“You think Stanleys grow on trees? Well they don’t. There is no Stanley tree. You think the world is crawling with Phyllis’? Show me that farm.”—Michael Scott, Season 3
The final episode of The Office airs tomorrow night. Let that sink in. What were you doing when the series began, in 2005? Where were you? What kind of person were you? Nine years is a long time. I was a freshman in college when it started. Now I’ve got nearly five years of real-life office experience. No TV show has made me laugh and care about the characters as much as The Office.
The late-night reruns remind us of how much we used to laugh; these days we’ll take a few honest chuckles. But like a Mets fan in the winter, Office devotees will soon find out whether no Office is better than a half-decent Office. I’ll miss it, but it’s time for it to go.
Why did the show decline? There was inevitable plot development: Jim and Pam couldn’t be in limbo forever, and many feel the show fizzled without that tension. Actors left the show to pursue other opportunities, most notably Steve Carell towards the end of Season 7. But the biggest reason for the decline took place behind the scenes.
If you’ll get past the fact that I spent days some time researching this, these numbers are revealing: In Seasons 1-4, 91 percent of the episodes were written by Office veterans (writers who penned at least 10 episodes for the show); in Seasons 5-9, that number plummeted to 44 percent.
Even after Michael left, many of the veteran writers remained on board, but a larger writing staff meant they contributed less frequently. Not only was there an influx of writers who were at best less experienced—and at worst less talented—but there was less continuity across the episodes. The bulk of the first four seasons was written by the same nine people. This season alone has had 14 different lead writers.
“I just feel like the best comedy needs consensus between the writers and performers at the same time, and you don’t want them to be split into two camps that don’t understand each others’ points of view,” Office executive producer Greg Daniels said in 2007. In recent years, the episodes penned by the core group of writers who got the show off the ground were getting lost among the episodes written by newcomers.
Mindy Kaling, who plays Kelly, has been singled out as the show’s best writer (by other writers and fans). She wrote through last season, but her skills were overshadowed by the onslaught of writers who came in to write one or two episodes.
The writing room upheaval is a big reason why the show’s final act—the two-plus post-Michael seasons—has been equal parts depressing, awkward, and confusing. There have been some memorable scenes—Darryl’s Athlead interview stands out—but far more questionable plot decisions. Why was Andy promoted to boss—twice? Why was Robert California, played by James Spader, deployed so haphazardly? As for the Pam/Boom Mic Guy story line, just…why?
But none of that takes away from the brilliance of the series as a whole. It was the comedy with a heart. It made us question our sanity as we actively rooted for Jim and Pam to get together or cringed as Michael sabotaged himself yet again. It’s just a TV show, some idiot would remind us. Fine, but watch Dwight read Michael’s recommendation letter and try not to feel something. That doesn’t do it for you? How about this, you soul-less robot monster:
There are too many classic episodes to name here. “Booze Cruise,” “The Injury,” “The Secret”—and that’s just a three-episode stretch in Season Two. There are still images from the show that nearly cause me to cry from laughter: Jim as Dwight; Dwight wearing the CPR dummy’s face; Prison Mike.
“It’s hilarious, it’s awful, but it’s familiar.” That’s how David Koechner, who plays Todd Packer, describes the success of the show. He’s right. We laugh at comedians while thinking, That’s so true! Even if it’s annoying in real life, watching someone else complain about it is funny. I get a staff-wide email about cleaning up the “detritus accumulating in the sink,” roll my eyes, and click delete before I’m done reading; Pam attaches a note to the dirty microwave signed, “Sincerely, Disappointed,” and you’ve got a hilarious plot line.
The show has left an imprint on my life like few others. I compare my co-workers to characters on the show. I have been Jim for Halloween more than once. I’ve dedicated more than three entire days, in real time, just watching each episode once. That doesn’t account for the hours of reruns, money spent on merchandise, or time wasted discussing the show with friends. And you know what? When I’m on my death bed, I’ll be perfectly OK with that. Even though The Office doesn’t satisfy me like it used to. Even though it was hard. Even though it went on too long.
That’s what she said.