"Two decades ago, TV’s most distinctive stories were defined by a tone of ironic detachment. Today, they’re more often sincere and direct. How did we get here?" asks James Poniewozik. Recently, The Office UK marked its 20th anniversary with Ricky Gervais saying David Brent would now be canceled, a quote he later walked back. It was, says Poniewozik, "an odd claim to make right as his widely praised series was being celebrated for its two-decade anniversary. But if Gervais did not entirely have a point, he was at least near one. The Office might well be received differently if it were released today (if the Ricky Gervais of today would even create it). But the reasons go beyond cancellation to changes in TV’s narrative style — which have happened, at least in part, because The Office and shows like it existed in the first place. In TV’s ambitious comedies, as well as dramas, the arc of the last 20 years is not from bold risk-taking to spineless inoffensiveness. But it is, in broad terms, a shift from irony to sincerity. By 'irony' here, I don’t mean the popular equation of the term with cynicism or snark. I mean an ironic mode of narrative, in which what a show “thinks” is different from what its protagonist does. Two decades ago, TV’s most distinctive stories were defined by a tone of dark or acerbic detachment. Today, they’re more likely to be earnest and direct. You can see this change in the careers of some of the medium’s biggest stars and in its creative energy overall. You could chalk the shift up to burnout with cringe comedies and antihero stories, to exhaustion with the cultural weaponization of irony, to changes in the viewership and creators of TV — to all these and more. But the upshot is that, if David Brent would be out of place in 2021, it wouldn’t be because of the strictures of some cultural human-resources department; it would be because of the current vogue for TV that says things, for better or worse, like it means them." Poniewozik points out that some of TV's biggest figures, like Ryan Murphy and Stephen Colbert, have also evolved from being ironic to sincere. "You can even see this arc in the careers of individual artists," says Poniewozik. He adds: "Take Ryan Murphy, who went from dark-comic acid baths like the high school satire Popular and the mordant plastic-surgery drama Nip/Tuck to the idealistic Hollywood and the recently concluded Pose, a heart-on-its-sleeve celebration of the queer and transgender pioneers of the New York ballroom scene in the 1980s and 1990s. In between was Glee, which managed to be savage and sentimental at the same time. Or consider Stephen Colbert, who spent a decade on The Colbert Report playing himself as a blowhard conservative commentator, a deep-cover ironic immersion assignment that required narrative detaching not just from his show but, in a way, from himself. By the Trump era, Colbert was the host of CBS’s Late Show — still funny, still cutting, but delivering jokes from his authentic persona, becoming a Resistance-viewer favorite by spoofing the president directly, rather than killing him with fake kindness."