It pains me to write this, but I was a bit more thankful than sad when “The Office,” NBC’s long-running workplace comedy series, wrapped its final season last Thursday. The show, which revolved around the lives of the quirky employees at the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, was once a favorite of mine. If it was a Thursday night, you were guaranteed to find me watching “The Office” and enjoying the shenanigans of Michael Scott, Dwight Schrute, Pam Beesly, Jim Halpert and the rest of the gang in Scranton, PA. But this season? I caught the episodes sporadically and there were times I felt as if I was watching the show more out of habit than actual enjoyment.
So what happened?
Honestly, I think it is really hard for a TV series to remain at the top of its game forever, especially when it starts to lose the key players that made it so wonderful to begin with. Everyone likes to point out the departure of Steve Carrell’s socially awkward but likable Michael Scott as the big turning point for the series. But, for my money, the beginning of “Parks and Recreations” spelled the end for “The Office.”
When “The Office” began in 2005, no one really expected it to last beyond its first season. It was an Americanized version of Ricky Gervais’ critically acclaimed BBC mockumentary, NBC had only ordered six episodes, and with the exception of Carrell, the cast was made up of unknowns. Most industry insiders figured it would debut to poor ratings and quickly be yanked from the schedule. But there was one thing that everyone overlooked: the involvement of Greg Daniels.
Writer for “Saturday Night Live.” Writer for “The Simpsons.” Co-creator of “King of the Hill.” These were the past accomplishments that Daniels brought to the table as the showrunner and producer of NBC’s version of “The Office.” And the series that everyone thought was sure to be cancelled went on to climb in the ratings and wins multiple Emmy Awards.
But, as is usually the case in television, it is hard to keep someone tied down to one project for too long. Daniels and fellow “Office” writer Michael Schur would go on to develop “Parks and Recreations” for NBC. While that resulted in another great series being created, soon Daniels was unable to devote as much time to “The Office” as he used to, which resulted in the show being handed over to writer and cast member Paul Lieberstein. (Yes, Toby from HR was now in charge.)
With Daniels no longer being as tightly involved with “The Office” as he used to be, we soon had to endure the umpteenth merger storyline involving Dunder Mifflin and Sabre Printers, James Spader hired to play underdeveloped con man Robert California, and Ed Helms’ Andy Bernard shoehorned into being the lead of the series after Carrell left. Sure, he became the most well-known cast member because of the success of “The Hangover” films, but that doesn’t automatically make Helms’ character the best or most interesting choice from a storytelling standpoint. Slowly but surely, “The Office” was no longer a sly, little show about trying to find happiness while working at a nondescript paper company. Instead, it became a louder and more cartoonish version of its former self. And it soon was a chore to watch.
Whether it was due to sagging ratings or the rising costs to produce the show, the brass at NBC decided that the ninth season would be the last for “The Office.” If anything good came from that decision, it would have to be Daniels deciding to return as the full-time showrunner and trying to bring the series to some type of decent closure.
While I didn’t care too much for the drawn-out marital problems of Jenna Fischer’s Pam and John Krasinki’s Jim that dominated season nine, I did enjoy some of the other choices that were made for the rest of the cast. Rainn Wilson deserves at least an Emmy nomination for the episode where Dwight Schrute is finally promoted to office manager and achieves nirvana. And the show’s final message of finding beauty in the ordinary is a sweet note to end on. Maybe “The Office” would have been better off ending sooner rather than later, but at least it managed to get a bit of its former glory back in the end. Not many television series, whether dramatic or comedic, can make that claim.