When the American version of The Office first appeared, it was condescending in a Hollywood way, written by people who may have once, briefly, worked in a setting similar to Dunder-Mifflin, but always believed they were destined for better things, and got the hell out as soon as they could.
Over time, however, it became habit-forming. Steve Carrell made Michael Scott’s need to be loved idiosyncratic, terribly funny and somehow a reflection of everyone’s inner-narcissist. Contrary to rumor, he was not the terrible boss we’ve all had. He might have shared some traits with bad bosses, but most truly horrific employers want to be feared, not loved. There was also, of course, Jim. From the beginning Jim, and to a lesser extent his beloved Pam, were our surrogates. They were young. They were not weird. They were more than their jobs, and they fell in love. Communication was not great. It took Pam a while to see what should have been obvious.
Other characters also developed into full-fledged human beings although it took some longer than others. Angela, the office mean girl, needed to be taken down a few dozen pegs before we could consider liking her. As for Oscar, if I’m not mistaken, until the last couple of seasons, he seemed mostly to be there as two-fer, and to make Michael’s jokes that much more embarrassing. Dwight remained eccentric, but matured. Andy’s arc was the strangest. He started out as a nice guy. His pursuit of Erin showed an obsessive side, but we didn’t recognize it for what it was — the first sign of an impending mid-life crisis. He turned into a spoiled, pathetic, attention-whore, whose goal was fame. So in the finale, thanks to a viral video, he got what he wanted in the most humiliating way possible, but then managed to redeem himself and find his dream job because in America there are always second acts. If there was a message, it was this: humiliation and suffering builds character.
But back to Jim and Pam. When they showed Krasinski’s audition in the retrospective, it was clear he had them at “pomegranates.” Steve Carrell might have been the bigger name, but Krasinski was the star in every way that counted. It took Jim way too long to leave and go on to bigger and better things. They gave Pam the thankless task of trying to stop him. She was the future Mary Bailey secretly praying George would not leave town, but stay in Bedford Falls and someday live with her in that big old house. It was easy to imagine Pam’s frustration, and Jenna Fisher is a good enough actor for us to see what wasn’t in the script. It wasn’t just fear, but pragmatism and a little bit of selfishness. Two parents, who never work overtime, are better than one who’s never home, at least for the one who is. Finding a new job and decent childcare is hard, and not having easy access to the grandparents makes it rougher.
Still, when the “buy-out road trip” came up and Jim decided not to do it because nothing was as important as his family, we all felt his decision was killing him. Watching him regress to his prankster role, with Pam as his collaborator, made us wonder how long the charade would last.
So when Pam finally did the right thing and sold the house, so that she and Jim could shake the dust of that crummy little town off their feet, we could only applaud.
The end of The Office was just like the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, if George Bailey had finally gotten the hell out of Bedford Falls.