Time/place: Thursdays at 9pm on NBC (with a few seasons on DVD)
I’d like to start this review, very importantly, with a special thanks to my old friend Nick Reiber – who let me in on the secret that this little ol’ TV show called The Office was much more than a simple comedy. I’d ignored it, at first, after being under that assumption, but one afternoon he showed me a couple of episodes that exemplified the heart of the series, and for that I’m very grateful .
As mentioned above, I didn’t watch the show from the very beginning – at least, not on TV. I decided to catch up with the series on DVD, but I didn’t just power through the first couple of seasons in a matter of months/weeks/days. No, I took my time and watched it as if I was watching it live – once a week, with short breaks to represent summer. Doing it this way kept me from joining in on the weekly airings with the rest of the world for a while, but it was a wonderful day when I did. From (I believe) season 4 onward, I was faithfully involved in these characters’ lives every week with the rest of the world.
This show wasn’t always perfect, but I don’t think it ever lost its way. Due to the nature of the show being presented as a documentary, while sometimes things seemed a little outlandish, they played well with the idea that life is full of ups and downs… and plenty of transitions. When a major character leaves a TV show, it can ruin things, but in the case of The Office, it was just another situation to live through for these characters. I regularly hear about people who checked out after the first few seasons, or who complain about how things have gone, but I’ve never had an issue with any of it. Yes, season 8 just might be the weakest season, but it was followed up with season 9, which was absolutely wonderful. Nine years, boy. During the end of last night’s series finale, I was a blubbering mess of tears, a running nose, and ugly-crying… not because the show was especially devastating or everyone died, but because when you’ve spent this many years falling in love with a cast of characters and welcoming their lives into your home every week, saying goodbye “is going to hurt like a mother-&$^%er.”
This show was, primarily, a comedy.. but it had oodles of heart, and that’s why the finale was so rough to go through. When the series started, it was very much a carbon copy of the original British version. Very quickly, though, they found their own way… and that couldn’t be more evident than in the character of Michael Scott. Even though the show’s been running for almost a decade, I still avoid spoilers in the first half of my reviews, so I can’t go into TOO much detail, but what a wonderful character he turned out to be. He wasn’t just a pathetic, awkward, self-centered boss- okay, well, he WAS, but as time went on, we were able to see Michael Scott in a much richer light. There were reasons for him being who he was, but that was true for a lot of the other characters, too. This show did a splendid job of presenting flawed humanity, in ways that left me hoping for the best for all of them. They weren’t just stagnant people, strictly fulfilling the role of their personality type (like in Seinfeld, for example).. they were people who grew and changed. In the middle of season 7, I absolutely loved how they began to really deconstruct who we’d come to know as Michael Scott – peeling away layers of childishness and insecurity to reveal a man who was growing into something more. He wasn’t the only one who changed, though, and we can see similar arcs in just about everyone: Jim becoming a responsible adult, Dwight becoming human, Angela taking the stick out of her butt (even if just a little). And, of course… then there’s Pam.
Oh, Pam .
Pam Beesly is responsible for some of the best, and most heart-breaking, moments during the show’s entire run. Everyone had great bits, surprising moments of candid humanity (I’m looking at you, Kevin), but my favorite character-moments from The Office belong to Pam. Whether it’s at an art show, fire-walking, friendship with the enemy, shattered dreams, complete joy, saying goodbye, or a broken heart… for me, she was the most important thread of absolutely lovely moments that regularly weaved itself throughout the entire show. I don’t want to diminish the great work that this show did with other characters, at ALL, but for me, her journey and experiences always touched me in a way that was just a little different.
Technically, The Office played well with the idea of it being a documentary. Sometimes the camera coverage was a little TOO good/convenient, but I usually didn’t notice unless I consciously thought about it. The “hidden camera” effect was used more so in the earlier seasons, wherein the camerawork was used to steal shots of characters who might not think they’re being recorded, and some might think this is a fault or laziness in later seasons, but I think some of the events in season 9 really sell the idea that these characters have simply become very used to having this documentary crew around. Just as reality TV has gone from more natural to more staged, I just see this as the kind of thing that would be inherent with this type of situation… when you have cameras following you for 9 years, at some point you’ll get used to it and be a little more open in front of them. Of course, there are technical downsides to this being shot as a documentary, too. There are certain, intimate scenes that we just couldn’t be privy to – say, an argument at home between a married couple. That leaves the show to deal with situations in two ways: either they present these situations in places that they can logically film, or they show us the after-effect of these types of moments. Personally, I loved both approaches.. but it definitely separates The Office from a regular TV show that can spend dramatic moments with characters at any point and time. The other potential issue is that there wasn’t a place for a musical score or theme-song type transitions, but again, that only enhanced the reality of these characters’ lives to me.
The Office is one of my favorite shows of all time, not because it’s a hilarious comedy, but because it’s a brilliantly beautiful story about an odd, yet average, group of folks who happen to work together. It’s this familiarity, though, this love and longtime knowledge of these characters, that only makes the comedic moments funnier; there is a difference between sharing a joke with a stranger and sharing one with your best friend. I am very thankful, to all those involved, for not only creating a show that’s entertained me for a very long time… but for a show that’s give me years of memories with characters that I really, truly love. There really is beauty in ordinary things .