5 Things "The Office" Taught Us

"The Office" is closing. Last week it was announced that the forthcoming season will be the last for the beloved sitcom, which for almost a decade has regaled audiences with tongue-in-cheek, knowing-dumb humor and has changed the face of comedic television. Greg Daniels, executive producer, told Variety,"This year feels like the last chance to really go out together and make an artistic ending of the show.”

Of course he's right—the loss of Steve Carrell as bumbling boss Michael Scott last season was an unrecoverable blow to the dynamic of "The Office," and though the cast is packed with more prodigious talent than almost any other comedy on television, the post-Carrell narrative never seemed to gel. Last season was mildly funny, but had the effect of a beer sitting open in the fridge for a couple of days—the remnants of flavor were there, but there was no fizz. The savvy actors felt it: once season eight kicked in and the response flatlined, they started dropping like flies. James Spader, whose character was invented to fill in the Carrell-sized hole, announced he'd leave after one season, even though his appearances were already nominal. Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak, both writers on the show as well as actors, said they were leaving too, the former to work on her eponymous new sitcom. Their departure is certain to leave a giant gap in season nine, their characters stand-outs in the ensemble cast, with Kaling's ditzy-smart, uber-girly girl character constantly pining after, then manipulating, Novak's corner-cutting hotshot. The only hope is that Daniels is correct—that there's still time to save the show from an undignified end, and that the writers and actors will come through with a burst of energy in the clutch. 

However, even if next season ends up becoming a hot mess, we'll still have so much we learned from the beautiful years prior—from workplace economics, to besting a rival coworker.

1. True love is real.

Somehow "The Office" managed to drag out a ships-passing-in-the-night love story much longer than was logically tenable and never once played it too corny or predictable. Specifically, three years into the series were spent slowly building the tension between Jim and Pam, with the possibility of their union ambiguous the whole time. Yet even Jim's short relationship with a smart and sweet-faced character played by Rasheeda Jones couldn't dampen audiences' yearning for the star-crossed lovers to unite. So when it finally happened, and Jim and Pam began to blossom into a family, it was a small miracle that they didn't cheese it up beyond belief—and it relied entirely on the long shot of the spying documentary cam, peering at Jim on bended knee with a ring in the rain through the dissonant pane of a car window. Who says CCTV can't be artful? 

2. Don't sleep with your superiors.

While there was plenty of workplace intercourse (ahem), it was refreshing to see that most of the power-imbalance relationships involved males reaching up, particularly in the case of Michael Scott, who enters a relationship with Jan Levenson, Vice President of Sales at Corporate Headquarters, which is eventually consummated during a ridiculously trashy vacation at a Sandals chain resort in Jamaica. All goes along well until Jan gets downsized, begins milking Scott for his savings, which go in part to her boob job. Eventually, because she was always at least subconsciously thinking she was dating beneath her to begin with, she dumps him, but not before breaking his heart. Jan and Michael's interactions were always deeply hilarious, but the undercurrent of power-imbalance was a lesson to heed indeed. 

3. Those guys in the warehouse? They might be smarter than you.

One of the best narratives in the entire series was the trajectory of Daryl Philbin, the paper company's warehouse foreman who perpetually has to put up with the racism and various other stupidities of Michael Scott. Played by Craig Robinson, Daryl was consistently one of "The Office"'s best characters, playing on Scott's white expectations by clowning him so hard, all the time, Michael none the wiser. The most classic: when Michael asks if the mild-mannered, working class Daryl has ever been in a gang, Daryl feigns tough, claiming that he'd been in not only the Bloods, the Crips and the Latin Kings, but also the Warriors and the Newsies. Daryl's so clearly smarter than Michael (to be fair, so are 99% of the other employees in the office, too), but a few seasons in he develops a somewhat bemused tolerance for his blunders. And eventually, Daryl gets his: the CEO recognizes him for his work, gives him an office in The Office, and he's recognized and promoted for his ideas and work. It took a long time, but it's a lesson in workplace equality—and you can tell that in those latter episodes, both the writers and the actors reveled in getting Michael Scott's guff with Daryl's consistently superior ideas. 

4. Agritourism is real.

One of the show's most successful, surprising, and innovative points was the character development of the exceedingly odd Dwight Schrute, played brilliantly by Rainn Wilson. Aside from the concept that Dwight owned and lived on a beet farm with his somewhat freakish cousin Mose, that Dwight's favorite movie is The Crow and he claims to have slayed a werewolf, that he's a survivalist/SecondLife enthusiast who claimed to have first flown an airplane at the age of four: Dwight Schrute is a woman magnet, enticing just about any lady he encounters with his off-kilter and unlikely masculinity. There is a rumor that once "The Office" ends, there will be a Dwight Schrute spin-off about his life on the beet farm. Even if he weren't one of the show's most popular and beloved characters, it'd be worth creating that show just to avoid wasting all the intricate, incredible, and unending personal oddities the writers have crafted for him. Screw a spin-off, Dwight Schrute should have a theme park.

5. How to give the best deadpan.

There is currently no existent YouTube supercut splicing all "The Office"'s into-the-camera deadpan looks, and this is a travesty of the internet. Throughout the course of eight years, the sitcom's conceits that they're constantly being filmed by a crew of documentarians, who will apparently, finally be revealed in season nine. This set-up has provided so many looks of non-plussed, eye-rolling bemusement leveled straight at the viewer that it's almost been a master class in comedic timing. Indeed, since consuming every episode of the office, I personally feel better at telling stories, knowing exactly when to pause expectantly (Michael), when to raise an eyebrow (Kelly), when to serve excited incredulity (Andy, Erin), when to serve over-it incredulity (Jim, Pam), and when to look smug and self-satisfied (Dwight Schrute!). If that's all we ever get out of it, those looks will be forever burned in America's minds, as comedically significant as George Burns' cigar or Richard Pryor's smirk. Thanks for the memories, thanks for the deadpans. 

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.