THE OFFICE: A (Mostly) Fond Farewell
Tomorrow, the last ever episode of The Office will air (#200 or #201, depending on how you incorporate hour-long episodes into your particular numbering scheme), bringing an end to a nine-year run of a powerhouse comedy that has simultaneously entertained and frustrated its fans like perhaps no other television program in recent history. How do I feel about it? It’s complicated. So before I get into the meat and potatoes of my feelings, allow me to pass along a quick anecdote first.
For no discernible reason, apart from being (as most movie fans are) a masochist in many respects, I decided to watch a film called Trail of the Pink Panther earlier this week. Despite being a big fan of the Pink Panther series of films, I had never watched this particular installment, for reasons quite clear to those who know anything about it. If you’re not overly familiar with the franchise, the first four or five movies vary from ‘solid’ to ‘hugely entertaining’, an amusing mix of heist cinema and physical humor that occasionally reaches levels of genius. After the release of the last ‘true’ Panther film, an adequate Revenge of the Pink Panther in 1978, star Peter Sellers died of a massive heart attack at the age of only 54 and it was widely assumed that the Pink Panther movies were at an end. This assumption was tragically incorrect.
From the bits of pieces of earlier Panther movies retrieved from the cutting room floor, wide-angle and rear-view shots of a Sellers stand-in, and woefully over-dubbed Clouseau-speak from a godawful Sellers impersonator, a new movie was assembled like a horrible Frankenstein monster and titled Trail of the Pink Panther. It is one of the single worst affronts to cinema you will ever have the misfortune to witness and an insult to the memory of a great comedian. It’s less a movie than a depressing clip show of other, better, actual movies.
I’m afraid I must admit that watching Trail of the Pink Panther reminded me strongly of my relationship to The Office, one of my formerly favorite shows on TV and one that, for a good three or four years, has felt less like a once favorite show and more like a Frankenstein monster recycled and cobbled from its formerly great components. That the show has strayed from its original conceit, unrealistic storylines have developed with a ever-wilder abandon, or that formerly interesting characters have morphed into desperate and awful caricatures is barely debatable. Many people, including myself, have gone over these problems ad nauseum in various public forums and probably will continue to do so for quite some time.
Oh, what a tangled web this show has woven. In simpler terms, The Office is that friend you had back in the day. You know the one. A friend of a friend introduced you to each other at a party and before you know it the two of you were inseparable. You did everything together, hung out all the time, had a lot of laughs. You were best pals for a few years and then something happened. Kinda hard to pin down what. Suddenly your weekly hang-out sessions were every other week, then every few weeks, then every month. You didn’t quite click like you used to. Then your friend got married, moved to the suburbs, had a kid. You promised each other that you’d still hang out but then you found yourself sitting on the couch one day, realizing that you hadn’t talked to your friend in six months. And you know what? It wasn’t that big of a deal. One of you grew up. Or maybe both of you did. Life had moved on. Que sera sera.
I was hooked on The Office early. Not from the beginning, mind you. I had no interest in the first season, a watered-down rehash of the British Office that suffered in the ratings due to the crew’s unsuccessful attempt to mirror the humor of its overseas counterpart. No, I happened to turn it on one Thursday evening in season two, the evening that the classic ‘The Injury’ aired, and I instantly loved it. (Interestingly, ‘The Injury’ is the highest-rated Office episode ever, not counting season five milestone ‘Stress Relief’ which received a HUGE bump by airing immediately following Super Bowl 43 and, thus, doesn’t really ‘count’ in a fair calculation.) The Office of seasons two, three, four, and (sort of) five was all kinds of brilliant. Jim and Pam was a love story that we could all relate to. Michael Scott was that overly-friendly and irritatingly-incompetent boss we all knew. Dwight was that self-important right hand man/merciless ladder climber we’ve all vied against in Cubicle Hell. The motley cast of characters were those fringe acquaintances with varying degrees of inherent weirdness that comprise just about everyone’s coworkers just about everywhere. The show was lovable because it was so recognizable.
And then it all went wrong. Well, not all of it. Rainn Wilson’s Dwight is so good as to be automatically and inherently funny whenever he’s on screen. So too was Michael magnificent to the very end of his run (the blasphemous miscarriage of justice that was Steve Carell never winning an Emmy notwithstanding, the team of Wilson and Carell is probably one of the most comically-effective pairings in television history. No lie.) Occasional great episodes in the show’s later years have sprung up as beckoning islands in a near-endless sea of drabness. But nobody can convince me that the last few seasons are nearly on par with the show’s glory days. And it’s not as if I’m alone in this opinion. The aforementioned episode of ‘The Injury’ in season 2 reeled in 10.3 million viewers. The ninth season episode titled ‘Paper Airplane,’ which aired three weeks ago, was the lowest-rated Office ever, bringing in a paltry 3.25 million viewers. That is less than a third of its second season heights. Viewership is lower than ever, interest is lower than ever, and you just heard through the grapevine that your old friend got an associates degree, moved to Phoenix, and is the assistant floor manager at a Jeep dealership. You simply shrug, because you honestly don’t care enough to say “Good for him.” Your old friend is gone forever.
But then you’re cleaning out your desk one day and you come across an old picture of the two of you. Suddenly, all those memories come flooding back. And that’s how it will always be between The Office and me. As much vitriol as I have spewed across my various social networks against its current incarnation, I still love it. I do. I don’t much love the paces that its characters have been forced to go through lately, but I will miss them. I miss them already, considering that characters have already been slowly filing out in the past couple years while we weren’t looking. Sure, Steve Carell’s departure at the end of season seven (in the best episode of the show’s past three years, hands down) was front page news, but Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak also wandered off to other projects to somewhat lesser fanfare. In a way, The Office’s lifespan has doubled as a microcosm of life. You grow up with a family and create a circle of friends, all whom you love and care for, and suddenly they start moving away, start drifting away, start dying. And every time someone is lost for whatever reason, those who remain are lessened a little bit by that loss. The Office has been on this gradual downward spiral for years, but the fact remains that it has been on the air for a quarter of my life and, as easy as it has been to fling snark at it recently, it’ll be a little strange when it’s gone.
So yes – I’ll miss Michael Scott being excited for Pretzel Day and destroying the warehouse. I’ll miss Dwight ineffectually jockeying for Michael’s job and being constantly outwitted by Jim. I’ll miss Angela screaming at Kevin and Creed stealing Christmas presents. I’ll miss Old Cornell Frat Boy Andy punching holes in walls and annoying the bejesus out of people (don’t get me started on New Pitiful Awkward Clingy Andy). I’ll miss Oscar and Jan and Holly and Meredith and Angela and Darryl and Kelly and Ryan. And yes, as depressing as Jam has been the past few years, especially when the showrunners shoehorned in a hackneyed near-breakup this season that was nothing short of disastrous to the program’s emotional bent, I’ll miss them, too.
Tomorrow’s finale is a bit of an oddity, in that it takes place six months after last week’s episode. So, for all intents and purposes, the ‘show’ is already over. The documentary that the ever-present cameramen have filmed for nine years, the subject of the show’s initial concept, has aired. Life has churned forward. And so it goes. On that note, allow me to a raise a mug of Poor Richard’s finest and bid the show a fond adieu. Be not unhappy – The Office will undoubtedly live on forever in syndication, allowing us to once again have the opportunity to watch the show in its heydays of yesteryear, just as the weak final gasps of once august programs like Friends and Seinfeld were largely forgotten once their entire catalogs were again unleashed on a ravenous public. Even at its low ebb, The Office was better than most. And at its best, it wasn’t simply good, it was masterful.
Farewell, lonely paper pushers of Scranton. Breaking up is a hard thing to do and so are long goodbyes. They’re both long to do… wait… Both of them… Goodbyes are hard… They’re hard to do and say, is what I’m saying. Hard and long.
That’s what she said.