The first thing that shocked everybody about The Office: It didn’t suck. (An American network adaptation of Ricky Gervais’ acerbic British comedy? Pass.) The final thing that shocked everybody about The Office: It started to suck. Neither of these things was supposed to happen. But in a way, the disastrous endgame is a fitting tribute to The Office, the sitcom that never ran out of surprises. The Dunder Mifflin employees saved their most unexpected twist for last: They finally mastered the art of sucking. (And yes, that is what she said.)
You could make a case in defense of this final season, but it would be a losing and tiresome argument, because nobody ever needed to make a case for The Office until Steve Carell left and the whole thing fell apart. The past two seasons have been one half-assed gimmick after another: promoting Andy, bringing in James Spader and then wasting him, giving Pam a romantic subplot with a guy from the camera crew. How did this happen? It wasn’t a Chico and the Man situation, where the star dies suddenly and you have to find another Chico. There was plenty of time to build up to Michael Scott’s poignant farewell as he mused, “They say on your deathbed you never wish you spent more time at the office. But I will. Got to be better than a deathbed.”
You’d think The Office would have prepped the next move. Yet apparently, the plane was in the air before they realized the frontman was gone and it was time to start throwing ideas at the wall. Weirdly, the show’s greatest strength turned into a liability. The Office had a loaded ensemble cast, but the fringe characters were too narrow to handle the increased airtime. Andy made a lousy replacement boss – it was as if Tina Fey left 30 Rock and they made Jenna take over Liz Lemon’s job.
Now that The Office is facing the final curtain, Jim and Pam are suddenly having marital friction. Unfortunately, it’s the first time Jim and Pam have looked like a generic sitcom couple. Maybe their differences are realistic – sitcom clichés often are. But you can’t play the realism card when Pam’s new love interest is the boom-mic guy, because that just highlights how insane it is for this film crew to spend nine years hanging around in the first place.
In retrospect, bringing Jim and Pam together was the boldest, bravest, most original and most influential move The Office ever made. No sitcom had ever gotten this right before and stayed funny. Everybody knows that’s supposed to be the kiss of death, from Sam and Diane to Joanie Loves Chachi. But The Office changed everything about how comedies handle relationships. Look at Leslie and Ben on Parks and Rec, or Sheldon and Amy on The Big Bang Theory. Neither of these extremely functional and funny couples could have existed without Jim and Pam to show how it’s done. So turning these modern lovers into sitcom phonies at the last minute? It just looks like The Office has lost confidence in the smartest idea it ever had.
As Dwight once said, in one of his funniest moments, “Blood alone moves the wheels of history.” But The Office‘s great running gag has been the way these wheels spin without getting anyone anywhere. All these Dunder Mifflin lifers are there because they resign themselves to stagnation, and The Office always found warmth as well as humor in that. That’s what we will always remember and cherish about this show – the way it illuminated the drudgery of everyday life, by finding tiny moments of human comedy in ordinary boredom. And it’s why we will miss The Office when it’s gone, despite all that slurpy sucking at the end. It’s gotta be better than a deathbed.
This story is from the May 9th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.