The Office is an interesting study in the evolution of a television show. It began its existence as a remake from the popular British comedy that had been popular a few years earlier. Because of this, most people thought it was doomed, that it was going to try too hard to capture the brilliance of that show that its only fate was to fizzle out in failure. And with their short-run first seasons, that appeared to be the case.
But then something else happened. This new comedy, based on the awkward foibles of a standard workplace, began to find its own voice. Its characters starting following their own path from their derivative beginnings. Michael Scott was related from the same idea as David Brent, but he was now becoming much more sympathetic. Jim started s the every-man like Tim, but was soon his own person. Pam was developing quite a lot differently than Dawn. And the will-they, wont-they romance was also far more interesting.
Another brilliant move that the American Office made was to begin to develop all of their secondary characters as well, creating a whole menagerie of comedic personalities; from Kevan’s lovable doofus, to Stanley’s grumpy eye rolling, to Kelly’s obsession with celebrity culture. This allowed The Office to grow out of its roots as a remake of a short lived workplace comedy to a sitcom juggernaut that lasted for 9 years and was a mainstay on the fabled NBC Thursday night line-up.
Season 1 – The first season was a quick 6-episode order after Christmas. Looking back it does have a meaner edge to it, reflecting the British series a lot more than it would. The first episode is really a mirror of the original pilot, but after that it stars to do its own thing. Highlights are Diversity Day, Health Care, and Hot Girl.
Season 2 – With a renewed, full slate of episodes, The Office really found its stride in its second season, without being weight down by trying to find new material like newer seasons would. That’s probably why this is The Office’s best year. There are so many great moments, and the Jim crush on Pam is at its peak. Michael begins to become likable, but he’s still a complete asshole. Dwight is very funny without verging into ridiculous Dwight territory like he does later.
This season also has some of the best episodes of the whole series, including the Christmas Party episodes (perhaps my personal favourite), Sexual Harrassment, Office Olympics which introduced Flonkertin, Conflict Management, and of course Casino Night which gave us one of TV’s great finale cliffhangers.
Season 3 – The third season started with a shake up by moving Jim to anther branch. This introduced new characters like Andy. But of course you knew that the family would have to be brought back together again. Still, it was an interesting twist to the start of another season of The Office at its peak. Highlights include Gay Witch Hunt, in which they learn Oscar is gay in what is one of Th Office’s bet half-hours in which Michael’s homophobia and desire to be seen as progressive clash in such a hilarious way.
Season 4 – The show’s quality dipped quite a bit with season four, which became far too hung up on Michael’s relationship with Jan, and their questionable need to focus on Jan’s crazier tendencies. The episode Dinner Party is a particular low point in the series. Jim and Pam are now officially together which works, but other things like Ryan as the new head office guy just doesn’t. (I really don’t like his character).
Season 5 – Things start picking up again as Jan and Ryan-as-boss are out of the picture. One of my favourite side stories are the Michael Scott Paper Company episodes, which are all pretty great episodes. This season also introduces Michael’s love interest Holly.
Season 6 – Season six is just kinda there. It introduces the buy out of Dunder Mifflin (which unfortunately introduces the perpetually annoying character Gabe) and a terrible subplot of Michael dating Pam’s mom. This season is largely forgettable, but the Jim and Pam wedding eipsode is really good.
Season 7 – Season 7 saw the exit of Steve Carrell as Michael Scott. Yes, the show and its plethora of funny characters would be able to hold the show up for another 2 seasons, but lets face it; Michael was the heart of The Office (sorry Jim and Pam). However, the lead up to his departure did give us a return to form in its writing. Its also really nice to see him exit on such a high note. Goodbye Michael is definitely a highlight, as is Search Committee tough in a more goofy, fun way.
Season 8 – The first season without Michael Scott certainly suffers without him. A lot of things don’t work here: Andy as Boss, James Spader as Robert California, and the worst cast introduction perhaps through the whole series, Nellie. Jim and Pam also seem to be getting more and more smug at this point. The only highlight is the small group of episodes in which some of the coworkers go to Florida (especially vacation Stanley).
Season 9 – I pretty much lost interest at this point. Dwight, who has been growing more and more ridiculous throughout the show’s run, was too much to bear here (The Farm may be the worst episode of the series). Andy was hardly present and when he was seemed uninterested. They tried to drive a wedge between Pam and Jim which could have been interesting but only kind of was. They did end it well though. And I liked the new character of Clark, which was almost always funny. The highlight is definitely the penultimate episode AARM (assistant to the assistant to the regional manager), which I thought worked as a better finale than the finale did.
Ranking of the Seasons:
Favourite Character – Its gotta be Michael Scott. Steve Carrell took the David Brent template from the BBC show shaped and built upon it to make a whole new character. Michael is like a petulant child who just really, really wants people to like him. That makes for some awkward and cringe-worthy behaviour, but also sort of gets you on his side a little (certainly not always though). his lack of grasp on normal human interaction has provided some of the shows funniest moments, which the growing relationships between he and the other characters is one of the emotional cores of the show.
Final Thoughts – The Office is one of the defining comedies of the 2000’s. It took a premise from an already excellent show and evolved over time into its own creation. The characters are almost all notable and hilarious (with a few clunkers in there), and the leads are very likable in their own way. The comedy works as both subtle satire and more outrageous slapstick (the former giving way to the latter more and more as the series progresses). It has gone through a lot of side stories, some of which work and others which really, really don’t (Andy and Angela anyone?). But the first three seasons are simply some of the bet in TV sitcom history. Should the show have ended when Michael left? Probably, but the shows legacy holds up regardless.