I’ve been a fan of The Office since the very beginning. While I will say that first season isn’t without it’s weaknesses, it’s still a better season of television than most any other series that we’ve seen since its 2005 premiere. Purists would claim that the U.S. version never quite reached the excellence that the original, Ricky Gervais-led U.K. series ever achieved, and while you can argue that point until you’re blue in the face, it discounts what the U.S. version has been able to accomplish over its incredible nine season run.
I’ve been an avid television watcher for most of my adult life and even further into my teen years. I’ve seen my fair share of favorite shows come to an end with little to no emotion invoked. After watching Thursday night’s penultimate episode, I realized that I might not be prepared for the kind of emotional wreck that the final episode will leave me as. There lies the difference between the two versions of the show. Make no mistake, the pure down ending of the original series is one of the most heartbreaking notes I’ve ever seen a show go out on. Between Tim’s unrequited love remaining… unrequited, and the sometime detestable, but well-meaning David Brent being reduced to a groveling, broken mess, it’s a capper that you’re not expected to see in an American television show.
The U.S. version really didn’t hit its stride until it started to separate itself from its predecessor. It managed to do this two ways: by changing the Michael Scott character from a asshole-ish, David Brent clone to a always-performing, ne’er-do-well clown; the change made the character more endearing and much more tolerable for a longer series run. The second change was a stronger focus on the Jim and Pam dynamic that became the emotional glue that held the series together.
The U.S. version began and ended with the chemistry between, essentially, the two main leads in Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski. They formed a believable bond that made audiences care all over again for a will they/won’t they relationship that has been rehashed countless times in the history of sitcoms. Whether it be Sam and Diane, Tony and Angela, Ross and Rachel, or even JD and Elliot, it’s a story arc that has permeated the genre, but it hasn’t quite reached the levels that it had with The Office. In essence, the main difference is the truthful storytelling of unrequited love and two endearing characters that you can’t help but root for rather than an objective pairing of two attractive people that equal a couple because the script wills it so. It became the nucleus of the show in which all other aspects of the story revolved around.
The Office has had its ups and downs. The writer’s strike impacted the quality of episodes during the fourth season; the hour-long episodes were also a better idea on paper than the execution, as well. And while the show sort of lagged in quality after Steve Carrell’s departure, with the end in sight during Season Nine, the quality of episodes have managed to plateau at an output that is consistently funny, despite whatever it is that they plan to do with Ed Helms’ character. As they cross the finish line, they have righted the wrong that they had managed a few years ago by putting Dwight in charge of the office; a move that has been a long time coming. And now, as they wrap up the show, it seems they have positioned themselves in a good place to reward their fans with a worthwhile finale.
The show has already rewarded its die-hard fans when it comes to big episodes, knocking the ball out of the park each time it has had the opportunity. When it came to the Jim and Pam wedding, the show did not disappoint, even after five-and-a-half seasons of waiting for the eventual outcome. When they welcomed their first child, it was arguably the funniest episode in years, thanks, in large part to supporting turns by Dwight and Michael. And when they finally said goodbye to Michael Scott, it became one of the most poignant sendoffs in sitcom history. The precedent that the writers have given us lead me to believe that the fans are in store for one of the best finales in recent memories; one that will be both hilarious and heartfelt, leaving most of us in probable tears.
In essence, the finale’s biggest competition is the last episode featuring Steve Carrell. It was the perfect sendoff for the biggest star of the series; a virtual series finale in its own right. The seasons that have come after have always felt like a ticking clock; the show could only last so long without Michael Scott and it was only a matter of time before it reached its conclusion. Now, the show has a responsibility to its fan and its overall story to do the original characters justice in their final moments.