Goodbye, Scranton: Part 1

from Nick Suss

May 17, 2013, 2:03 p.m.

I started watching The Office a little bit later than some people. I didn’t watch it day one back in 2005, so I can’t truly say I grew up with The Office in the truest sense like some can. But I did grow up on this show. When I first fell in love with the show back in freshman year of high school when TBS ran the reruns of the first four seasons, I couldn’t miss an episode. Every Tuesday at 10:00 pm, they would air two new episodes and I would stay up well past my self-enforced bedtime to see the adventures of Dunder-Mifflin. And when I finished each and every episode I could find that way, I pestered my friends day in and day out to borrow their DVD copies of the show. And when I had done that and filled in all of my gaps, I started watching the show live. Beginning with the Michael Scott Paper Company episode, I have not missed an episode. No, I haven’t seen every episode live, but I’ve seen all of them within a 24-hour span of the original airing. I laughed and I wept through the strongest moments of the show. I can still see where I was and who was with me when I saw Niagara for the first time. When Jim and Pam kissed on the boat at the falls, Michael’s face when the two got married, Kevin’s box shoes and toupee, Andy puncturing his scrotum with his keys, I can still picture each and every scene through the eyes of a younger me. To me, with every episode I saw live, I etched a new memory into the photo album. The Office was more than just a show to me. I had seen funny shows before and I have seen funny shows since, but The Office is just different. There was never a point when I considered it to be my favorite show, nor did I ever think it to be the funniest show on television, but I never missed an episode. I have never seen a show with such a deep cast. The Office relied so much on its minor characters that one rarely found themselves looking at an underdeveloped storyline. And even if the show did get hastier towards the end, the core of the show kept hope alive that it could always rebound. And it did. It’s funny. The Office is a show that I never seek out to watch, but if I’m ever stuck with it, I’m content. I said it before, The Office was more than just a show to me. For me, it was a symbol of growing up. Where How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory satisfied what kind of a perfect utopia I imagined life should be like, The Office hardened me with humor. It was based so deeply in reality, so entrenched in the triviality and the absurdity of life, that the humor was just inherently smarter and more resonant. To me, Jim and Pam will always be the perfect couple of my generation. Dwight Schrute will always be my buffoon. And Michael Scott. Oh, Michael Scott. His self-indulgent snicker any time he ever laughs at his own crass, off-handed jokes will always be the basis for the kind of funny I want to be. Nobody wants to be Michael Scott, but in a way, everyone wants to be like Michael Scott. But what The Office meant to me is nothing compared to what it meant for the television landscape and popular culture as a whole. Never before has a show both revolutionized and ruined the sitcom industry. In nine years, The Office did.

The idea of the mockumentary existed well before The Office hit the American airwaves like a sonic boom of intellectual humor with no plans of halting. The idea had existed since the 1980s, and it probably floated around well before that too. But when Ricky Gervais brought the original Office to Slough, everyone who partook in the experiment seemed to be gladly surprised by how well the format fit on the small screen. In 2003, America tried its first experience of note with a small screen mockumentary, but the style deployed in that one was far too abrasive and now, ten years after its debut, we just now are beginning to revel in the brilliance that was Mitchell Hurwitz’ creation. But there will be far more on that in about 10 days. America really wasn’t ready for the rude format of that show, but with a dumbed down version of Gervais’ formula, America seemed willing to embrace The Office. After a few months of needed coercion from the first watchers, critics, and the box-office success of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The Office began to dominate the American comedy landscape. And in my mind, that was a good thing. But it was also a bad thing.

The Office was TVs best and brightest. Following in NBCs proud succession of smart and witty comedies, The Office proved to be television’s new trend setter. Everyone wanted to mimic what the show had done, but no one really knew how. The single-camera sitcom had existed before The Office, but using it so well was something relatively new. Most of America’s most revered and well known sitcoms had always used laugh tracks and four cameras. And while NBC already had a small but committed fan base built up for Scrubs and FOX used Malcolm in the Middle brilliantly and the aforementioned Arrested Development not so brilliantly, most of the single camera sitcoms on the air really weren’t sitcoms, but rather high-profile, gussied up dramas pretending to be comedies like Ally McBeal and Sex and the City. So when The Office busted onto the scene and a mass appeal of people actually bit on the premise, the idea of the sitcom changed forever. Think about it. NBC hasn’t had a four camera sitcom last two or more seasons since Joey. FOX hasn’t used a four camera sitcom seemingly since That 70s Show. Every time ABC uses one, it lampoons it in the Friday night slot and it gets cancelled after one year. Yeah, there’s CBS, but CBS barely counts because more often than not, their network is ran smoothly and without confusion. Because of The Office, and in many ways because of the changing landscape of what the American public was willing to laugh at, the scripts changed. The Office, and as a result sitcoms like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation and Modern Family and The Middle and Glee and New Girl, took old sitcom premises, stripped the studio audience, and added a sense of realism. The Office did it perfectly. The others? Well, that’s another story.

But I’m not here to talk about how every show which copied The Office changed the way sitcoms operate and now when shows like The Big Bang Theory and Parks and Recreation have identical plots, Parks and Rec is hailed as genius while Big Bang is called childish and boorish. I’m here to praise The Office. It was legitimately the only show I’ve ever seen where pinpointing a favorite character is difficult not because no one was funny, but because everyone was. When looking at how many funny jokes the character told per episode, Michael Scott was the funniest character. If you look at what percentage of jokes told were funny, Creed Bratton was easily the funniest character. If you judge comedy by how physical the jokes were, Dwight Schrute is your man. If you want to deem how re-watchable the jokes are where comedy comes from, ladies and gentlemen, your favorite character is Jim Halpert. If you love stupidity, there was Kevin Malone. If you loved sarcasm, you had Stanley Hudson. If overtly villainous personality traits slowly becoming humanizing was your thing, Andy Bernard was the funniest. If a good person slowly becoming a villain was your thing, you still thought Andy Bernard was the funniest. If you loved trainwrecks, you laughed at Kelly Kapoor and Ryan Howard. And finally, if you watched the show for the sidekick, Pam Beesly was your girl. For me, picking a favorite character is like picking a favorite food: it really just depends on the mood and how it’s prepared. For example, in the first two seasons, Jim was my favorite. In seasons 3 and 4, I loved Andy. For the next three years, I was devoted to Michael Scott even if I hated Holly Flax more than life itself. And in the last two seasons, a relatively insignificant character named Erin Hannon stole my heart. I’ve heard it said before about the show: The Office was the kind of show where even if you didn’t care about the A-plot, the B-plot could keep you intrigued even if it was played by the supporting cast. The acting was brilliant, the production was brilliant, the writing was sublime. But that definitely isn’t what I’ll remember about the show.

The Office means to me in many ways the same thing that SNL means to me. Whereas SNL is the most important show in my life and I cannot imagine a world in which I didn’t have it as a crutch and The Office was just a sitcom I really, really enjoyed, the two shared one big similarity in my life. Each and every Friday I would arrive at school in the morning, whether for a football workout or to talk under our tree freshman year or just to chill out in the cafeteria and I would discuss the events of last night in Scranton with my pals. Just like how Mondays were nothing but quoting Stefon and DeAndre Cole and the Digital Shorts, Thursdays were about what Jim did to Dwight and how Michael had put his foot in his mouth. Thursdays were about Creed’s one line in the shows. Thursdays were about Jim and Pam’s romance. Thursdays were about Kevin’s general incompetence and the air of douchiness put on by Andy and Oscar. More than anything, Thursdays were about me and my friends discussing our shared interests. And now, as the one sitcom that our entire generation shared came to an end, it seems nothing on television unites us. Those who saw The Office as brilliant for its deadpan and its severity have split towards Parks and Rec and Community and New Girl while those who saw The Office for satisfying the traditional sitcom memes in a clever way have split towards The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family. There is a schism. Call it cynicism, but I think with the ending of The Office, our generation of television viewers won’t ever again be united under a single comedy. I don’t understand why some shows are now so divisive, but The Office hit us at the right time. We were all young enough to laugh at the sillier moments but mature enough to understand at least a little bit of the subtext. Ever generation has their once in a lifetime show which unites the doubters and the optimists of the comedy world. For us, that show was set in a mid-level paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. And it kept me satisfied every single time. That’s what she said.

You can read Pat 2 of Goodbye, Scranton, a review of the finale character by character"here", but be warned, there are spoilers ahead.


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