The Office: How Things Went Wrong And How They’re Finally Getting It Right Again

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I can remember when I started watching The Office, but it wasn’t with the first episode. At some point, it must have been after the first six episode season, NBC aired a mini-marathon. The show surprised me. I wasn’t planning on watching it, but I didn’t have cable when I was in high school, so flipping through the eight channels lead me to tune in on accident. I hadn’t seen anything like it before and was immediately drawn in. I think I watched four episodes that night and it soon became my favorite show.

The Office, in its early seasons, achieved something that is very difficult for a 30-minute sitcom to pull off– a seamless blend of comedy and real emotion. Like any short format comedy, it was a quick dose of laughter, but it also had the interesting, on-going storylines of a drama. That was what made me love the show so much and kept me coming back for more each week.

In particular, I tuned in to watch the relationship between Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer), the show’s major continuing plotline. I got very attached to Jim and Pam and finding out if they would end up together, so it’s not surprising that the most memorable Office episode for me, and I’m sure many other fans, is “Casino Night,” the second season’s finale. I remember sitting in a chair in my parents’ living room and crying when Jim came back in to the office to kiss Pam. Maybe teenage hormones had something to do with it, but I had never cried watching TV before. Their relationship– in this case the beginning of their relationship, their flirtation– meant a lot to me. I was 17 at this point, so I’d seen my share of TV relationships growing up. Cory and Topanga. Ross and Rachel. But they never felt realistic to me. Jim and Pam felt real. It didn’t require knowing someone for your entire life or having this super dramatic back and forth thing. Jim and Pam had their own type of will-they-or-won’t-they, but even that felt more authentic. It didn’t matter that they worked at a paper company or, in a bigger sense, that this was taking place on a comedy. It balanced the comedy. It sounds over-dramatic, but you could laugh one second and cry the next. I know I did.

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Another huge draw to The Office was Michael Scott (Steve Carell). As the boss, the show was centered around him for seven seasons and there was an emotional attachment to him as well. His patheticness and painfully awkward moments were some of the funniest, and at times the saddest, parts of the show. Steve Carell was perfect as a manager that made you cringe while remaining more sensitive and sympathetic than the British original. He was always someone to root for because you wanted something better for him whether that meant falling in love or moving on from Dunder Mifflin.

I stopped watching The Office as consistently after Pam and Jim got engaged. I was glad the show allowed them get together without ten years of games like Friends did with Ross and Rachel, but the lack of tension between them took away from show’s balance and it wasn’t replaced with anything else. The next major blow was Michael Scott’s departure near the end of season seven. Like Jim and Pam, Michael got what the audience wanted for him– a better life– by moving to Colorado with his fiance Holly in an episode that felt like a finale but unfortunately wasn’t. Even if you were willing to wait it out with Michael Scott, going on without him seemed pointless.

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But the show continued with Jim and Pam happily married and the rest of the cast pretty much how they always were with a few new additions now and then. The show remained funny just not at the level of earlier seasons. When I would randomly tune in on a Thursday night, I would still laugh, but I wasn’t going around quoting lines anymore and I didn’t feel that urge to absolutely have to tune in the next week. I couldn’t care about Andy and Erin‘s relationship the way I cared about Jim and Pam’s; they were caricatures in comparison. The realness was gone as were the stakes. The Office wasn’t supposed to be a average sitcom that just gave you a giggle here and there.

Now, finally, The Office is ending and it’s going out in way that’s far more interesting that I would’ve expected after having dismissed it for the past few years. I first heard about the twist ending in a Rolling Stone interview with John Krasinki where he said that in the final season we would find out more about the people behind the camera. The show has always been filmed in a mockumentary style and I thought that’s all it was, a style, but now we’re learning that there was a reason these people have been recorded for nine years. Hearing this was enough to make me tune back in. I couldn’t resist seeing what this would mean for the characters I once loved.

It’s been revealed that the cast is part of a PBS documentary on the American workplace which is a really intriguing idea. We also got a chunk of episodes with Jim and Pam marital problems primarily due to the start-up company Jim’s involved with in Philadelphia– also, a really good idea and a realistic thing for Jim to do. Jim wants the family to move to Philly, but Pam doesn’t want to leave Scranton. While it seems crazy to me that Pam wouldn’t want to leave Scranton, it’s the type of thing that has brought me back to my old Office watching ways. Doing things like talking to myself under my breath, begging Pam and Jim to make it work and tearing up when they have a particularly sentimental parking lot hug.

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Bringing attention to the mockumentary/documentary thing is smart and unexpected and I even liked the Jim and Pam marriage problems. The issue is, at this point all of these things seem forced simply because the show went on for too long. If after their marriage we’d been given one whole season of Jim and Pam being happy and having babies while the emotional attention was turned to Michael, and followed that with this finale season, it would’ve been fine. Instead we got four seasons of happy Jim and Pam while we were half-heartedly asked to care about things like Angela‘s baby and the search for a new boss. These things weren’t horribly done– at it’s worst The Office is still pretty good– but emotionally these plots were nothing compared to the feelings I got in earlier seasons. I’m left wishing I could cut out a few seasons in the middle, sew this last season on somewhere around the fourth or fifth, and be left with a series that I would proudly own all the DVDs of.

The show has started bringing up the past through the characters viewing the documentary’s trailers and last week’s episode ended with everyone in Poor Richard’s preparing to watch the television debut. This look at the past has also been brought up through a video Jim had the production crew make Pam to show her how important she is to him. Jim cut back working at the start-up in order to spend more time in Scranton with Pam. It’s clear now that Jim and Pam are going to stay together, but it’s not clear if if Jim will return to his new job and the couple will be able to move on from Dunder Mifflin. Pam was always slow on the uptake, staying with Roy even after Jim confessed he loved her. Pam needs to– has to!– come around and realize Philadelphia is best for them. She could teach art at an elementary school; that seems fitting for Pam. I want them to move on completely from Dunder Mifflin. Michael was able to do it, so they should too. The fact that I’m honestly worried that they won’t make it out means to me that this show is getting something right again.

Aside from Jim and Pam, the recent episodes have had some really intense dramatic moments with other characters. After Angela split from her husband, who came out as gay publically after the documentary’s promo aired, was living with her son and all her cats in a tiny apartment and was taken in by Oscar in an emotional scene where she confessed to him her love for Dwight. And just last week, Dwight proposed to Angela after teary speech (yes, Dwight, got teary!) from Jim about love. I cried over Dwight and Angela! Where was this for the past couple years when we needed it?

For the final episode, I’m just really hoping Jim and Pam make the right decision and leave Dunder Mifflin. Even us fans that have strayed deserve that. To me, Jim and Pam staying together decided whether long love lasts and Jim and Pam leaving Scranton would make a huge point about improving one’s life and moving on. I would say I’m risking sounding melodramatic, but I’m confident I’m not the only one out there that feels this way. This is why my hopeful prediction is the show ending with Jim and Pam watching footage of their younger selves when the documentary airs and remembering how much more they wanted in life. Remember Jim’s line? “If I advance any higher, this would be my career. And if this were my career, I’d have to throw myself in front of a train.” It’s become his career, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to start again. A lot can change in nine years. Here’s hoping that a lot of the sentiments stay the same.

(Photos: NBC/NBC)