice depth. It also includes links to some classic NBC comedy moments both recent and classic. Here’s a snippet from the interview:
Most comedies, I would say, are pretty lo-fi in terms of premise. They’re like a bunch of people hanging out somewhere in an office or in an apartment building in Manhattan. In that case, the discovery of the characters—you have some idea at the beginning. You can’t run a pilot without some idea of like, this is the funny one and this is the snarky one and this is the uptight one. But the characters are built brick by brick slowly by a large group of people over, hopefully, many, many years and hundreds of episodes. You have to know something about the world and something about the characters, it’s just what the ratio is at the beginning of the project.
The Office was being built off of the template from the British show, but there were only four characters who meant anything in the British show. There was David Brent and Gareth, Tim and Dawn, and everybody else was either a two-dimensional cipher or never got developed. When Greg [Daniels] brought the British version to America, he started with Michael Scott, Dwight Schrute, Jim Halpert, and Pam Beesly, and then filled that office with 20 other people. He had some idea of who Oscar was and who Phyllis was, but he very deliberately left them blank at the beginning because it was like, let’s do this organically. Let’s get a bunch of funny people in a room and pitch on, who are these people? What’s their personality trait? How do we learn about them?
At this point, Brooklyn 99 is the only show of Schur’s left airing currently. I was a late-comer to that show, binging it in the months leading up to it’s move from Fox to NBC. And I’m really glad I got on-board. It hasn’t had some of the obvious character evolution that we got in The Office or Parks and Rec (and the whole point of The Good Place was character evolution, so it doesn’t really count). But there’s just enough growth to feel like there’s some movement . . . and the jokes and running gags are some of the best out their (making it a little more like 30 Rock than anything else).
I enjoyed the article so much that it got me to watch the first episode of Cheers, a show I did not watch in its hey-day. Great episode with a nice set of comic turns (all while having some appropriate gravitas. It’s good to laugh, I think. And it’s good to have a place where you know everybody’s name, even if you’re just in the audience.