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Non-Fiction

The Office in Blue:
How The Office (U.S.) uses the color blue
And how it relates to the overall messages of the show

Part 1 of 3

November 9, 2021

     The color blue is a color used regularly and with purpose throughout the television series The Office (U.S.). While the use of such a common color may at first seem like an innocuous design choice with minimal meaning, if we truly examine who the color is assigned to and when the color is assigned, then we are able to understand some of the deeper meanings of the show. Messages of innocence, youth, friendship, bravery sympathy, boldness, kindness, friendship, and love all reveal themselves when we look a little closer at this cool color shade. 

Ryan Howard: 

 

     The earliest, most noticeable use of the color blue as a storytelling device in The Office (U.S.) is with the character of Ryan Howard, specifically, in the earlier seasons when he is still playing the role of inexperienced and young yet driven temporary (temp.) worker.

     Before discussing Ryan, it is important to examine the origins of The Office (U.S). The Pilot episode of The Office(U.S.) is a close replica of the original British version of the show. Thus, there exists a similar color palette. The cold, drab, desaturated look of the British show is mirrored quite faithfully in the U.S. version. 

     

     All the main characters are dressed and presented in light or neutral colors, which are furthermore desaturated. Costume designer Carey Bennett stated on the Office Ladies podcast that she felt uneasy about having so many characters wear the color white. However, her fears were calmed by director Ken Kwapis who felt certain it was the right decision as it helped create the air of an authentic office workplace (“Revisited with Carey Bennett” 24:00). With the creation of an authentic office workplace also comes the replication of authentic stagnation, monotony, and boredom. The repetitive, bland color scheme helps to create the lifeless, soul-sucking feeling of working a passionless job. The show seems to say that working under florescent lights and breathing in the air from artificial plants is enough to drain anyone of their life energy. Jim exemplifies this as he so often “dies of boredom.” 

     

     Jim is often described as the “audience’s surrogate,” he is the character that most of the audience can relate to and identify with. He is the “straight character,” in a cast of otherwise outlandish characters. Yet even Jim is tainted by the ill touch of dull, monotone office life as he is shown wearing white and grey in the pilot episode. The lack of a suit jacket allows him to further blend into the static and colorless office. Jim is the character who later becomes most associated with the color blue (something we will discuss later in part three of this analysis). Yet in the pilot episode, Jim is an equal part of the colorless office ecosystem. 

     

     

     In contrast to Jim, Ryan in the pilot episode has not yet been introduced into this mediocre world. In the Pilot, Ryan is as untouched and untainted from office work as possible as we see he is starting his first day of work. Thus, as an outsider, Ryan should have some sort of visual indicator of his status. While the rest of the characters wear whites and washed-out pastel colors, Ryan wears a navy-blue suit, light blue shirt, and a dark blue tie.

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

     It is clear to see just how vividly he stands out amongst the other characters and amongst the backdrop of the office. Amongst the tapestry of office whites, browns, and beiges, Ryan stands out. Ryan carries this dark yet vibrant aesthetic throughout most of the first three seasons. He is almost always wearing a shade of blue. 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

     When season four beings, Ryan becomes a corporate figure. Consequently, Ryan adopts the color black as his primary color. It is obvious to see that as he gains more power and feigns more authority, his visual aesthetic becomes darker and bleaker. It is a clear visual indication of his creeping corruption and slow yet ultimate unraveling. It is fascinating to compare Ryan’s aesthetic from before he became a corporate figure to after. Ryan goes from being a clean-faced, baby-blue eyed young adult to a sinister, antagonistic, contemporary corporate devil-type of figure shaded in all black. And Ryan loses his innocence. 

     As the show progresses beyond season four, Ryan devolves and becomes a somewhat stagnant character. After his failed attempt as the corporate figure, Ryan is reduced once more to the position of office temp. Ryan is both the punching bag for the office staff in-universe as well as for the actual writer’s staff who wrote the show. After his descent from corporate, Ryan takes on a variety of different aesthetics / outfits. Yet he never returns to his dark and vibrant blues. It is as if that old, naive part of him is gone. It is as if he cannot return to the innocent person he once was. And it is as if his youth, vigor, drive, and innocence have been stripped from him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

     

     The shades of blue that represented his innocence, naivety, vibrancy, determination, drive, and individualism are gone. After being introduced into the ecosystem of the American workplace; rapidly reach the top; and then plummet downward spectacularly, Ryan simply cannot return to his vibrant; self-determined; and self-motivated self. He cannot return to his individualism. He cannot return to his position as an outsider. It is all the more a shame because in season two, episode four, “The Fire,” Ryan plainly mentions how much he values his position as someone slightly on the outside and not quite a part of the regular office staff. He says, “I don’t want to be like ‘a guy’ here. You know? Like, Stanley is the ‘crossword puzzle guy.’ And Angela has cats. I don’t want to have a thing… here. You know, I don’t want to be the ‘something guy’” (“The Fire” 6:16). However, due to his actions and shortcomings, Ryan fulfils his own dreaded prophecy and cements himself as a part of the office gallery. 

     In-universe, Ryan eventually becomes a fixed part of the Dunder Mifflin Scranton’s madhouse of eccentric characters. Contextually, Ryan becomes another victim of the modern, American workplace. The Office is written with many partially stereotyped representations. Michael is a representation of all the insufferable bosses throughout the country. Angela is a representation of the dime-a-dozen ill-tempered co-workers. Toby is a representation of the cliché joyless H.R. representative. And so forth. And so forth. Ryan ultimately becomes another representation of the modern American workplace. Ryan engraves his place, no longer as a newcomer but as the failed protégée; Icarus who flew too close to the sun. Though his stereotype is not as storied as the others, Ryan ultimately becomes the representation of failed youth. He is the representation of a failed millennial worker. And, unfortunately, he becomes what he had hoped to avoid as he ingrains himself surely in this pantheon of office stereotypes.

 

     Ryan’s character throughout the show goes through so many drastic and often volatile changes. He begins as the young, inexperienced, new worker who then gets promoted far too soon to a job that he is highly underqualified for. He then crashes and burns and spends the rest of the series as a failed millennial worker. At the start of the show, we can laugh at how “normal” Ryan is compared to the rest of the cast of characters. We can laugh at his fish-out-of-water status. And as the show progresses it is far too easy to laugh at the comedic elements of Ryan’s chaotic career. Yet it is also possible to learn from the tragic elements of it. If the audience were to take anything away from Ryan and his wild, unpredictable journey it should come from the more introspective elements of it. 

     The reality is that Ryan “grew up” a little too fast. Professionally, Ryan simply received a promotion in the form of an executive job offer. He is promoted to a corporate level position before he even makes a sale. Despite being a smart and well-educated guy, Ryan is far too inexperienced to receive the corporate level job offer. Yet perhaps more importantly, Ryan makes the choice to move on before he is truly emotionally / internally ready. Ryan moves onto a stage in his life that he simply was not ready for. He “grows up” before he is meant to. Consequently, he does not handle, the stress, pressure, or expectations all too well. The writers play around with Ryan and his naivety and internal child. In season five, episode one “weight loss,” Ryan says, “I wanted to say I'm sorry, for treating you bad the past couple years. I was in my mid-twenties and I was… going through a lot of stuff. I think I never really processed 9/11. I want you to know I've changed” (“Weight Loss” 4:45). The statement of Ryan simply being in his mid-twenties paired with the joke of Ryan never truly processing 9/11 is played for humor but it does allude to the reality that Ryan is still mentally / emotionally young. Similarly, later in season eight, episode seventeen “Test the Store,” Ryan needs Jim to impersonate his mother and say the same kind of gentle things she would say to Ryan. Yet Ryan still succumbs to his nerves, anxiety, and is unable to handle the pressure. He runs away and states that he needs to go see his mother (“Test the Store” 11:11). Even though the writers are clearly playing around with the idea of a coddled and pampered millennial, it is also clear to see that behind the cold exterior of a self-made intellectual, there is still an inner child within Ryan.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      So what the audience can take away from all this is maybe we should not be in such a hurry to “grow up.” Maybe we should take the time to look around, learn from those around us, and especially appreciate those around. Perhaps if Ryan did so, he could have learned somethings from Michael, Jim, Dwight, or the others. Perhaps if Ryan did so he could have realized how important Kelly truly was to him.  

     We should all do well to remember that whenever it is time to move on, to whatever stage of life, maybe we should hold onto a little bit of innocence, naivety, curiosity, friendliness, and youth. No matter how much we age, we can always be a bit young at heart. No matter wherever or whenever we may be, we can always carry a few shades of vibrant blue to contrast whenever the background gets a little too colorless. 

 

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The Office (U.K.) (left) set the bland aesthetic and dry tone that The Office (U.S.) (right) would initially attempt to replicate. 

Jim uses his disdain for his boring job to playfully flirt with pam, it is the one thing that keeps him lively. 

Jim in the earlier seasons (left) blends into the scenery while 

Jim in the mid-later seasons (right) stands out ever so slightly due to his use of calming blue.

Ryan, Michael, and Dwight in the pilot episode. Ryan, and his aesthetic, visually pops out of every frame. 

Ryan shown throughout seasons one through three, always in a shade of blue. 

A bright-eyed Ryan (left) compared to “corporate devil” Ryan (right).

Ryan’s aesthetic starting from seasons four until the conclusion of the show ranges in color and style, but it never returns to the vibrant dark blue he once always wore.  

A tender moment between Ryan and Kelly as he comforts her 

after hearing Robert California’s Halloween speech on fear.  

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Ryan with his mother.

Ryan  

Works Cited

 

     “Boys and Girls.” The Office (U.S.), season 2, episode 15, NBC, 2 Feb. 2006. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000007007_01/cf0e5963-c40f-32a8-89c7-0f47fa4fa6fb

 

     “Branch Closing.” The Office (U.S.), season 3, episode 6, NBC, 9 Nov. 2006. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000007203_01/308272c2-6ab6-35da-8476-038beceabcdf

 

     “Broke.” The Office (U.S.), season 5, episode 25, NBC, 23 Apr. 2009. Peacock, www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000007442_01/151e309b-24a6-31e6-bbe3-86494fe76ec8

 

     “Classy Christmas.” The Office (U.S.), season 7, episode 11, NBC, 9 Dec. 2010. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000007856_01/a971ef84-fc48-31f6-a97a-fb1b8757d9e1

     “David Wallace Makes Ryan Cry (EXCLUSIVE) - The Office US.” YouTube, uploaded by The Office , Nov 5, 2019https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYUyGZMJTSc&t=177s

 

     Krasinski, John, performer. The Office. Deedle-Dee Productions and Universal Media Studios, 2005-2013.

 

     “Manager and Salesman.” The Office (U.S.), season 6, episode 16, NBC, 11 Feb. 2010. Peacock, www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000001670_01/3927d6dd-c4cc-3ad6-b56f-e8cc6d23891a

 

     “Money.” The Office (U.S.), season 4, episode 4, NBC, 18 Oct. 2007. Peacock, www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000007353_01/085915dc-b8a2-3765-9e2a-8a9194695c0d

 

     Novak, B.J., performer. The Office. Deedle-Dee Productions and Universal Media Studios, 2005-2013. 

 

     “Office Olympics.” The Office (U.S.), season 2, episode 3, NBC, 4 Oct. 2005. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000007021_01/7f3dc7a8-b0ea-35c7-8157-1cbf58fe1e3b

 

     “Pilot.” The Office (U.K.), season 1, episode 1, BBC Two, London 7 Sep. 2002. 

 

     “Pilot.” The Office (U.S.), season 1, episode 1, NBC, 24 Mar. 2005. Peacock, www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000059625_01/58fabbf4-9291-3575-bcdc-bd25eee192c8

 

     “Revisited with Carey Bennett.” Office Ladies from Earwolf, 16 June 2021, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/office-ladies/id1480311435?i=1000525688429

 

     “Search Committee.” The Office (U.S.), season 7, episode 26, NBC, 19 May 2011. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000001859_01/525dc111-61fc-35a6-a796-04432f521e41

 

     “Spooked.” The Office (U.S.), season 8, episode 5, NBC, 27 Oct. 2011. Peacock, https://www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000008161_01/1eaaadfc-22b2-38fd-9951-043b86d563cd

 

     “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” The Office (U.S.), season 2, episode 18, NBC, 16 Mar. 2006. Peacock, www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000007039_01/1b4a873f-0c86-3693-9a3b-e806547ff470

 

     “Test the Store.” The Office (U.S.), season 8, episode 11, NBC, 1 Mar. 2012. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000008070_01/10d91c89-7250-31b4-9038-ded2d386e6d9

 

     “The Client.” The Office (U.S.), season 2, episode 7, NBC, 8 Nov. 2005. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000006914_01/be1e1bc4-824d-392a-813c-3335e9b9660b

 

     “The Fire.” The Office (U.S.), season 2, episode 4, NBC, 11 Oct. 2005. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000006974_01/d45af45d-3ada-3099-825d-4abb7e6363c8

 

     “The Job.” The Office (U.S.), season 3, episode 23, NBC, 17 May 2007. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000007155_01/22451185-47b2-3c20-a9a7-f35e67a02785

 

     “The Meeting.” The Office (U.S.), season 6, episode 3, NBC, 24 Sep. 2009. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000001674_01/56068a96-43d9-3f0f-9d87-11049041dad3

 

     “Valentine’s Day.” The Office (U.S.), season 2, episode 16, NBC, 9 Feb. 2006. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000006997_01/228470fb-5594-3c00-8fad-81e2ef494868

 

     “Weight Loss.” The Office (U.S.), season 5, episode 1, NBC, 25 Sep. 2008. Peacock,www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000007597_01/4e7b9281-a53a-341d-85c7-1bc47ee972b1

 

     “Whistleblower.” The Office (U.S.), season 6, episode 26, NBC, 20 May 2010. Peacock, www.peacocktv.com/watch/playback/vod/GMO_00000000001812_01/0e2d637f-5b1d-348e-a86b-443af0f70687

The Office Blue Ryan
Bio Contact (Ryan)

BIO

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Miguel is a writer, editor, photographer, videographer, and content creator. He has had an interest in literature ever since a young age and has developed a passion for visual storytelling over the years. He is fluent in English & Spanish, proficient in French, and learning Japanese. Recently, he graduated from the Columbia Publishing Course, Oxford. Prior to that he obtained his Master of Arts degree in Literature from The University of Kent Paris.

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