Last month marked the season finale of NBC's The Office -- the only half-hour comedy I expect to miss over the summer. With its depiction of cringe-inducing sensitivity training and tin-eared exercises in building morale, the program captures all that is circle-of-hell-ish about office life. There are occasional flashes of grace: Michael's salesmanship. Pam's emotional intelligence. But this is very dark territory: humiliation, harassment, scheming, bullying, insincerity, (justifiable) disdain for leadership. If I worked someplace remotely like Dunder Mifflin, I would be cowering behind the sofa every time the program came on.
The Office plays especially well in the dark days of winter. To sustain me through the summer, I look forward to sunnier fare. Specifically, I'll be watching DVDs of Sports Night -- my favorite workplace-centric program until The Office premiered on the BBC. If The Office is the Dante's Inferno of workplace comedy, Sports Night is the Paradiso.
Sports Night survived only two seasons on ABC, probably because people like me didn't watch it until it surfaced in reruns on Comedy Central. (The title put me off. Skee ball excepted, sports ain't my bag.) The program focused on the staff of a late-night SportsCenter-style program, who grappled with insane deadlines and frustrating love lives. The talents involved were formidable: pre-West Wing Aaron Sorkin, pre-Six Feet Under Peter Krause, and pre-Desperate Housewives (but still often desperate) Felicity Huffman among them.