The best series finales leave you reminiscent and devastated. In this, The Office
I’ve been watching The Office since “Email Surveillance” (Season 2, Episode 9) aired in November, 2005. In those early days, several of the cast members signed up for MySpace accounts as their characters (though blogging as themselves). Through the years, the cast and crew never shied from breaking that fourth wall with its audience, taking to heart the care and support from a community of people who just want this good, unusual show to survive.
No, the series never quite managed to surpass its near-perfect sophomore season. And yes, Seasons 6-8 (and especially 8) were not worthy of the finesse we associate with its creators. But there were some things The Office never compromised. It never compromised its dedication to genuine emotion - rather than that canned, played-for-sweeps sitcom nonsense we’d grown accustomed to over the years. The Office gave us big moments when it wanted to give us big moments, and surprised us always with just how extraordinary the ordinary can be. Romance was not about contriving a good story to tell others, but about constructing real moments that would remain meaningful for those who were there.
Above all, The Office never compromised its belief that great shows don’t withhold sentiment. It is produced by people who love the show just as much as we do, who are as devastated to leave it as we are to lose it. I never got the same feeling with other series finales - the Friends cast seemed eager to embark on the (mostly unfulfilled) promise of even greater things. The Seinfeld cast was just so determined not to be sentimental that they missed the point of television. 30 Rock gave us a finale entirely appropriate to the tone of its show, but of course the tone of its show never quite touched our hearts.
So, of long-running shows that have met their ends, The Office will remain that rarity in television: A show that delivers a series finale worthy of its own history, and worthy of the sentiment that has made all this possible. I’ve always believed that this cast was unusual, primarily because none of them were supposed to be famous by any cookie-cutter, Hollywood standards. Many of them have known different adult lives, working behind counters and desks, and serving tables for enough years that the earthiness stuck with them. The series managed to pile these extraordinary oddities together and keep them together for nearly nine years. And when you put adults of humble beginnings together, there’s a good chance they’ll appreciate their job, adjust well to the spotlight, and remain grateful for one another. There’s a good chance they’ll be as protective of their work as we are of their product. I’ve always maintained that The Office set must’ve been a great place for John Krasinski to grow up - surrounded by comedy greats and acting talents who had their heads on straight. This show never struck me as a place of ego, of narcissistic pleasure over their own brilliance or success. Rather, it seemed like family: Determined to stay together, determined to protect the essence of what keeps them together.
These are the kinds of people you want behind a long-running series. From re-hiring Devon to letting Spencer Daniels come back as Meredith’s (stripper) son, from giving us our last That’s What She Said to having Pam answer one final call at Dunder-Mifflin - this show uses the past to remind us that everyone in the office has earned the right to their future. When Dwight pronounces Pamela Beesly-Halpert his best friend, we remember the years and shenanigans that have earned us this relationship. That Rolodex is filed somewhere in our hearts.
Of the final talking heads, Andy’s and Pam’s have been most-quoted, and they are magnificent. But - maybe it’s the simplicity - my favorite is Phyllis’s, because it has the quiet, understated awareness of someone who comprehends and is at peace with endings:
“I’m happy that this was all filmed, so that I can remember everyone and what we did. I worked for a paper company all these years, and I never wrote anything down.”
Phyllis always struck me as someone who’d never need to write anything down, because she knew the good ol’ days when they were the good ol’ days. That cutaway of her knitting happily is exactly the Phyllis we know. That cutaway is exactly The Office we know - with a cast and crew who knew, every moment during these nine years, that they were living a fantasy and that this fantasy had to be protected with love, and care, and laughter. If we adore this finale, it is because we (rightfully) suspect that its creators have cherished this ride as much as we have, and have the awareness to comprehend that something so special comes but once in a lifetime. People who grasp the weight of an ending also know the respect it merits. This respectful, empathic finale is one for the ages.
In my mind, the screen fades to us all knitting happily. Farewell and thank you.