It was a valiant effort to keep The Office in production after Steve Carell left to become a movie star. It was a brave and bold decision. For Steve Carell, it was a career move but for NBC and Greg Daniels, it was a gamble. It was also painfully obvious from the first episode of season 8- the first season without the star- that it was not going to work. The Office’s days were numbered.
The series had been my favorite comedy since its second season because the ensemble cast played so well off Steve Carell’s Michael Scott. Every recurring character was one-dimensional from the shallow and superficial Kelly Kapur to the fat and stupid Kevin Malone. They were lovable because they had nothing to do with the narrative. They were there to react to Steve Carell or for Steve Carell to play off of. Even Jim Halpert and Pam Beesely were flat. They were adorable and in love and the audience wanted to see them together but neither brought anything real to the table.
I’m being a bit too harsh. Jim and Dwight created memorable moments. Dwight and Andy did the same. But these instances were mere window-dressing for the house that was Michael Scott. In fact, without Michael Scott, Dwight Schrute isn’t all that relevant. The rivalry between Jim and Dwight has no luster. Andy’s constant need for attention and approval is forced. The moment that the ensemble took center stage, the magic and the depth of the series gave its two weeks notice and used up its remaining sick days.
The show runners and writers- who were also part of the ensemble cast- took advantage of guest stars to fill the void left by Carell’s departure but when the smoke cleared and Andrew Bernard was seated behind the manager’s desk, it was all over. The one-dimensional, one-joke characters couldn’t carry the show or keep it going at the same level it had been. For that matter, even the last two seasons with Carell were bland and routine. So, while I do appreciate the attempt that was made, what had been an outstanding comedy series became lame and tarnished. What had once been witty and clever improvisation became bloated and hack comedy. What had once been an All-American cutesy romance became an unbelievably happy marriage. A show that had once made the best out of low-paying, monotonous white-collar work became a show that had no identity and no real connection to American life.
All that said, the series has come to an end and I say with a straight face that I will truly miss characters that I feel I know as well as my co-workers. The Office will always be my favorite comedy. I will always leave the channel on when I come across syndication. I will always look at seasons 1 through 4 as some of the best television comedy I’ve ever seen. It isn’t the characters that I will miss. It isn’t the mockumentary style that I will miss (there are so many mockumentaries now that if I never see one again it will be too soon). It isn’t the laughs that I will miss because those have been few and far between for years. What I will miss is the office itself.
The office was the heart of the series. The ambiance and the nuances that made the set a real place were uncanny. The phones ringing in the background, the hum of the air conditioning units, the clicking and clacking of the keyboards, the opening and closing of doors, the sudden silence when Michael Scott embarrassed himself or one of his subordinates, the awkward looks on the workers faces when something awkward happened.. these were the life of the series. This may all sound silly but it is true. They made the set a real office, a real place that captured the still, monotonous, prison-like atmosphere of a truly boring 9-5, Monday to Friday job.
The viewer wasn’t watching a former A-list celebrity ham out pre-packaged jokes to a laugh track. He wasn’t watching schtick after schtick. He was watching people he knew but didn’t really know. He was watching his own fat, stupid co-worker. He was watching his own snobby, uptight co-worker. He was watching his own suck-up co-worker. And all of these people that the viewer watched he knew so very well, but in truth… only a little bit.
Truthfully though, how well do we know the people we work with? We know a character that they play when they are in their professional surroundings, trying to scrape together a living wage. We know their work habits and how they deal with the prison that is the capitalist society.
People go to work everyday against their wishes. I’ve never met someone that works the job they work because they are passionate about it and because it brings them true happiness. Every co-worker that I have ever had was my co-worker because they need a living wage to put a roof over their head and because they need to eat and it just so happens that both myself and my co-worker found employment that provided a wage just big enough to keep us coming back five days a week. We never really get ahead and we never really get to a point where we can stop coming to work. So while we are going to this place of employment every day and working with others in the same situation and never really wanting to be there, we develop our own characterizations of ourselves. We develop an identity that protects ourselves in this environment from the painful reality that we are, in fact, there against our will and for the sole reason of being able to afford to live.
In the 00’s, what better snap-shot of life in post 9/11, post economic bomb is there? A major theme of The Office has been the appreciation of having a job that provided a living wage. We may hate our jobs and our jobs may turn us into a character that we don’t want to be and we may have an idiot boss that vexes us and whose job we know we could do better, but in the end, it is a job and we should be thankful that we have that. Because the alternative is too frightening to even consider. And remember, there is no escape. Retirement? Phyliss, Stanley and Creed won’t be retiring anytime soon.
Your job is a life-sentence. Some call it a career. But Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant called it comedy. They called it out. They put it right in your face and made you laugh at it. And, as with most everything else, Americans did it better. Greg Daniels was able to make viewers appreciate their boring job and look at it in a refreshing way. So your boss is an asshole? That’s awesome! Would you rather your boss be friendly and overwhelming? Your co-worker is a maniac and wants everyone else that you work with fired because they are inferior to him? F’n great! Would you rather a co-worker that just did his or her job? Would you rather work with people that you could tolerate? What would you have to complain about then? What would you have to talk about over a beer? What conversation would you be able to make with the pretty receptionist that you spend 40 hours a week with if you didn’t have co-workers that were so absolutely irritating and mind-bogging? You are lucky to have your job and you are lucky to work with people. This is your job. This is your life. Look around and make the most of it. Appreciate your job and appreciate the people that you work with because the alternative is no job… and learning that awful truth that you may not be good enough for the real desires you have.
With that, The Office concludes it’s 9 year run. It faded out of relevance and out of touch with American life. But it left memories. It made a mark. It will go on forever because your job goes on forever. Your boss will always be an asshole, whether it is your current boss or his or her future replacement. Your co-worker will always be a tremendous part of your life try as you might to forget about him or her when you are not at work. The people that you work with are the people that you spend your life with.
What you do, no matter how hard you try to fight it, becomes who you are. You can cry about it but you still have to get up after the snooze on your alarm clock has run out of time.
The better option is to laugh about it.
The better option is to suck it up and learn to appreciate the people that you work with.
And when faced with a professional dilemma and the creeper from H.R. isn’t much help, your best option is to Hug It Out, Bitch.