On July 9th, 2001, a new series premiered in the UK on the BBC, launching the careers of Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Martin Freeman. It provided one of the most notoriously villainous bosses in TV history in David Brent. It placed a spotlight on the workplace romance with love-struck Tim secretly (then not-so-secretly) pining for receptionist/engaged Dawn. It made popular the idea of the mockumentary, in which a series is shot as a sort-of documentary, despite it all being fictitious.
Four years later, on NBC, the idea continued with an Americanized version of the same idea. A boorish, obnoxious boss named Michael Scott, a flirtateous friendship between Jim and Pam, a mockumentary setting. Before it even premiered, visions of NBC's previous retelling of a British classic, Coupling, circled in people's memories. The Office was doomed before it had even started. How could American writers re-capture the brilliance of the British classic? Impossible. American television is simple-minded drivel by comparison.
Suddenly, a twist in the story: The Office US didn't suck. In fact, it was good. Really, really good.
The six-episode first season was not without major flaws. The timing, character development and hilarity of later seasons was almost non-existent in those first six episodes. But there was a spark there somewhere. Deep down beneath the rough edges was a future classic and a rare feat in which the remake dared to be as good (or better?) than its original.
It wasn't until its second season that The Office started hitting its stride. The cute, fun scenes between Jim and Pam were at their best here. Michael Scott's rude, malicious behavior went into hyperdrive. The writers began developing the side characters in the office. And, of course, there's Dwight Schrute, perhaps one of the best characters television has produced in years. The moments of Season 2 included memorable scenes: Jim confessing his love for Pam... to Michael, on a booze cruise; the Dundies; the Christmas party; and, of course, Casino Night, in which Jim kisses Pam after she (we assume) tells her mother on the phone that she has feelings for Jim, despite being engaged to Roy. This season was capped off by an Emmy win for Outstanding Comedy Series.
The next season took a step backwards in terms of Jim and Pam, as Jim moved to Stamford, started a new romance with Karen (Rashida Jones), and began working with a peculiar dolt with anger issues: Andy Bernard, played with gusto by Ed Helms. The two offices quickly merged into one, sending Jim back to Scranton and back to his failed attempt at confessing his love to Pam, who became increasingly aware of her attraction to Jim and her disdain for Roy. By season's end, Jim asked Pam on a date, Karen left Scranton and all that was left of Stamford was Andy.
The next few seasons would see Jim and Pam's romance progress, from office romance to engagement to wedding to baby. But it was everyone else that the writers had fun developing. Stanley became an angry adulterer. Oscar became the gay know-it-all. Meredith became the slutty, booze-soaked punchline. Ryan became the failed corporate bigwig with a love-her-hate-her relationship with gossiping Kelly. Toby became Michael Scott's most hated man, then for some reason, became universally hated in the office. Creed became the crazy old man who would say and do things with no rhyme or reason. Stuffy Angela had relationships with Dwight, Andy and a closeted senator.
Best of all, Michael Scott became a human being, via his relationship with Holly Flax (Amy Ryan), a kinder, gentler female Michael Scott. Michael started the show as the Americanized David Brent, and kept up much of his rude behaviour, but unlike David who gained redemption in the finale, the writers humanized Michael in small ways throughout his seven year run. He never meant harm to anyone. He was obnoxious, lewd, indecent, mean and wrong in every way. But he loved his co-workers, the people he desperately wanted to love him back. And once he found Holly, he changed. Not entirely. Subtly. And at the end of Season 7, Michael left us and Scranton for good to be with Holly.
The series also introduced other characters along the way: Ellie Kemper's plucky Erin, Catherine Tate's British tart Nellie, and most recently, Clark Duke's Clark and Jake Lacy's Pete, originally playing doubles to Dwight and Jim, respectively. Upon Steve Carell's exit, the series went about hiring a new boss and did so with Andy Bernard, but a replacement for the David Wallace position went to the sublime James Spader as Robert California, a smooth-talking egomaniac who somehow convinced the previous boss to leave her post after he was introduced to the animals in Dunder-Mifflin Scranton.
In the wake of Carell's exit, the series had to proceed without its main star. Sure, they have an ample cast of main characters in Jim, Pam, Dwight and Andy. And the supporting cast is just as strong. But Season 8 felt like a spin-off more than the original series. The comedy was there, the characters were there, but a little of the magic that Michael Scott brought was gone. Robert California could be his own madman, but he wasn't Michael. Neither was Andy. The series became stuck in neutral.
This season, with James Spader out and Catherine Tate in as part of the cast (along with newbies Clark and Pete), the producers announced what most had expected when Carell left: the end was here. Season 9 would be the final season. With that, the writers went about wrapping up the loose ends of the series. Jim moved to Pittsburgh to start a sports marketing company (Athlead), driving a wedge between himself and Pam. Andy left the office for a three-month boat trip, then quits completely to pursue his dream of being a star (resembling original David Brent and his downward spiral from D-level stardom). Angela left her gay senator husband, as did Oscar, and realized her love for Dwight. Dwight became Regional Manager (and A.A.R.M. to Jim's A.[to the]R.M.) and inherited a beet farm, setting up a failed spin-off.
Best of all, the presence behind the camera became a main storyline this season. In the season's turning point towards an end, Jim and Pam fight over the phone, leaving a heartbroken Pam to break the fourth wall, sort of, by talking to the crew. This introduced Brian, the sound man for the documentary, who in turn introduced us to his nine-year infatuation with Pam. Fans cried outrage over this storyline turn, and while it may have suited the show better to keep the scene in tact but leave Brian out of the show, it didn't end up going exactly the way many had envisioned it and actually served to bring Jim and Pam closer together. The most touching and pivotal moment for Jim and Pam since their wedding came when Jim and Pam embraced one another at the end of "Paper Airplane", against a scene from their wedding about the importance and strength of love. It confirmed what the series had been getting at all year: this is really the end.
Yes, there have been missteps along the way. And yes, maybe the series should have ended with Carell's departure. But there are a lot of magical, fun moments that we would have missed in these last two years. And let's face it, the heart of the show is Jim and Pam. It matters to the fans how their story concludes, at least within the confines of the "documentary". And like The Office UK, it's thankfully ending after the airing of the documentary. Unlike The Office UK, we have delved deep into these characters. We've grown with them as well for nine years. We've lived with them, loved with them and laughed with them. And when the cameras turn off this Thursday, I will miss them.
It's been long, it's been hard, but it's been easy to swallow. It's kept us satisfied and wanting more.
That's what she said.