i Need Media
Closing The Office six years too late
By Matthew Singer 05/16/2013
I haven’t watched The Office regularly in at least six years. Chances are, you haven’t, either. Since about season 5, the show has been the Nickelback or Kid Rock of television: You don’t personally know anyone who’s into them, but considering their popularity, somebody must be. How else would it have lasted nine seasons? One thing I’m sure of, though, is that anyone who ever invested time in The Office is going be watching — or, depending on when you read this, already has watched — the final episode. It’s a pop-culture milestone, based around a series that hasn’t been culturally relevant in years. That’s what makes this farewell fairly strange in the history of television goodbyes. Usually, when a big to-do is made of the end of a sitcom’s run — as it was with, say, MASH or Seinfeld or Friends — that sitcom is still, if not at the top of the ratings, then still fresh in public consciousness. But there’s a significant chunk of the TV-viewing population that thinks The Office went off the air years ago. It probably should have. For the record, I consider the first three seasons of The Office to be a near-perfect example of network comedy. I discovered the show just before the start of season 3, binge-watching the first two seasons in about a week in the summer of 2006. I was, for a period, obsessed with The Office — and not just because, during that time, it was easily the most hilarious show on television. It managed a feat that put it above its celebrated English predecessor: It told stories about cynical characters without getting mired in cynicism itself. Beneath the deadpan humor about the futility of America’s middle-class workforce beat a genuine human heart. Few shows have pulled off a “will they, won’t they” storyline with as much warmth as the Jim-Pam arc. When they finally got together at the end of season 3, no one who devoted time to watching it unfold could’ve claimed not to feel a sense of satisfaction unlike that produced by most TV romances. If it had ended there, as the U.K. original did, The Office would’ve gone down as one of the best American sitcoms of all time. But, of course, it didn’t end there. Initially, I had faith that the writers would — unlike in so many other shows after the diffusion of romantic tension between two main characters — make the Jim-Pam relationship work. Instead, they became aggravatingly boring. Then the gags got sillier and broader and more slapstick. Worst of all, the show lost sight of its own characters. Michael became mean rather than pitiable, Kevin became mentally challenged, and then, when Steve Carell left, Andy just turned into Michael. Rainn Wilson shouldered the comedy load for a while, but Dwight’s shtick wore thin. Eventually, I stopped caring. And even though someone apparently kept watching, I don’t think anyone can claim to actually care, either. Now, when I happen to catch a new episode, I hardly recognize the show — and not just because they’ve added a billion new cast members. Like a funeral for a relative I’ve grown distant from, though, I will tune in Thursday to pay my respects. Because that’s what you do in a culture.
I Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.