Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Daughter Is a British TV Janitor

On the (superior) Brit version of 'The Office,' about once every two episodes a janitor going about his business will move into view in the background. He'll stop whatever he's doing and stare into the camera with a severe case of Red Light-itis. The poor guy freezes, totally unable to move. The camera usually lingers on him a moment, then pans away or cuts to another scene.

NJ may have a future in cleaning suburban British office parks. She does the same thing.

Her smiles range from big, beautiful, open-mouthed beamers to wry little grins that see her lips pressed together in a light-hearted, innocent smirk. (She's too young to have her father's sarcasm, right? Maybe not -- she also does a single, arched Belushi eyebrow.) Recently she started really laughing, particularly at a language I made up specifically for the purpose of provoking guffaws. But whenever the camera, camcorder or iPhone is pointed at her, she clams up and looks at the device like it's the weirdest, most fantabulous thing she's ever seen (maybe it is, I don't know). And smiley NJ turns into curious, serious NJ. So for every photo we get like this:

There are a dozen or more in the series that look like this:

The smile photo is usually toward the end of the series. There's eight or nine shots of serious NJ studying the camera, then one with the beginnings of a smile, then a smile, then two or three like this one where she's past smiling and on to wondering why her mom and dad are acting like fools two feet away from her. Because to get that smile shot we end up really turning on the baby talk and silly behavior. (That usually means at least one good smile shot will be blurry because Dad shook the camera as he bounced around like a meth-addled chimp.)

The smile photo sessions usually start with a parent playing with NJ and realizing that she's laughing/smiling like a fool and rushing off for a photography device of some sort to capture the moment for all eternity. But retrieving the camera costs valuable time, and involves motion and maybe baby displacement, and once we're back the Red Light-itis sets in. It's like capturing lightning in a bottle.

On 'The Office,' it's a recurring gag that started off as a lark: The actor is the father of Stephen Merchant, who created the series with Ricky Gervais, and they just thought it would be funny to get his dad a bit part. What started off as a goof ended up being something 'The Office' fans ended up looking for expectantly, sort of a visual catch-phrase.

Here at home, I hope NJ grows out of it. I feel like I gain an extra ten minutes on my overall life span every time she laughs or smiles at me, so I'd like to see more of them. And one day when she's a sullen teen who sneers at every word that comes out of her father's mouth, I can remember a simpler, more innocent time when I could make her smile with a stream of jibberish.

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