A few thoughts on tonight’s Office series finale. It’s a bit jumbled, but whatever.
In 10 short days, the Netflix gods will smile upon us when they bless us with 15 brand new episodes of Arrested Development, one of the funniest, sharpest and most critically-acclaimed comedies in recent memory. A show that some believe wasn’t given enough chances in their three short years on FOX. Not given enough time to flourish and gather an audience.
While I’m excited to see AD back, I feel it always got exactly what it deserved. Arrested Development was just a little too smart, self-referential and groundbreaking to ever be a ratings darling, and the move to Netflix where it can be digested by hardcore fans at whichever pace they choose (binge, probably) seems to be a compromise everyone can agree with. AD was never going to do anything to pander (unless they were satirizing the notion), and the depth of their world was so deep that even Lost seemed more understandable at times. AD was never going to be Everybody Loves Raymond, and I think we all realized that from the get-go.
The problem with what Arrested is doing lies in what we think we want as fans, versus what’s best for the legacy of the show (as well as our memories of it) in general. AD seemed destined to fade away with legions of fans wondering what might have been, and sometimes that’s better than sticking around and overstaying your welcome. In just a few days, we’ll have a rare opportunity to see a resurrected series give the fans exactly what they asked for; whether they enjoy it is left to be determined.
This, of course, brings us to The Office.
Nearly every longtime fan of The Office agrees that the series should have ended on April 28, 2011, the date of Steve Carell’s final appearance as Michael Scott. While The Office has always been boosted by an ensemble cast and relatively deep character development (for the main players, at least), Michael Scott was clearly the comedic and emotional lifeblood of the show. He was arguably the whole reason The Office survived past its six-episode Season One order. In Michael Scott, The Office did something that almost nobody predicted it would do; break from the looming shadow of the British version to blaze a new trail of cringe humor and documentary-style sitcoms in America. In Scott, we had perhaps the most memorable (and certainly quotable) sitcom character of the new millennium. Where he went, the show went, right?
However, by Carell’s exit, The Office was a ratings hit and NBC Thursday night staple, and it’s hard to bring new viewers to new sitcoms. They decided to ride it out without him, lasting another 50 episodes before tonight’s finale. The fans and critics unanimously declared the show dead (Robert California?), yet in terms of ratings, everyone continued to tune in. NBC’s gamble paid off.
You also have to remember that when The Office premiered in 2005 (on Tuesday night), the only remaining fragments of NBC’s ‘Must-See Comedy’ lineup were Will and Grace and Friends spinoff Joey. One was a traditional sitcom on the way out, and the other was a flop to begin with. They both had laugh tracks. Now, there isn’t a single comedy on NBC Thursdays that doesn’t employ the modern, single-camera style with no canned laughter to speak of. It shaped the new landscape of NBC’s Thursday nights, so by all accounts, they deserved whatever they asked for.
Again, The Office had a six episode first season. Nobody expected it to succeed. Nearly a decade later, and not only did it become one of the most influential comedies of the last 15 years, but we’re actually debating whether or not it was on for too long. Quite the reversal of fortune.
Series Finales are intensely tricky, but I think we all know what we’re going to get when The Office signs off. 30 Rock, for example, came from the ‘no hugging, no learning’ school popularized by Seinfeld, and unlike Seinfeld, they targeted comedy gold in their finale with one of the funniest send-offs in TV history. The Office‘s roots have always been in emotion and how we feel about the characters, so we probably won’t see too many laughs tonight. We’re all gonna cry like bitches, and we’re gonna love it, and we’re gonna proclaim it a perfect send-off, regardless of the last two seasons that none of us particularly asked for or wanted. All will be forgiven, I’m sure.
As fans, we’ve been through a lot this season. From the reveal of the documentary filmmakers (which I disliked), to an emotional tease between Pam and boom mic operator Brian (which I disliked), to the entire show-within-a-show aspect becoming the centerpiece of Dunder-Mifflin’s excitement (which I disliked). I really had a logistical problem with the breaking of the fourth wall. I mean, you wouldn’t do this on Modern Family, would you? No, because it would expose that the whole premise makes no sense, just like in this circumstance (which seemed to cause a lot of scrambling and suspension of disbelief this year). I’ve let most of this go, however, because I’ve accepted it and focused on the same thing they want us to be focused on as the finale draws near: The future of Jim and Pam Halpert.
The Jim/Pam courtship ranks among the most realistic and expertly-played in all of sitcom history. Jim’s pining for Pam was flagrantly Emo, yet handled in a way so much more delicate than other comedies. There were hardly any laughs drawn from their early storyline; it felt real. As a guy, I felt for Jim in every misstep, every time he had to watch Pam kiss Roy as they planned for a wedding that neither of them really wanted. The missed opportunity after missed opportunity. It was raw. And in Pam, we felt the hesitancy of what it truly means to follow your heart, and the potential disasters that may follow. Even now, after years of marriage and two kids (also handled quite well, I might add), they still managed to add a wonderful new element to their storyline in Season 9, as Jim once again made it clear that he hasn’t forgotten what he fought so hard for (after a while, that is). It’s an incredible love story on its own; how it managed to wedge itself so nicely into a mockumentary sitcom is borderline phenomenal. It’s also why we stuck around.
Tonight’s finale takes place six months after the airing of the ‘documentary,’ as the Dunder-Mifflin gang (past and present) reunites for Dwight and Angela’s wedding. It’s an hour-long epilogue (with an hour-long preshow), and we can reasonably assume that some of the current Scranton Branch employees will no longer be working where we last saw them. I’m sure Dwight and Angela will. Kevin and Creed? Sure. Stanley and Phyllis? Potentially. Hell, I wouldn’t even be surprised if Michael and Holly paid a visit to the East Coast.
But all that really matters is where Jim and Pam end up, and in last week’s episode, Pam asked Jim the question we were all asking: “Are you really happy here?” When the series began, Jim and Pam were a bit younger and more apathetic, neither of them thinking that Dunder-Mifflin would be the place where they would be employed for the next decade. And yet, that seemed to be where they ended up, although in a perfect world, they have moved on to a place where they are both happier. Perhaps Pam has a new career in art, while Jim finds a way to continue working in sports marketing in Scranton.
This is also a microcosm for the cast and crew themselves. Surely nobody thought that The Office would be their place of business for nearly 10 years after their invisible first season, but here we all are, excited and optimistic of what the future holds. I guess it all worked out.
The issue of bringing back Arrested Development lies in what we think we want as fans, versus what’s best for the legacy and our memories of the show itself. With The Office, we thought we wanted it off the air two years ago, but what we’re going to get will remind us that it’s nice to not always receive what you asked for.