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"Office" Workers: Catching Up with Greg Daniels and Rainn Wilson

Doesn't it seem like forever ago that we were complaining about those one-hour installments of The Office, only to have the series return for one half-hour episode and then vanish into the ether during the writers strike?

The Office finally returns to NBC on April 10th, with six new half-hour episodes planned for the rest of this season. What should we expect for those episodes? Let's check in with showrunner Greg Daniels and co-star Rainn Wilson to find out.

In typical Office fashion, Daniels joked about the direction the remainder of the fourth season will go in. "We're going to play with time a lot, I think," said Daniels. "Like Lost. It’s going to get suddenly weirdly sci-fi." (So does that make Dwight the constant?) Wilson agrees: "There’ll be a hatch under Dwight’s desk."

Any chance of a reconciliation between Dwight and Angela? "Where there's life, there's hope," hinted Daniels.

While Wilson was uncharacteristically non-committal about the possibility of their being a new love interest for lovelorn Dwight, he did hint at some romantic skeletons in Dwight's mustard-colored-shirt-filled closet. "Ex-girlfriends - yeah," said Wilson. "I think we’ll be seeing a lot more sides... a lot more facets of Dwight when it comes to dating and women."

Wilson continues: "I want to say that this is something that I love about this show is that every season--even every episode, every couple of episodes--there’s always some new aspect of Dwight that Greg and the writers want to explore. And that’s such a rare thing. So many shows have their comic sidekick character and they do XY and Z. But I get emotional stories and comedic stories, and family stories and lots of different textures. I really appreciate getting to do that as an actor."


Sadly, Stephen Merchant--who was supposed to direct the Christmas episode--won't be back for one of those half-dozen episodes. Executive producer Greg Daniels says that they are hard at work to get Merchant to helm an episode next season.

Daniels himself is a huge fan of the original British Office--created by Merchant and Ricky Gervais--though he feels that the American version has largely become its own beast.

"I think the British version is really, really great and I actually love the British version," said Daniels. "When you look at the scripts for the British version, I think they resemble the scripts for the American version. But they made some decisions to really go very bleak with the production of it and it matched what they were trying to do, which was to be very satiric and paint a very bleak picture of what this world was like. We had an aim to be more of a character comedy that was less satiric and more about the ups and downs of the characters. And knowing that we were going to be on for a lot longer, you know, we wanted to see positive sides to the characters, too."

So when does Daniels feel that the American Office finally clicked then? "I don’t think we really got it 100% right until the second season in terms of the mix and the tone," said Daniels, "although I really like our first season. I think it’s really funny. But once we started to have moments, you know, where - for example where, you know, Dwight is crushed at leaving his work or stuff like that, it kind of opens the characters up in a way where you feel a little bit more for them and you’re also, I think, uncertain as to what’s going to happen next because he might have a moment where you feel for them and then on the other hand, you might have a moment where they’re really just being played for laughs."

As for that Christmas-themed installment (the next one planned after production was shut down), Daniels says that they'll use some of the rough draft that had been written. ("It wasn’t 100% finished, the script," said Daniels. "But we’ll cannibalize it and use pieces of it.")

So what changes can we expect in lieu of the truncated season? "We had some stuff that we were planning for the end of the year and we didn’t end up having enough time to do what we had planned," said Daniels. "But we came up with some other alternatives, things which we really like a lot and it’s probably good that way for the creative process. We didn’t have a lot of stuff that we scrapped because we only had the one episode ready to be shot and that’s the one we came back with where they’re invited out to the dinner party."

The episode Daniels is referring to is slated to air on April 10th, when The Office returns from its painfully long hiatus, in which Michael and Jan invite Pam and Jim over for a dinner party. So where's Dwight in all of this? "Well, you have to tune in on April 10 to find out," said Wilson. "It’s amazing what happens. It’s going to rock your world."

Last fall, The Office was the first series to shut down during the WGA strike in the midst of shooting an episode. What did Daniels and Wilson do during the unexpected downtime in the middle of the television season?

"I just walked in circles a lot waving the placard and didn’t travel anywhere or do anything," recounted Daniels. "But the first day that we came back was very good for the writing staff because this was the longest break that we had had since the show started and people had time to kind of recharge their batteries in a good way. So we had a lot of fun tossing out ideas on our first day back."

"I did a little bit of picketing," said Wilson. "I played a lot with my three and a half year old son, which was good. I think the strike was terribly painful for the families of Los Angeles--the working families of Los Angeles, but it was also great for the families of Los Angeles. I went to Israel and I did some writing. And I worked on my backhand with my Zen tennis coach."

Of course, Dwight would have had a vastly different experience if, say, Dunder-Mifflin ever went on strike, according to Wilson: "If Dunder Mifflin went on strike, you know what Dwight would do? Dwight would join the Pinkertons and he would immediately try and bust the strike. And he’d work for management. He’d go to corporate headquarters and figure out a way to bust up the union--maybe kind of join as a secret--under a different identity and rabble rouse, and be a counteragent. But he would love to join the Pinkertons, wear one of those hats, maybe carry a derringer and be a badass."

I think my head just exploded.

As for the much-beloved Schrute Space (Wilson's in-character Dwight blog), Wilson admitted that he sadly wasn't writing the pieces himself anymore. "I kind of passed the torch off to one of the writers this year," said Wilson. "I just was getting too busy and too much on my plate. And, you know, there’s a lot more press obligations and I’m working on some screenplays and stuff like that. I think the blog was the perfect outlet for Dwight because blogs are the first terrible creation of the 21st century, as people write about what movies they rented and what happened when they went to the drycleaners. And I think Dwight just loves to hold forth with a captive audience. So blogging was a perfect extension of the character."

Does the cast go just as crazy as us real-life office folk who sit in their cubicles all day? "We all go a little bit mad even in the office setting, about eight hours into sitting under those fluorescent lights on the set of The Office," said Wilson. "[We surf] the web, and there’s only so many times you can check to see if a bomb has gone off somewhere. We start to go a little bit stir crazy and things start to get out of hand. Recently we’ve kept ourselves entertained by doing Brian Baumgartner imitations and coaxing Ed Helms to do all of his imitations. He does an incredible Tom Brokaw and we love to have him say albondigas--the soup albondigas--as Tom Brokaw."

Finally, what clues can Daniels give us about what to expect when The Office returns next month and that dinner party episode?

"It's kind of a charged situation where Michael has been asking Pam and Jim to come have dinner with him and Jan over and over, and over again," said Daniels. "He finally manages this, through this kind of scam, to destroy all their excuses. And it just happens to be after the previous episode which is when he went to New York to try and help Jan with her deposition and he kind of blew her sort of wrongful termination lawsuit. So there’s a lot of tension between them in that episode."

"And then coming up we have some episodes that, you know, follow off on that," continues Daniels. "Some of them involve the character of Ryan whose website initiative started the season off and is kind of crumbling underneath him and has become infested with sexual predators... which is just one of the problems his website has. And we have episodes coming up where Dwight and Michael are going to [join] Ryan in some of his club-hopping New York partying and try to get involved in his life a little bit more. But there’s some cool, weird things happening that I can’t talk about and you’ll just have to see it to truly enjoy all the twists and turns."

You heard it here. Set your TiVos: The Office returns April 10th on NBC.


Anonymous said…
The good thing about the long break for "The Office" is that, hopefully, it gave us all time to forget those bland one hour episodes. I love the show but, aside for a special Christmas episode here and there, it definitely works better in a half hour format.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the great interview! I miss my deranged "Office" co-workers and can't wait to see what they come up with for Dwight's ex-girlfriend.

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