We are gathered together today to remember the the life and mourn the loss of a dear friend. Last evening, at approximately 10:15pm EST, after 200 episodes, The Office breathed it’s last breath. The studio shut down and the cameras went dark. The Office said its final words strongly and it would be a disservice to tread on them so quickly. Now is the time for us to honor the departed.
The Office and it’s departure stirs in my heart in an existential way. My wife and I got married the year it first aired, and having limited access (by choice) to television, we would squat at whatever location we could to watch it or our other show (House M.D.). This was back in the bygone era where people watched television live and together, not at whenever their consumer, isolationist tendencies fancied. After the cold opening, the piano riff would start and the Mrs. would crinkle her face in anticipated elation. Well before the days of the Harlem Shake meme, six seconds into the theme song when the first drop would happen, queuing the kick drum and synth-accordian, she would go to town with mini fist pumps. A woman in motion with childlike inhibition is a beautiful thing.
Now, we all know that Arrested Development was the one that prepared the way, the John The Baptist of non-laugh-track-multi-camera-documentary style sitcoms. It was The Office, however, that sealed the deal as the new media Messiah. At least in America. It showed us that things don’t always need to be done the way they’ve always been done in the biz. For that, we are eternally grateful (and though Arrested Development was beheaded, we also look forward to it making a resurrection run this year).
The Office also ushered in the age of awkward. Michael’s superhuman ability was to take a situation to a frighteningly high level of social empathy that would cause onlookers to actually shy away from the television screen. He magically brought you into the scene and then made you want to crawl out of it as quickly and quietly as possible, even if it was into the teeth of a badger with herpes. While Michael was the king, Andy and others also must be given props for making us scream out loud, “What are you saying?! Why are you doing that!?”
I remember the return of the more-hated-than-Toby character, Gabe, earlier this year. Typically we would never want anything to come out of Gabe’s mouth, but especially anything involving his sex life, and especially not on Valentine’s Day…
Gabe: You know, times were tough. I was unemployed, I was still heart-broken over you, I’ve lost a good fifty pounds. But as you can see I put all that weight right back on. Feel how fat my buttocks are. Yeah, it’s crazy. Touch it. It’s like a warm pumpkin.
Erin: So Andy just called you up out of the blue?
Gabe: Yeah. He told me you two broke up.
Gabe: You must be pretty horny. [Erin shakes head no]… I still wear Erin’s button-downs around the condo sometimes. So it feels to me like we’re still in a relationship…
Gabe: …a lot of the time.
Andy: Gabe, did Erin ever tell you that she loves you?
Gabe: [laughs] Oh no no no no no no. She wouldn’t even let me say it. It was adorable. She would plug her ears and scream her heart out.
Erin: Gabe, can you stop talking? Cause every word out of your mouth is like the squawk of an ugly pelican.
Gabe: I got a tattoo for you.
Erin: I didn’t ask you to get that Nike Swoosh. Nobody did! You did that for you!
Gabe: Just do it. You were the it that I was just doing. …Erin, I’ve been to Japan. I know how to use chopsticks so well. Come back. One night.
Erin: Gabe, I don’t-
Gabe: Give me one night with you…
Erin: What is that supposed to mean?
Gabe: I have shaved everything…
Erin: I don’t want you to shave everything.
Gabe: I am as smooth as a porpoise.
Then there was the after-party Q & A between Dwight/Angela and Toby about homosexual relations. Somehow, in the genius of the shows awkwardness, The Office offended all parties by taking jabs at both the gay community (with the “unnatural” nature of their sexuality) and the “non-progressives” (with their blinding ignorance).
On a more serious note, the last season of The Office’s life was quite enjoyable. I understand that this was not everyone’s opinion. No doubt that we all were thinking about abandoning it when Michael left, when it acted like someone whose dad had just left the family and didn’t know how to adjust to the dynamics. It was on life support for awhile, and nobody knew if or when it was going to pull through. But I believe that time of almost death was a gestation period, a period of revelation and epiphany which was able to birth something unique.
The grace that The Office experienced was that it knew it was going to die. We say that we know we are going to die, that our bodies and our minds, or ideas and the embodiment of them in one way or another will decay to a point of destruction, whether fantastically or unnoticed. We say we know this, yet we don’t believe it. Perhaps it’s too grotesque a reality to publicize. But The Office believed it was going to die, it knew one way or another it was going to end, that it wasn’t on a perpetually infinite run.
On some level, we should all be jealous of this grace that was extended to The Office, and that it embraced it, albeit reluctantly at first. Imagine if you had this inside information. How would you spend the last season of your life? How would you conclude your story? Would you go gently into that good night? What relationships would you reconcile or restore? What bitterness would you hold onto? What have you been saving in your back pocket that you would finally give to someone you love? What faces would you travel thousands of miles to see one last time? What would you long to let go of? What or who would you fight for?
I have to admit something that I’m not necessarily proud of. As the end was coming, I was darkly hoping that Jim and Pam would unravel, that Jim would ultimately choose work, that Pam would respond with an affair involving Brian. Why would I want this? Because, unfortunately, I felt like this would have been closer to real life and displayed the superficial society that we all take part in.
But The Office had something better in mind for Jim and Pam, something a lot messier than an affair and a divorce: suffering and redemption. It reminded me that not everything has to be a tragedy, and that comedy doesn’t have to mean turning a blind eye to pain. Love and life is messy one way or another.
What man hasn’t suffered at some time the feeling that his job is lifeless and filled with vanity? What man hasn’t had some opportunity come his way that could invigorate his working hours into something enjoyable and meaningful to him? What woman hasn’t suffered at some time the feeling that she is not enough? What woman hasn’t had the opportunity come her way to remove herself from being overlooked and placed into a scenario where she would be seen?
The crux of all of this for Jim and Pam came in the parking lot one afternoon when they were yet again going their separate ways. After going through an episode of truth-telling and affirmation that only led to a brittle and tiresome day, as Pam is walking back towards the office after giving Jim his forgotten umbrella–he himself on his way to Philly–magic happens. Jim takes a couple of quick long strides towards Pam and somewhere between firm and gentle spins her around, trying to mutter something out of his mouth that, for the moment, is inexpressible. So instead, he wraps his arms around her, his 6 foot 3 inch frame surrounding, enveloping her stiff, puppet like body. Pam doesn’t respond. It’s awkward, this time without the hilarity. Jim isn’t convinced how she’s going to respond as evident in his eyes that remain open in the embrace. And it seems like forever until she does respond, an eternal abyss that made all of us, even the cynics, scream inside, “Take hold.” The scene is overlaid with narration and a flash back to their wedding of someone reading the famous words…
Love suffers long and is kind. It is not proud. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails. Now these three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
This may have been the best pop-Bible use in a sitcom ever, because there weren’t rainbows and gold doubloons coming out of Jim and Pam’s ears leading up to this; there was pain, uncertainty, messiness. From a human standpoint, faithfulness means very little if the option for faithlessness isn’t lurking around. If nothing is weighty, bearing is just a facade; if the road isn’t long, endurance is just a t-shirt.
One final thought before we commit these ashes to ashes, this dust to dust. In it’s last days, The Office also spoke to our generation, specifically to us millennials. With a culture that is so obsessed with image and being seen and over-sharing, it reminded us that there is more that goes on besides what’s on camera. The Office showed us, ironically in some sort of meta way, that there is more life going on out there and in here then we realize. People and events don’t have to be captured to some sort of record for life to take place.. There are those out there that have always been around even if we were too blind to see them; there was always someone listening to us laugh and cry and speak even when the camera’s stopped rolling. Reality exists outside of our perspective; there is more going on in the Story than we realize.