It was 15 years ago this week that NBC’s “Seinfeld” ended with a walk-off so disappointing and bizarre that most of us have suppressed the memory. The real lesson from that point forward was to always act casual about final episodes of our beloved TV shows.
The end of NBC’s “The Office” arrives Thursday night not only to these lowered expectations but with the added dents and scrapes of viewer neglect and covered in the duct tape that has held it together for the final two seasons of its charming and successful nine-season run. Since the departure of the show’s star, Steve Carell, the pop-culturati have come down with a severe and epidemic case of Dunder Mifflin Fatigue, the main symptom of which is announcing over and over again that you no longer watch “The Office.” I’m sure admitting otherwise greatly reduces one’s Klout score.
So I write this for those of us who stayed behind, the losers who kept clocking in with “The Office” after Carell’s Michael Scott character left. We watched the rest of the series without shame or apology — and, in fact, a pleasant sense of satisfaction, especially this season. My own contrarian streak runs so deep that I might be the only TV critic on the planet who put the first post-Carell season (when James Spader’s Robert California character briefly helmed Dunder Mifflin) on my top 10 list of 2011.
So sue me. The overall narrative epic of the lives of the Scranton branch employees began to drift, and yet I always believed that the show’s writers should
done exactly this, concentrating on the tale of a rudderless ship. That felt precisely like what happens in an office when one idiosyncratic boss leaves and is replaced by a steadily declining parade of micromanaging weirdos. That felt more real.
This was especially true when Dunder Mifflin was bought by Sabre, a company that made computer printers. Sabre sent half of the Scranton branch to Florida to help launch a high-tech boutique to sell the company’s triangular iPad knock-off — a disaster from start to finish, and painfully familiar to any group of employees who came to work one day to find themselves reassembled into teams with revised core goals and quarterly initiatives that seemed to be invented on the fly. Through it all, the real workhorses of the “Office” cast never failed to shine, especially Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute and, starting in Season 3, Ed Helms as Andy Bernard.
And so, in its final season, “The Office” came to feel like the story that the documentary “crew” intended to capture. Until this spring, in accordance with the mockumentary genre, a certain strain of “Office” viewers was left in the dark about what sort of film was being made here; to whom were the characters talking? (God? Errol Morris? Werner Herzog? Themselves?) Michael Scott’s parting line to the camera was to ask if he could somehow get a copy mailed to him of whatever it was they were allegedly filming. It wasn’t supposed to matter, but to some of us, it did.
Then a flirtatious boom mike tapped the head of Pam Beesly Halpert (Jenna Fischer) in an episode in the back half of this season, launching us into “The Office’s” most precarious story line to date, suggesting that she might leave her husband, Jim (John Krasinski). The sound guy had developed a crush on Pam after filming her and her colleagues for all these years. It was our cue that the end was really near.