After six weeks without a new episode of The Office, we were thrilled to be back with the Scranton branch last night (read our recap here). And when it started with Michael tooling around on a Segway, trying to convince an investment banker (hey, it’s “that guy” from The Wire, Damages, and Flight of the Conchords!), we were happy to see last year’s corporate-sale story line progressing apace. But about five minutes into the episode, we suddenly realized, “Hey, wait, this is nothing but a clip show!” It felt especially jarring, because we haven’t seen one of its ilk in a while: The sitcom “highlights episode” used to be so commonplace, but has gone the way of the TV theme song.
Sitcoms used to always throw up a clip show about midway through a season. They gave busy writers a breather, and also inspired audience nostalgia for seasons past. (Still works: Aw, remember when Jim and Pam weren’t dating yet? And when Jim’s hair looked slightly different? And when Ryan was actually in the show?) Seinfeld did a few of them through its run; an hourlong highlight reel ran before its 1998 finale. But back then, there was no way other than reruns (and some DVDs) to see your favorite TV scenes; no YouTube, no Hulu, no DVR. Which is why last night’s episode of The Office felt so weird. Yes, it was funny to see Dwight trapping a bat using Meredith’s head, but one Google search will pull up the clip in a matter of seconds. That’s not to say we don’t appreciate an occasional writer-curated clip show in theory, knowing that these are scenes that they wrote that they also find hilarious. But in practice, it felt downright dinosaur-ish.
Perhaps another big reason we don’t see clip shows much anymore is that so few sitcoms today are around long enough to gather enough scenes to fill a clip show. In the seventies, eighties, and nineties, there were more comedies, and they stayed on much longer. The number of shows right now that could warrant the format is relatively small. In addition to The Office, there’s the Simpsons, Family Guy, Two and a Half Men (which may run clip shows all the time, we don’t know; we don’t watch it), How I Met Your Mother, and that’s about it. Is the clip show a thing of the past? Now we’re feeling nostalgic: Can someone make us a clip show of old clip shows?