Finally reached the end of the American incarnation of The Office today, and I was very pleased with how it all wrapped itself up. I was very pleasantly surprised with the series as a whole, in fact — though the early stages of the first series where it was literally nothing more than a word-for-word remake of the English version were… not poor, but disappointing; and the latter part of the complete run did perhaps drag on a little longer than it needed to. Still, the finale was good, and the nine seasons of episodes meant that by the end you have a very strong understanding of all the characters involved.
I liked the balance it struck between some genuinely touching stories and somewhat formulaic character comedy. Many of the characters in the show almost had a “catchphrase” — not literally, but an iconic means of behaving — but the show, on the whole, managed to ensure that these party tricks weren’t used so much that the people using them became one-dimensional joke machines. Angela’s prim and proper attitude was subverted by what happened to her in the later seasons with regard to her relationships, for example, while the seemingly alcoholic Meredith points out in the last episode that the side of her captured on film — the side that drank too much, frequently got her tits out and behaved completely inappropriately — was only part of the entire picture.
And this was part of the point, really. As a spoof “docudrama”, both the English and American versions of The Office play with the idea that it’s possible to steer a narrative that you have no external influence on through careful, selective editing and manipulation after the fact. It’s a common trick in reality TV; some shows even supposedly have disclaimers that you may not be portrayed entirely accurately if you appear on them, because the footage will be edited to fit the “script” rather than to give a truthful picture of what actually happened.
In the case of The Office, of course, the whole thing was scripted and planned out from start to finish, and it was, at times, hard to forget that side of things. Jim and Pam’s romance was a little too perfect at times — even with the several pieces of tension introduced in the final season. Similarly, characters such as Dwight, Erin and Andy were almost too much of a caricature to be truly “believable” at times; this certainly didn’t hurt the show if you treated it as an ongoing comedy drama rather than attempting to suspend your disbelief and treat it as an ongoing documentary, but it did lose a little of the magic that the English original had.
That said, thinking back to the English original version, David Brent was an obvious caricature that, on many occasions, behaved far too ridiculously to be “believable” as a real person. The difference is that alongside his obvious nonsense, everything else was a lot more understated. The Tim and Dawn possible romance was constantly left dangling — something the American version simply couldn’t do with the considerably larger number of episodes it boasted — and even when it seemed to “wrap things up” had a certain degree of ambiguity about it. Not so much with Jim and Pam — though again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Jim and Pam’s relationship and how they overcame their difficulties and stuck together was a pleasantly heartwarming tale when all’s said and done.
On the whole, then, I really enjoyed the whole series, and the last couple of episodes were an excellent finale to the entire run. It’s a very distinct beast from the English original — I’m not sure if it’s better overall, but it certainly managed to maintain our attention for nine seasons of twentysomething episodes each rather than the original’s two seasons of six episodes each.
It’s a good watch, then; less dependent on outright uncomfortable comedy than the British original, and more focus on slow, gradual character development over time. The whole run could have possibly stood to be a couple of seasons shorter — things dragged a little in the middle — but it started and finished very strong, and I’m very glad I took the time to watch it from start to finish.
The question is, then, what’s next?