In the opening scene of this final season's first episode of "The Office," Pam and Jim finally address the largely unacknowledged documentary crew that's been following them since before the start of their romance.
"Don't you guys have everything?" Pam asks. "I mean, it's just a paper company."
"Well, we're more following you guys to see how you turn out," a male voice responds from off-camera.
The scene set the tone for a strong last season in which the documentary crew emerged as a pivotal character while Pam and Jim fought to save their marriage, whose underpinnings suddenly seemed as thin as the paper they sell.
More significantly, the sequence underscored the very foundation of "The Office
.” The chatter leading up to Thursday's final episode might surround whether we’ll see a surprise appearance by Steve Carell's Michael Scott, the former comic center of the great sitcom. But the show belongs to John Krasinski
and Jenna Fischer’s Jim and Pam, the emotional heart of "The Office."
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's original UK version of "The Office" shared the key element of a bumbling, clueless and cringe-inducing office manager who fancied himself a comedian and benevolent father figure. But the often overlooked other primary commonality of the UK and US shows is a compelling office romance. The love story of Tim and Dawn, the UK forerunners of Jim and Pam, gave the original “Office” its grounding.
The UK version lasted for 12 episodes and a special. It’s far harder, of course, to sustain a love story over 200 episodes without some repetition and saccharine occasionally seeping in. The ups-and-downs
of the Jim-and-Pam relationship culminated in their marriage dance down the aisle in Season 6. The next season primarily fixated on Scott/Carell’s long farewell
. Season 8, the first without Carell, took a while to gel.
But this impressive finale run has added conflict, tears and turmoil to Jim and Pam’s marriage – as well as an intriguing new layer to the show. The most stunning “Office” moment since Michael kissed Oscar came when Brian, the handsome soundman, burst into view to stop the filming when Pam began weeping after a tough phone call with Jim. Brian, who clearly has a crush on Pam, later got fired after saving her from an attack by a disgruntled warehouse worker.
The couple’s conflict rests in Jim’s pursuing of his dream career, working for a startup sports marketing firm. But the gig takes him away from the office – and away from Pam and their two kids. She’s happy in Scranton, and doesn’t want to move with him to Philadelphia.
Jim gives up his one chance at success to save the marriage, and falls back into old patterns by goofing on Dwight, as when he wooed Pam. Only this time around, it’s more sad than funny. Pam knows it and worries Jim’s love for her will crumble under mounting resentment.
In the most recent episode, Jim addresses the documentary crew again – this time to ask them to put together a reel chronicling his and Pam’s romance. The pastiche of scenes provided one of the best moments in “Office” history – reminding Jim and Pam why they’re together, while reminding us why we (and the documentary crew) stuck with “The Office” for all these years.
In Thursday’s finale, the office mates reunite – with or without Michael Scott – for a special on how their lives have changed since the documentary aired on PBS. The episode will mark the end of one of the most influential comedies in TV history – as well as one of the medium’s greatest romances. It’s too much to hope for a happily-ever-after ending, but we’ll settle for “Office”-style funny and bittersweet exit.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.
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