The Office: A Long, Hard (That’s What She Said) Look Back

nup 154810 0128 The Office: A Long, Hard (Thats What She Said) Look Back

The Office is over, done. No, honestly, it is: here’s the proof. It’s completely finished. Its legacy will be as a show that came from very humble beginnings – a remake of a hit UK sitcom (The Office) that was aired as a mid-season replacement. In US network television, beginnings don’t get much more humble than that. From there, however, the show became something much bigger, emerging and engulfing the shadow that it was created under – the shadow of the initially superior British sitcom – and eventually proving itself superior.

It is odd to compare the US and UK versions of The Office, because aside from some first season plotlines, they are completely different. The Office US (as it is known in the UK) found itself in its second season when it stopped trying to emulate the tone and pitch of the UK version. Sure, the first season had some great comedic moments – Michael (Steve Carell) and his affection for Ryan (BJ Novak), who was then just a temp, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) choosing the office’s health care plan in the face of potential downsizing, Michael attempting to seduce Katy (Amy Adams), the purse sales rep, with a $1000 espresso machine bought with employee prize money, Pam (Jenna Fischer), Jim (Jon Krasinski) and Roy’s (David Denman) awkward affection triangle – but the fact that it was only six episodes long was undoubtedly to its benefit. As a standalone season, it definitely has the beginnings of the show we’d come to know and love, but the missteps that were made in that season (mostly by emulating the original) allowed it to grow and find itself.

The second season changed all that. You can imagine show runner Greg Daniels gathering the writing staff together and deciding to make a more American interpretation of the office, rather than the show The Office. This freed them up thematically and dramatically, allowing for multiple romances, wackier comedic moments, and a less oppressive atmosphere than the UK version. Season 2 was the first full-length season, and introduced key stories that would resonate throughout the seasons to follow – Jan (Melora Hardin) “spending the night” with Michael, Dwight and Angela (Angela Kinsey), Jim and Pam’s furtive glances blossoming into something more than friendship, and how that will affect her relationship with Roy.

This season also features the first really classic episodes, those ones you think of when you’re describing the show to someone who has never seen it before. There’s “The Dundies,” the first episode to let Michael Scott get his way, taking him from awkward to goofy and give full rein to his multiple neuroses. “Office Olympics” was the first great “bunk off” day, where the entire office downs tools and just has fun. This also showed us the full comedic inventiveness of Jim, being as he was up to then mainly the prankster bane of Dwight’s life. The episode introduced viewers to Flonkerton, Dunderball, and Pam Pong; all recreated in errant offices up and down the country. We also had “Booze Cruise,” when Jim finally tells someone (Michael) that he loves Pam, which gave the last few episodes a palpable air of tension. Jim finally tells Pam how he feels about her in the finale, “Casino Night,” and the kiss they shared was a perfect ending to that season, setting the next one up quite nicely.

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dwight impersonation the office The Office: A Long, Hard (Thats What She Said) Look Back

With a new season came a new dynamic – Jim moved to the Stanford branch, and Pam had broken off her relationship with Roy. This had repurcussions throughout the office, Michael in particular feeling like he was somehow to blame. Jim’s transfer introduces us to characters who would, midway through the season, come to inhabit the office and lives of the cast we’d grown to love. But in the beginning they were separate. There was Karen Fillipelli (Rashida Jones), who attempted to initiate a relationship with Jim that sort-of worked and sort-of didn’t, but remained a bone of contention between Jim and Pam upon Jim’s return (and subsequent discovery that Pam had broken up with Roy).

We also meet the Nard-Dog himself, Andy Bernard (Ed Helms), who is initially presented as someone with anger management problems but, after a period of therapy, is integrated relatively normally into the office society. This season offers a few gems: Michael accidentally outing Oscar (Oscar Nunez) in “Gay Witch Hunt,” then feeling forced to try to kiss him on the lips, the bird funeral in “Grief Counselling,” with the tiny bird coffin made by Pam, and “Branch Closing,” in which the Stanford branch is absorbed by the Scranton branch. This leads to interesting office politics, and a very different second half (compared to the first). It also signals the return of Jim who, after breaking it off with Karen, ends the season by finally (FINALLY) asking Pam to go on a date. Other brilliant moments include Michael’s faked suicide attempt (“Safety Training”), Phyllis (Phyllis Smith) being flashed in the office parking lot (“Women’s Appreciation”) and Pam’s fire walk (“Beach Games”).

Season four was a little shorter at nineteen episodes, as it was affected by the 2008/2009 WGA writer’s strike, but what it lacked in episodes it more than made up for with the funniest season opening in the history of The Office – Michael hitting Meredith (Kate Flannery) with his car. We also finally get to see Pam and Jim together, openly, as a couple, with Karen having left after the break-up and now managing the Dunder-Mifflin Utica branch.  This season brings some big changes too – Jan moves in with Michael after losing her job last season, and they begin a relationship and Angela breaks up with Dwight in the first episode after he euthanises her cat, after which Andy attempts to seduce her, with varying degrees of success over the first half of this season until she eventually acquiesces. The relationship is key throughout the season, culminating in Andy proposing to Angela in front of everybody in the office. Angela says yes. Season highlights include Michael working as a telemarketer to support himself and now-jobless Jan, later hopping on a train and attempting to escape (“Money”); Michael and Jan’s dinner party (“Dinner Party”), and the entirety of “Chair Model.” The whole episode is just classic moment after classic moment.

We also saw Jim and Pam separated again, as she went to study Art at the Pratt Institute in New York, bringing its own challenges to their relationship. We then had “Safety Training,” in which Michael discovers he is the leading cause of stress in the office. We see Ryan, the office temp, take Jan’s job at corporate in this season too, which obviously doesn’t end well. “Goodbye Toby” was this season’s finale, in which Toby (Paul Lieberstein) moves to Costa Rica after announcing his intentions in “Booze Cruise,” shorly after telling Pam of his own affections for her that had slowly been building throughout the show. He is replaced by Holly (Amy Ryan), who went on to become an extremely important figure in the show, and possibly the architect of its downfall. The episode also features Andy’s very public marriage proposal, of course, but that final ballsy scene – to have Angela and Dwight caught having sex in the office by Phyllis – was a rare downer ending that was also really funny. It succeeded in adding another layer of tension to the already complicated Angela/Andy/Dwight triangle, because every relationship ends up triangular in The Office.

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the office toby returns The Office: A Long, Hard (Thats What She Said) Look Back

The fifth season brought us a great starter episode, “Weight Loss.” Not just funny, but also pivotal in the progression of Jim and Pam, as he finally just proposes to her already. This doesn’t make their relationship any easier, but it does strengthen the bond between them. This season was notable not just for stepping up Jim and Pam but also for returning Ryan to the branch, freshly humiliated after his legal problems in the previous season. The best episode was either “Customer Service,” (featuring the usually meek Pam going out of her way to get a complaint, Jim and Pam with the bluetooth headsets, and Andy and Angela booking their upcoming wedding at Schrute arms), or two-parter “Lecture Circuit,” which forced Michael and Pam into very close quarters as they travelled around to different branches, to explain how Michael continually scores highly in branch sales evaluations.

Other highlights included “New Boss,” when a new regional Vice President Charles Miner (Idris Elba) arrives and charms the office, leaving Michael feeling unloved (and beginning the trope the show would later adopt of “arrival new boss + current boss = comedy”), “Michael Scott Paper Company,” detailing the emergence of the eponymous paper company (albeit in the same building and with some of the same employees and sales leads as the previous one), and “Employee Transfer,” when Holly is moved. The dissolution of the Michael Scott Paper Company and the subsequent staff shuffle meant that there was a receptionist spot vacant, a role given to Erin (Ellie Kemper). Angela and Dwight’s affair is revealed by Phyllis in “Morroccan Christmas,” causing both Andy and Dwight to leave her in the next episode “The Duel.” In the season finale “Company Picnic,” which featured not one, but two romanctic reveals, Michael is reunited with Holly, but she is with somebody else. In a mirroring of the original Pam/Jim scenario, he doesn’t tell her he loves her. Also, Pam discovers she is pregnant. Aww.

We get a marriage and a birth in season six, finally making Jim and Pam a family unit with the addition of little baby Cecellia (Cece). The marriage episode, “Niagra,” is a highlight of the entire show and the culmination of everything everybody had been anticipating for them. Jim was also made a co-manager in the first half of this season (“The Promotion”), much to Dwight’s horror. Erin and Andy begin a furtive relationship in “”Murder,” and Michael starts dating Pam’s mom Helene (Linda Purl), but it doesn’t end well.

He also, after a terrible meeting with shareholders (“Shareholder Meeting”), could have maybe made the share price drop, which possibly triggers the buy-out that occurs towards the end of this season by Sabre (“Sabre”) and the arrival of rambunctious CEO Jo Bennett (Kathy Bates). Pam’s contractions begin (two-parter “The Delivery”), inspiring Dwight and Angela to form their own baby contract. We also see the arrival of Gabe (Zach Woods), who will go on to affect Andy and Erin in later seasons. They have their first date (“St. Patrick’s Day”), and Erin discovers Andy’s previous engagement to Angela (“Secretaries Day”) that he was hiding from her. Season finale “Whistleblower” signals the beginning of the end for Sabre – someone is leaking information to the press about Sabre printers catching fire. Who could it be? Everyone, as it turns out.

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jim dwight the office The Office: A Long, Hard (Thats What She Said) Look Back

It’s unfair but not completely wrong when people suggest that season six was the beginning of the end for the show, a decline that season seven, while still funny, did nothing to prevent. Erin and Gabe begin a relationship (first seen onscreen in season opener “Nepotism”) after Andy’s failure to disclose his engagement to Angela, Ryan started a new social media website (“Wuphf.com”) from his office in the closet, with Michael’s approval (and money), Todd Packer (David Koechner), a minor character from the earlier seasons, potentially might get a salesman’s job (“Todd Packer”), and in “Classy Christmas” Toby goes on jury duty, allowing Holly to take his place, much to Michael’s delight. They begin dating in “PDA,” and he decides to propose in “Garage Sale,” in a beautiful scene taking place in the annex of the office.

The highlight here is definitely “Threat Level Midnight,” a balls-out action episode in which the team create a movie based on Michael Scott’s screenplay.  It is completely brilliant, even if it is out-of-step with the rest of the episodes. Michael leaves the show in “Goodbye Michael,” moving to Colorado with Holly, and his replacement Deangelo (Will Ferrel), whom he has been training since “Training Day,” takes over, with limited success. Dwight ends the season as acting office manager, eventually buying the building in finale “Search Committee,” during which Jim looks for the next office manager (with bonus cameos from Ricky Gervais, Ray Romano, Warren Buffett, Jim Carrey,  James Spader, and Catherine Tate, the latter two going on to join the main cast).

At the beginning of season eight, Andy is made office manager. New CEO Robert California (James Spader) makes a big impact on this season, with his unpredictable management style and his no-nonsense attitude putting a few noses out of joint. New characters include Nellie Bertram (Cathertine Tate), and Cathy Simms (Lindsay Broad), the latter of whom has amorous designs on Jim, which ultimately comes to nothing. Angela discovers that she is pregnant and in a relationship with Senator Robert Lipton (Jack Coleman), but the baby might possibly be Dwight’s. To impress his staff, Andy gets a tattoo (“The Incentive”), takes the office on a field trip to Gettysburg (“Gettsyburg”), and eventually ends up driving to Florida to get Erin back from a business trip she took with a few other members of staff, during which she decided to stay in Tallahassee. Jim and Pam discover they are having another baby, to coincide with Jenna Fischer’s real-life pregnancy, and returned to work in the episode “Jury Duty.”

While Andy is away, Nellie assumes the role of office manager (“Get The Girl”), which doesn’t sit well with him when he returns in “Angry Andy.” He is then fired when he angrily punches a hole in the wall. After some management training, he returns in the season finale. Robert California leaves after former Dunder Mifflin CEO David Wallace (Andy Buckley) buys back the company and fires him. Season finale “Free Family Portrait Studio” is something of a damp squib, with Andy retaking managership and making Nellie the office Special Projects Manager. Oscar and Robert get a little closer too after some signs of affection at a fundraiser held earlier on in the season (“Fundraiser”), but will an affair begin?

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asian jim The Office: A Long, Hard (Thats What She Said) Look Back

Season opener “The New Guys” introduces two new characters – Clark (Clark Duke), and Pete a.k.a. Plop (Jake Lacy) – as two characters (Kelly [Mindy Kaling] and Ryan) leave. Pam’s ex Roy gets married (“Roy’s Wedding”), which starts off some of the marriage problems that the twosome experience in this season. It begins in this episode, when Jim gets involved with old college friends in a new business opportunity called Athlead, a sports management company. Darryl (Craig Robinson) gets involved later on (“Andy’s Ancestry”), and the two eventually move in together in Philedelphia (“Vandalism”).

While the Jim/Pam story dominates, other gems emerge -  after Angela discovers Oscar and Robert’s affair (“The Whale”), and that he is actually cheating on the both of them, they plot to kill him (“The Target”). Then there’s traditional Schrute Christmas that is forced upon the office by Angela’s lack of planning (“Dwight Christmas”). And who can forget Meredith being shaved bald after being blamed for a spate of lice in the office (“Lice”).

The finale, as perfectly summed up here, could not have been any better. It was a perfect end to a show that, while not always consistent, provided at least a few laughs per episode. Even at its worst, it was always a little bit funny, which is impressive after 201 episodes. I’m not even going to pretend that this retrospective has been exhaustive, given that I didn’t mention Kelly Kapoor or Darryl Philbin until very late in the proceedings, and made no mention at all of Val (Ameenah Kaplin), the controversial Brian (Chris Diamantopolous), Bob Vance (Robert R. Shafer) of Vance Refrigeration, Hank (Hugh Dane) the office security guard, or Stanley (Leslie David Baker) and his many affairs, or Creed (Creed Bratton) at all. This is just a brief look back at each season, and its many great moments.

Are there any particularly great scenes that I neglected to mention from The Office? Why not comment below and let me know? That way we can laugh together.

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