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 :).
Warning: There be spoilers below…
Seeing as this is a review of a long-running TV show, I’m going to approach this spoiler section a bit differently than I have before. Instead of talking about plot-points of certain episodes or just focusing on the finale (which may just be the most perfect series finale I’ve ever seen), I want to talk about each character individually – their arcs, my favorite things about them, and whatever else my emotional little heart stumbles onto. Think of this like signing yearbooks during your last year of high school.. but I’m going to run out of time before the final bell rings, so I’m only going to write in the yearbooks of some of my favorite friends :).
We start with him because who else do you start with? Michael was a driving force throughout his ~6.5 seasons, and he came so far. In the beginning, he was just this insulting, silly, awkward boss that nobody really liked… but eventually we saw just how much he really cared. He was a lonely guy, which was sometimes played for laughs and sometimes heart-breaking, and when he met Holly.. oh, when he met Holly, I felt like I’d met someone, too :). When he quit Dunder-Mifflin (before starting the Michael Scott Paper Company), I done lost my mind.. I was so proud and excited. His relationship with Jim, from giving him advice in Booze Cruise to giving him a tackling hug when he hears that Pam is pregnant, was just about my favorite relationship in the show (probably only second to Pam and Michael’s). Michael had a huge heart, he was just a damaged guy. To quote Magnolia, he really did have love to give.. he just didn’t know where to put it :). I cried during his farewell episode, not as much because I was saying goodbye, but because it was such an emotional treat to see just how much he really was loved by his fellow workers – his friends. If I could sum this character up in one moment, it would be when he shows up to Pam’s art exhibit, and he’s genuinely impressed and proud of her work. He’s the only one who cared enough to go, he sincerely (if naively) thought her work was amazing, and when she’s so touched that she hugs him.. he has no idea what to do. When Steve Carell left, many said the show couldn’t go on because Michael Scott WAS The Office. I never agreed with that sentiment, but he was definitely one of the most valuable parts – a proud dad and a needy child, all at once.
The torture of unrequited love that Jim experienced through the first few seasons easily cemented Jim in my heart, because boy.. who hasn’t been there? The reality with which they played that love story made it so very, very good… the unspoken feelings, rejections, missed opportunities, the eventual satisfaction of success. After that point, the rest of Jim’s story almost seems anti-climatic, but it could be easy to forget just how much further he’s come. We watched him get married, become a dad, attempt and fail at being a manager, pursue a dream career, and then face marriage trouble. I think it can be over-looked because it’s perhaps not as full of angst and love-drama, but we watched Jim become a man.. and that was pretty wonderful. Of course, when he stopped being co-manager at Dunder-Mifflin, loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves, and dunked Dwight’s tie into his coffee mug – well, that was pretty wonderful, too :).
Dwight K. Schrute:
For the most part, Dwight was one of the characters that was more on the comedy end of the show’s spectrum. He had some hilarious bits, and was usually entertaining, but when he got a concussion and became “nice”… he was never the same after that. Pam became his friend that day, and while that relationship didn’t really re-surface until a while later, he’d been revealed to be a likeable character.. ya just had to get past the exterior. In this last season, especially, they did a wonderful job of really tearing down his defenses and exposing the person inside. His giddiness in being Michael’s crony was always fun, too, but as always, it was seeing his growth that made me love him (I’m such a sap).
I would have to do a study to find out which character made me laugh most often, but it would easily be between Creed and Kevin Malone.. and I think Kevin just might win. Kevin’s absolutely lovable: he’s an idiot with a heart of gold, he’s pathetic, he’s entirely juvenile, but he is also capable of cutting through the BS and saying the one thing that nobody else says.. but that needs to be said. In his innocence, Kevin says things that resonate with the other characters. He once asked Jim who he thought was hotter, Karen or Pam – Jim’s current girlfriend or the woman he’d been in love with for years. Kevin was just thinking about boobs and butts, really, but sort of how a kid can be aware of more than they realize.. he continually put things to others that made them think. Of course, he also called someone a dumb-ass for not knowing who the Swedish Chef was (one of my favorite Kevin/anyone moments.. I’m laughing even now), so he wasn’t Mr. Poignant all of the time. My favorite Kevin moment, though, is (I believe) during Casino Night… when he opens up about the number of things that have been going wrong, until Roy says his band can play at Roy and Pam’s wedding. Kevin, with a slight crack in his voice, says to the camera, “It’s just nice to win one.”
Erin came in as the “new Pam,” but she was so much more than that. Her enthusiasm and innocence was so infectious, that it was hard to not just smile whenever she was on. When Andy finally asked her out, with a fax that she tried sending but couldn’t because the number was to the same fax she was using, she cries when he tries to play as if she’s fired. It’s such a great, child-like reaction, and that whole scene is perfectly her… instant emotions and absolutely adorable. Her relationship with Michael was wonderful, too.. both fulfilling a need in the daughter-father relationship they both so desperately needed.
Why call her Beesly instead of Halpert? Because, even after they were married, Jim still called her Beesly from time to time.. and that works for me :). Really, though, she’ll always be just “Oh, Pam” (with a sigh) in my mind. I mentioned that Pam was sort of an emotional thread throughout the series, and I realized that even more so as I wrote about the individual characters above – she’s mentioned in every single one. For a long time, my absolute favorite moment of the show was hers: when she’s still with Roy, she has a talking-head (where they speak to camera) in which she talks about her dream house. In that episode, she’s talking about going to art school and pursuing her interest, but after Roy crushes that idea, she has another talking-head where she tries to downplay her original dream house. She says, “They don’t even have houses like that in Scranton. I’m never going to-” and then, in one of the most heart-breaking and realistic surprises I’ve ever seen, she cuts herself off and breaks down.. as if the idea of unrealized dreams finally hits her as she’s saying those words. That moment, right there, is why I watched this show. It was hilarious, yes, but it just had SO much darn heart behind it. Of course, many of my other Top Ten kinda moments involved her, too – Michael visiting her at the art gallery and the teary hug she gives him, when Jim interrupts her talking-head to ask her out and she tearfully looks to camera with a smile and asks, “Sorry, what was the question,” her triumph of running across the hot coals at the team-building event and her subsequent speech to the group, and of course, when she ran up to Michael in the airport right before he left at the end of his final episode. Eventually her dream-shattered moment was matched by another as my favorite in the series, but it was still with her :). In season 9, after having a horrible conversation over the phone with Jim, she hangs up and cries at her desk… and then she breaks the fourth wall, in a way, and reaches out to the crew for guidance. It was the perfect bookend to her previous top-moment… the first being about dreams that would never happen and this about dreams falling apart.
No, I didn’t mention everyone individually here, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love all of these characters. David Wallace, Angela, Oscar, Stanley.. all of ’em were part of a world that I absolutely loved being a part of, and I was absolutely thrilled to see them all sent off with what was the perfect final episode. In the very beginning, when they mention that the character Creed had disappeared and it was revealed that apparently he had been in the band The Grass Roots (which is true about the actor, himself), I just about died – I knew I was in for an amazing finale :). Every character, and I mean EVERY character, was given the most satisfying send-off I could have imagined. It was SUCH a good idea to do this a year after the previous episode, and it reminds me a bit of what they did with the British version. Jim and Pam were okay, and then they were on to even better things. Michael was married with kids (when Pam said that he bought two phones just to take all of the pictures of his kids, the tears started), and that just made me so, so darn happy to hear. Creed was arrested, which is very fitting for all he’s done. Dwight and Angela were actually happy – and together at last. Erin’s parents found her, Stanley was retired, Kevin was in much better environment, Phyllis was Phyllis, Andy found home, Kelly and Ryan were Kelly and Ryan, Ellie potentially found a baby, Toby’s moment dancing with Pam was wonderfully self-aware (as he cries, she asks “Is it me?”) but he ended with his friends encouraging him to come party with them, Meredith revealed that there was a bit more to her than meets the eye, Darryl had finally found real success, Oscar was pursuing a political career to make the changes that he’s always talked about, and a lot of old faces made pleasant returns. The guy that was fired in the beginning of the show was re-hired (SO good), and it was just such a warm, feel-good farewell, both for the show and to these characters. Dwight describes Pam as his best friend, Pam talks about how she hopes her story inspires someone to not wait in fear like she did, and Andy reminisces on how we usually don’t recognize the “good ol’ days” until they’re gone. It was a wonderful, wonderful end, to a wonderful, wonderful show… and I’ll leave you, now, with Creed Bratton’s “All The Faces,” which closed out the show.