I’ve Watched Every Episode of ‘The Office’ Over 20 Times. I Finally Asked an Expert ‘Why?!’
I walk into my apartment after a long day at work and I am ready to unwind. Maybe I pour myself a half glass of sauvignon blanc (obviously something that was on sale at Trader Joe’s). Maybe I make myself a lavish snack plate of chocolate covered pretzels and Cheez-Its (or more likely just baby carrots cause, ya know, calories or whatever). I kick my feet up onto my coffee table, grab the remote and immediately, without any thought at all, pull up Netflix. What do I watch? The newest series from Ryan Murphy? That buzzed-about Meryl Streep movie where she stars opposite that guy from that thing (you know the one)? Nope. There is one option and one option only: I put on The Office.
Sure, it sounds like a harmless enough choice. But, you see, I have a problem. I choose to put on old episodes of The Office every single day of my life. And I have for years. In fact, I’ve watched the entire series of The Office more than 20 times all the way through (yes, all nine seasons). That means I’ve heard the joke “That’s what she said” over 1,000 times. As difficult as it is to admit (OK, it really isn’t that difficult, but whatever), I’m obsessed with rewatching the show...and I need to know why.
Obviously you’ve seen The Office and know what it is. But just in case you’ve only watched it through once and not 20 times, let me jog your memory: Michael Scott runs the Scranton branch of a paper company, Dunder Mifflin (offensive comments ensue); Pam and Jim flirt for two seasons then finally get together; Dwight puts Angela’s cat in the freezer; we spend the last two to three seasons trying to (unsuccessfully) recreate that Steve Carrell magic with everyone from Will Ferrell to James Spader.
But regardless of whether or not you agree with me about The Office being amazing, I’m definitely not alone in finding it just so easy to binge. The Chicago Tribune reports that The Office is the most watched show on Netflix. Even though it debuted back on NBC in 2005 and has been off the air since 2013, bingewatchers like me have made it #1 on the ’Flix.
For some context, The Tribune writes, “Nielsen looked at the numbers over a 12-month period and found that the show accounted for 45.8 billion minutes watched compared to the buzzy Netflix original Stranger Things, which clocked in at 27.6 billion minutes.”
Still, this begs the larger question: why?! With so many new shows and streaming platforms popping up each month, why do I, along with millions of others, keep returning to Dunder Mifflin?
Clearly, as a person who has yet to even turn on Orange Is the New Black, I’m in no position to self-diagnose. So I turned to the pros. Here, six reasons to explain my Office obsession, according to trained psychological experts.
1. Comfort and StabilityWe all have those times where we just need a nice warm hug at the end of the day. My hug just happens to come in the form of a mockumentary workplace comedy.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Tricia Wolanin, “When we re-watch television shows we are familiar with, we know what to expect from them. We know the emotions that will be felt again: laughter, fear, joy, reflection. If it is a series, it's as if we have lived with these characters and they are part of our friend circle. There's a sense of familiarity and connection, which is comforting to us to watch on screen. We immerse ourselves in their world, and there can be stability we can find there while our world may be chaotic. The shows are dependable.” Ever wonder why a toddler can watch Finding Dory again and again and again? Yep, it’s the same principle.
Dr. Wolanin also writes, “The characters are frozen in time, [and] watching these shows may also remind us of a time in our lives that we miss. They reference things in pop culture that may be non-existent today. Sometimes we want to be comforted with what we know versus trying to integrate or figure out a new world of characters into our lives.”
As a self-proclaimed crotchety-old-man-in-training, I get this. On more than one occasion, I’ve caught myself saying, “They just don’t make TV shows like they used to.” Also, watching the gang try to explain Glee to Phyllis or seeing Kelly and Erin planking around the office truly takes me back to a better, simpler time.
3. Choosing Is Hard
Sure, there’s a ton of content out there. But that also can be extremely overwhelming.
According to a recent study from Likewise TV, “half of streaming users say they spend too much time trying to find new things to watch and that number increases sharply for people with more services: 39% for people with 1 streaming service, 49% for people with 2-4, and 68% for those with 5 or more.”
I can definitely relate to this struggle. Succession or The Crown? Nailed It or The Great British Bake Off? The Office? No thinking required!
4. Sense of Family and CommunityClinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly maintains that following along with famous frenemies Dwight and Jim may actually help me feel a stronger sense of community.
She writes, “Some sitcoms, indeed, create a sense of family and community that can make the viewer feel heard, validated, and understood.”
This is particularly true with The Office. In fact, Michael calls out this sense of family in the very first season: "The most sacred thing I do is care and provide for my workers, my family. I give them money. I give them food. Not directly, but through the money. I heal them." Would I want Dwight as a brother? Absolutely not. But it’s hard for me to watch the show after all these years and not feel that same sense of kinship.
5. It’s Still Different Each Time
Of course, any non-bingewatcher will want to know, “Don’t you get bored rewatching the same series?” I would say “no,” but apparently there’s a reason.
“In a simplistic way, each time a show is viewed it is seen differently. The viewer sees things in the background that were missed or hears lines that were not totally understood. Sometimes the pace of the show is so quick that items are missed,” says Dr. Steven M. Sultanoff, clinical psychologist.
For instance, it probably wasn’t until my fourth or fifth viewing that I realized that Nick the IT Guy had previously appeared on the show in a scene with Pam at a school job fair. And who knows when I finally noticed that Stanley’s resolution on the office resolution board was “Be a better husband and boyfriend”?! There are so many hidden gems and layers that I probably still have yet to pick up on.
6. Oh, And It Feels Good
So why do I have such an addiction to watching Jan and Michael go full-on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? during my favorite episode, called “Dinner Party”?
Psychologist Dr. Jeff Nalin, founder and executive director at Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center, says, “Enjoyable activities, such as binge-watching, trigger the release of dopamine, our brain’s feel-good hormones. When these pleasure signals are on, we are less likely to disengage and stop what we’re doing. In fact, the addictive nature of binge-watching is comparable to a drug high, and as a result, we find ourselves consistently seeking the dopamine rush that makes us feel so good.”
And hey, if I can boost my mood with some Office dopamine and skip that trip to Planet Fitness for workout endorphins, sign me up!
So where does all of this leave me? Well, I certainly plan to continue rewatching this show (even when it switches over from Netflix to NBC’s new Peacock streaming service). But more to the point, it seems I’ve learned that watching reruns of The Office is my form of self-care. Some people need a bubble bath and a little Kenny G. I need Oscar secretly having an affair with Angela’s husband and Michael setting off the sprinklers during his candle-filled proposal to Holly. Bottom line: The Office is therapeutic. It’s familiar. And it never feels hard. That’s what she said.