What would an episode of The Office be like set during the COVID-19 pandemic? Well, fans have already proposed that situation, with Michael Scott ignoring the work from home order. Meanwhile, in the real world, as many viewers are sheltering in place and binging The Office from the comfort and/or confinement of their own homes, two of the show’s Emmy-winning producers have come up with a series that does revolve around a ridiculous work-from-home scenario.
Paul Lieberstein, who also wrote and directed many episodes of The Office and played HR rep Toby Flenderson on screen, has re-teamed with Ben Silverman for a new series inspired by the current “new normal” around the world of remote working. The situation goes a step further to mine comedy, though, as the boss character on this show has ordered everyone to virtually work face to face all day, every day. Imagine having to be on Zoom with coworkers from nine to five.
Your first reaction to this opportunistic project might be to groan, but the inevitability of movies and TV series dealing with current events and current life will certainly bring about too many one-person-under-quarantine indies and an influx of movies set entirely on computer screens a la Searching and Unfriended. But there has to be some cream that floats to the top, and this very well could be that. At least The Newsroom, on which Lieberman was a producer, isn’t coming back.
The irony with critics claiming we don’t want this show is that a lot of those same critics are out here recommending films involving pandemics or characters in isolation. What’s the difference between finding content that exists that relates to the present crisis versus developing new content that more directly reflects this surreal modern life? It’s a bit exploitative, especially given that life is changed right now because of something that’s killing tens of thousands of people.
While Lieberstein and Silverman’s show sounds like it’s set during some sort of event mandating employees work from home, that wouldn’t have to be the case, and even if so that context wouldn’t necessarily need to be a coronavirus pandemic. And the truth is that remote employment had already been on the rise before it became an obligation in order to help fight the spread of disease, and it’s predicted to be even more common after all this is over.
This isn’t even the first project to be explicitly inspired by the pandemic. We’ve heard about a horror movie called Corona Zombies coming from Full Moon Features. And there’s Mostafa Keshvari’s quickly-completed Corona, a one-shot movie set in a stalled elevator where a woman is suspected of being infected. And while journalistic documentaries are expectedly already happening, there’s also a new darkly satirical desktop documentary featuring D-list celebrities giving bad advice.
As for Lieberstein and Silverman’s show, the thing is only in the works at a production company and not set for distribution on any network or streaming platform just yet. Maybe it’ll never see the light of day. But when it does, we can be optimistic that it’ll be of higher quality than other rushed-out coronavirus-inspired content. Trust Lieberstein’s already clever comment: “Start with the office comedy, lose the office and you’re just left with comedy. The math works.”