‘The Office’ stays true to its heart, even after 9 seasons


“The Office” will close its doors Thursday night after eight years and nine seasons.

That is not to say that Dunder Mifflin, the paper company in whose Scranton, PA, branch the series has largely been set, is itself going out of business. It’s not uncommon that when a workplace sitcom concludes it takes the workplace with it, but there have been no signs of that this season.

Still, anything can happen in 75 minutes. (The extra-long, “supersized” finale that will end the series makes a total of 201 episodes –13.4 times as many episodes as the Ricky Gervais U.K. series upon which it was based.)


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The ninth season has been at times a strange and ungainly one, due to the mechanics of winding things up; to the somewhat forced (though not implausible) friction between Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer), the show’s main love interest; to the wildly shifting character, and long mid-season absence, of office manager Andy (Ed Helms); and to the decision to make the conceit of the series -- that it is a public-television documentary, nine improbable years in the making – concrete, to the point of bringing a crew member into the story. The last episode left off just as the staff was sitting down to watch it.

It is not quite the same show as the one that debuted in March 2005, but it has continued to be a show I watch, grumbling occasionally, with great and in many respects increasing pleasure. It has become more fanciful -- closer in tone to “Parks & Recreation,” which was co-created by Greg Daniels, who adapted “The Office” for American television -- while remaining true to its emotional core. (And it does have one.)

For some, the series might as well have ended with the departure of Steve Carell, whose inept and confident Michael Scott occupied the chair Gervais originally built for himself. I like Carell, and I appreciate Michael more in retrospect. (I have been grazing in the fields of seasons past.)

Still, Michael’s loud neediness consumed a lot of oxygen, and his departure -- to a happy ending with his one true love, Holly (Amy Ryan) -- gave his employees room to breathe. It became more equitably an ensemble piece, which brought familiar characters into deeper or different focus, and which found room for some valuable new ones, most particularly Catherine Tate’s brash-yet-lost Nellie and James Spader’s gnomic season 8 overseer, Robert California. But even final-year new kids Clark Duke and Pete Miller, as service reps Clark and Pete, made a stronger impression than they would have in earlier seasons.

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Along with Michael, the show has most heavily depended on Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute, living permanently at a state of Defcon One, and Jim and Pam, whose relationship, in its measured naturalism, has been the series’ heart; “The Office” would have felt their loss more fatally than it did Michael’s.

Krasinski and Fischer and the writers who created Jim and Pam knew the characters well from the start, and even though they were put through their share of hoops -- though one was always in love with the other, they were kept apart until season four -- they have remained consistent, and constant, through the years. Although they were pushed apart in the current season in the name of narrative tension, their reunion last week redeemed all that felt artificial in their separation.

Situation comedy is almost always about family, whether or not the characters are related: “A lot of these people, this is the only family they have,” Michael says in an early episode, showing the camera a mug that reads “World’s Best Boss.” “So, as far as I’m concerned, this says ‘World’s Best Dad.’”

You can think of it as a sort of popular-art “Waiting for Godot,” in which the characters irritate and entertain one another to pass their blurring days. They pull pranks, play games, plan parties and throw parties. (“When do people work?” Phyllis is asked. “”We find little times during the day,” she responds.) But in this kind of comedy, there is also the possibility for change, for advancement, for meaning, for love.

Love. It’s one of the things we come to TV for: Not only for the love one character might bear another within an ongoing fiction, but for the perceptible love between the real people who play them. Even children know that there is a difference between an actor and the person he plays; and even adults feel that they are somehow one and the same. It is true, of course, that actors have to pretend to love people they don’t actually like, or to hate people they care about it.

So it is gratifying to learn that the note Jim gave Pam in last week’s episode, which put the seal on their reconciliation -- its contents were unrevealed to the audience -- was in fact a note that John Krasinski wrote Jenna Fischer, and that she was reading it for the first time as the cameras rolled, and that what crossed her face came straight from the heart.


‘The Office’

Where: NBC

When: Retrospective: 8 p.m. Thursday; Series finale: 9 p.m. Thursday

Rating: Not rated