Let me just start by saying this: Mike Judge is a national treasure.
Judge went to college at UC San Diego, where he majored in physics. His first job was as a programmer for the F18 fighter jet, and then later for a startup tech company in Silicon Valley called Parallax Graphics. He was bored. He quit after three months and became a bass player for a blues band. He started getting interested in animation and created a crudely-drawn series of shorts about life in an office with a strange character named Milton who was obsessed with his stapler.
This is the point in the story where—had this been me—my mother would have said to me: “Okay, enough with the monkey business. Time to get a real job and stop being a complete embarrassment to the family.” Which my mother actually did tell me. She was so mortified about me being a comedy writer on Roseanne that she lied to my grandmother for years about what I was up to in Los Angeles. (According to her, I was working on a magazine there. Because the very idea of telling her mother that her son, who she anticipated becoming a US Senator or a university professor, was, in fact, writing jokes for a cranky woman on television was too much to bear.)
Milton, however, was picked up by Comedy Central, and Judge later developed another animated series, Beavis and Butthead, followed by King of the Hill. And the rest, as they say, is history. To think that a physics major/bass guitarist for obscure bands would go on to create Office Space (1999) and the brilliant HBO series Silicon Valley—well, Bruce Springsteen was right: “from small things, mama, big things one day come.”
Let’s start with the origin story, Office Space (1999), Judge’s brilliant comedy about the inanities, idiocies, and petty frustrations of modern office life. Nobody is particularly smart, and most are lazy or spend their days dealing with the annoyances of the office: birthday parties, the malfunctioning fax machine, and the boss who seems to do nothing but wander around holding a coffee mug, pestering you about doing your TPS report. Office Space has a marvelous cast that includes Jennifer Aniston, Ron Livingston, Stephen Root, and Gary Cole. This is an astringent comedy. And worth watching over and over again because it is just so darn real.
In 2001, British comedian Ricky Gervais and his writing partner Stephen Merchant created The Office for the BBC. Clearly an heir to Judge’s film, The Office was a mockumentary about an office filled with oddities and cubicle-style annoyances. In 2005, Greg Daniels, who was Judge’s writing partner on King of the Hill, co-created the American version of Gervais’ series. While it took a season or so to find its voice, the US version of The Office went on to become one of the most beloved TV comedies of all time. Relentlessly acute about the realities of office workers’ lives, the series also became much more warm-hearted than the UK version, without sacrificing its edginess.
In 2009, Daniels created another office-based series, Parks and Recreation. In fact, now that I think of it, Greg Daniels is a national treasure, too. Originally intended as a political satire, it became a sweet portrayal of life at city hall in a Midwest town. It bears more in common with Dylan Thomas’ play Under Milk Wood (1972) than a political satire. Parks and Recreation is another large ensemble workplace comedy, centered around Amy Poehler as the brilliantly neurotic civic do-gooder and head of the Parks Dept. in Pawnee, Indiana. It’s an incredible cast.
And then there’s yet another Mike Judge creation: the gloriously funny HBO comedy Silicon Valley. Having worked in a number of tech startups, I can tell you that it’s painfully accurate, particularly the parts about dealing with Venture Capitalists, who have to be among the most annoying smart people on the planet. And if you have any questions as to how smart they are, be sure to ask. Most of them should have a copy of their SAT scores in the pocket of their open collar, custom-made Egyptian cotton dress shirts.
So I guess here is what I am recommending all of you do.
Weekend 1: Rent Office Space
Weekend 2: Rent the UK version of The Office (all episodes)
Weekend 3: Rent Season 1 of the US version of The Office
Weekend 4: Rent Season 1 of Parks and Recreation
Weekend 5: Rent Season 1 of Silicon Valley
Continue on this course of viewing until you have watched every single episode of each of these series. By the time you finish, it will be almost next year. Granted, there is a risk that your social life will completely fall apart and you will have no friends by the end of this process. But you will be so happy about all the wonderful comedy brought to you by Official U.S. National Treasures Mike Judge and Greg Daniels, that who needs friends?
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.