I’m From Scranton. Yes, As In The Office.
By: Connor Lenahan
Ten years ago yesterday the world of television comedy got much brighter. That’s because NBC had just premiered what would become one of its most iconic programs in history, The Office. As hard as it is to believe, and as old as it makes me feel, The Office has now hit double digits. We have had characters like Michael Scott, Dwight Schrute, Jim Halpert, Pam Halpert, and Creed for a decade. I’m not sure there is a person out in the world today arguing that this is anything less than a blessing. We were gifted with a rich cast of characters that more than carved out their place in television history.
There certainly isn’t a person that I grew up with that has anything but admiration for the show. That’s because it’s our show. It’s odd to physically claim ownership of a show I had no business creating, but here’s it’s appropriate. That’s because The Office introduced the world at large to my hometown of Scranton, PA. This has created what can now accurately be described as a decade of the same conversation.
“Where are you from”
“I’m from Scranton.”
“Oh, like The Office?”
“Yeah that’s us.”
And then on occasion there are questions about the street address and possible existence of Dunder Mifflin. Sadly, my printer paper normally comes from Staples and not the greatest paper distributor the world has ever known.
The number of times I have had the above conversation falls between one million and one trillion. The amount of times I have had the above conversation verbatim is almost frightening.
It’s a interesting thing, especially now, that The Office ever picked Scranton. Apparently it was because we are two hour south of New York City and seemed like a good fit for what the story was trying to tell. But even weirder yet was that Scranton was picked over a fictional town.
Think about it. If you go down the list of iconic comedy shows in recent memory you find an odd, yet completely understandable trend. Parks and Recreation has Pawnee, Indiana. The Simpsons has Springfield. Family Guy has Quahog, Rhode Island. Community has Greendale, Colorado. None of these towns are real. That’s by design. The reason that these shows shy away from reality is because the ability to bend and shape the city to meet their needs makes these shows great. Greendale Community College can throw reality to the wind and become a paintball war zone at the drop of a hat. Quahog balances being a small New England town while also having a bustling downtown area when it wants. Springfield is either a small community or a rival to Los Angeles and New York depending on what the story needs (Everyone shops at the Kwik-E-Mart, but they got The Who to come play a stadium show). Pawnee has more than one tabloid, regularly used to mock Leslie Knope, despite the fact they are nowhere near as large as, say, Indianapolis. But that’s what made each of these shows work. By playing in an ever-growing sandbox it allowed for stories to grow and creativity to run free.
Even shows with real settings seemingly stuck to the cultural capitals of each coast: Los Angeles (The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, probably Scrubs, Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and New York City (30 Rock, Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother, Everybody Loves Raymond, I Love Lucy). This makes sense. The easiest way to connect with an audience is to allow them to identify with their surroundings. Putting a show in a giant TV market allows that. Alternatively, allowing a show to let viewers learn their surroundings alongside the characters has worked wonders for all the fictional towns above.
But it’s because of this that The Office prospered. It created a raised bar of creativity. Sure, there were liberties taken with what is actually in Scranton. My friend Elyse Notarianni wrote an article to that extent earlier this year. But by exploring and representing what Scranton was in real life it allowed for the show to take a unique feel to it. New York is understood to the point that every show is familiar. Having to learn Scranton allowed viewers to know things about where I grew up that could only be known by being there. The Office changed that.
It was the little things that made The Office special for my friends and neighbors. In an early episode of the series where Michael and his co workers play the guys from the loading dock in basketball the bet on the game is lunch at Farley’s. This could be seen by those on the outside looking in as a random restaurant. For me it was the most incredible thing I had ever heard. That’s because Farley’s was my favorite restaurant in the city, and possibly the country, until it closed three years ago. My family is even close friends with the family that owned it. To hear Michael Scott wager burgers on a game at a place that I visited regularly was cool to a point that I still bring this up ten years later.
The Dunder Mifflin office would feature things that were regular parts of my day to day life. Pam had a small purple and white scarf from the University of Scranton at her desk in almost every episode. That’s where both of my parents went to college and met for the first time. Characters read The Times Tribune in the break room, the paper that was on my kitchen counter every day. They would casually mention stores and shops that I would go by normally. They didn’t fictionalize Scranton much. They really decided to make Scranton as much a character as anyone else.
That’s at least a part of why everyone I know loves The Office. We were lucky in the fact that the show became not only a hit, but one of the best shows on television. The fact that I have been asked if my hometown is the same as where the show took place as often as I have shows how deep The Office has made its way into our society. Everyone knows it. This might be an exaggeration, but by less than you’d imagine.
Because it was such a wonderful show and did right by my home it became more or less the defining part of the town. Scranton, like every other part of the country, has had its fair share of struggles in the past couple years. We made national news on more than one occasion. However, no one brings up the bad stuff. People only ask about where they can get some quality paper products. It makes me laugh in the best way. Because then it brings up memories of the show and all the good it has done for our town. The cast came to visit and were treated like royalty. To us they are. They took a small, northeastern Pennsylvania town and allowed it to enter a cultural conversation with the largest cities in the country. That’s cool. No one is taking that away from us. That’s why we will always love The Office.
It really exists. If you want you can come visit me at home and look around the places that you’ve only heard mentioned in the Dunder Mifflin offices. I’d be glad to show you. Everyone in the town would. It’s our show. It’s our home. Ten years later and it’s still an amazing part of our lives. It always will be.