‘The Office’: How ‘Dinner Party’ Was Inspired by the British Version of the Show
“Dinner Party” reserves a special place in the hearts of The Office fans. There’s nothing quite like watching Michael and Jan’s insanely toxic relationship unravel in a fiery, explosive train-wreck in one neatly packed 22-minute episode.
Fans may notice a slight tonal difference in “Dinner Party” and, according to the episode’s writers, that is intentional. The infamous episode was inspired by the British version of The Office.
How ‘Dinner Party’ was inspired by the British version of ‘The Office’
The main difference between the British and American versions of The Office is the humor. The British version tends to skew darker. The writers of “Dinner Party,” Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, wanted the episode to be a bit darker, like the show’s British counterpart.
“There’s a quote, ‘How do you make someone laugh? You show someone falling down. How do you get a comedy writer to laugh? Show a guy pushing a woman down the stairs.’ I’m paraphrasing, but there’s something to that,” Stupnitsky told Rolling Stone in 2018. “The darker, usually, the funnier to us. We’re such huge fans of the British Office and we wanted to write an episode more in that tone.”
Also like the British version of the show, “Dinner Party” plays a lot with awkward pauses.
“An episode like this lives a lot in the awkward pauses,” said Eisenberg. “A line would happen and the audience, along with the people at the dinner, would just kind of sit there and let it hang. And so the rhythms of this episode are slightly different.”
The network thought ‘Dinner Party’ was ‘really, really dark’
After each episode of The Office was written it’d get notes from the network before it got the OK to be filmed. After the “Dinner Party” writers sent over the episode, the network had one major note: “This script is really, really dark.”
“So the writers got called in to the office to hear the notes [from the network],” Eisenberg tells the publication. “[Executive producer] Greg [Daniels] gets on the phone and the executives are on the other line, on speakerphone. Only the writers have read the scripts so far and this is, you know, before the table read, and they get on the phone, and they go, ‘This script is really, really dark.’ And Greg said, ‘Yeah.’ And there’s a pause and they said, ‘It’s really dark.’ And Greg said, ‘Yeah. It is.’ And they go, ‘It’s really dark.’ And he goes, ‘Yup.’ And then he goes, ‘OK, anything else, guys?’ And they said, ‘Uh . . . nope.’ They hung up and that was it. They didn’t offer any other notes.”
At that time, The Office was the number one comedy on NBC so, as Daniels puts it, they “had earned some leeway.”
Besides, the executive producer doesn’t think “Dinner Party” is too dark anyway. It has plenty of redeeming moments.
“Jan and Michael were never supposed to work out, so I think there is an element of relief and hope that they break up,” he said. “There are some nice moments, like Dwight taking Michael in at the end, or Jan trying to glue the Dundie [award] back together or Michael trying to take the blame with the police, so it wasn’t too dark, in my opinion.”