The Office Retrospective Roundtable: Part One

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After nine seasons, NBC’s The Office has aired its final episode but the indelible mark the series left with viewers and its place in television history will be water cooler talk for years to come.  In our first Place to Be Nation Roundtable, we asked Justin Rozzero, Jordan Duncan, Jeremy Nichols, Marc Clair, Bob Colling, Josh Richer and Jen Engle about some of their favorite and least favorite memories, characters, and storylines from the landmark series as well as the show’s impact on television in general.

Best Season:

Justin: This is a tough one, because there are a few quality contenders, but after thinking it over, I am going with Season Three. The first half saw a good split of time and resources between Scranton and Stamford and brought us some new quality characters in Andy and Karen. There are some all-time great episodes in this season, including The Convict, Benihana Christmas, Ben Franklin, Phyllis’s Wedding and Beach Games. You could argue that Prison Mike alone makes this the best season. Season Two has a legit claim, but it had more misses overall than Three did. Season Four had some classics, like the Deposition and the Dinner Party, but it was messed up by the writer’s guild strike, which hurt its momentum a bit. If I had to choose any season to bring with me to a desert island, Season Three is it.

Jordan: Hard to decide between Season 2 and Season 3. Season 2 has maybe the two funniest episodes in the shows history (Christmas Party & The Injury), but I think I like the storytelling in Season 3 a little more. We see Jim and Pam finally connect, we see Michael find “love” with Jan and other characters really get to shine with episodes where they are a central focus. Also, the debut of the Nard Dog.

Jeremy: For me Season 4 was the best out of all of them. By Season 4, all of the characters had plenty of development time and the actors played their roles perfectly. Pam and Jim finally get together, Angela hooks up with Andy leaving Dwight in the cold, and Michael ditches Jan and meets his soul mate in Holly. Season four has by far the funniest episode of the show, “Dinner Party” which is top to bottom pure gold.

Marc: This is a tough one, but I have to go with Season 4. Almost every season in 1-6 is a solid contender here, but I think the show peaked with Season 4. This is the first season Jim and Pam’s relationship is open and public, and that whole season featured some of Michael’s best stuff, from running over Meredith to his over-the-top going away party for Toby. And it’s the last season that things with the Office were somewhat simple, before things got crazy with Michael starting his own paper company, SABRE, etc. Just solid all around.

Bob: I really enjoyed Season 2 and Season 5. I’m going to go with Season 5 as my favorite of all time. From top to bottom it’s a great season that had a lot of funny moments and Steve Carrel was at the top of his game at that point. Season 2 was a favorite because of the storyline between Jim and Pam. It’s a close call but Season 5 prevails for me.

Josh: It’s a tie between Seasons 3 and 4 (and you’ll never make me choose!). Season 3 brought us Andy, really moved the Jim/Pam angle along, and showed the viewers how special a Benihana Christmas could be while season 4 let the Ryan character be the best he could be, and showed us into the horrific world of Michael and Jan’s relationship in “The Dinner Party (which is possibly my favorite episode of the series.) How do you even choose between those?

Best Character Arc:

Justin: This one is a bit trickier because the evolution of many bit players has been fun to watch. We have seen Jan Levinson go insane, David Wallace temporarily go insane, Kelly go from wallflower to the personification of pop culture and Oscar go gay. We have also seen meatier character development, like Pam breaking out of her shell, dumping Roy and marrying Jim, Michael evolving from a loathsome dick into a guy everyone came to love, despite his deep flaws, and Dwight from a slightly evolved Napoleon Dynamite to someone that even showed a heart, ran a Bed & Breakfast and befriended some folks along the way. However, the most entertaining character development came from Kevin Malone. While I won’t say he matured or grew in any way at all, nobody evolved into a more enjoyable character than Kevin. Early on he was a boring, fat accountant that could nail a jumper, crack a random joke and serve the butt of many others. Around the time that Holly Flax assumed he was a special needs hire, the wheels were in motion for Kevin to devolve into the brand of inept, clueless idiocy that worked perfectly in the limited doses we were allowed to have. Here is to you Kevin Malone, may you forever live on in a beautiful, serene ignorance.

Jordan: I think I like the progression of Jim and Dwight over the seasons. When the show first came on, Jim took great joy in pranking and mocking Dwight, and a lot of it seemed to stem from them not liking each other at all. But as they continued to be in each other’s lives and were there throughout each of their biggest moments, the relationship changed into a friendship, even if the actions and pranks didn’t.

Jeremy: I think Jim going from the “slacker” to “responsible guy” was the best arc of the show. It took about four seasons or so, but it worked and it was brilliant. The show started with Jim just working a job, not really worried about life or where he was going. He falls in love with Pam, finally gets the girl and realizes he’s must decide what he wants his life to be. He becomes a father, buys a house and starts building his future with his new company. Can’t ask for a better arc then that.

Marc: The best story arc is a tough one. The first three seasons were comprised of the Jim-Pam story arc. On a smaller scale, while I couldn’t stand the later storylines involving Angela, the Angela-Andy-Dwight love triangle was endlessly entertaining.  The involvement of two of the strongest comedy characters after Michael interacting over the love of this incredibly odd and uninspiring woman was pure gold.

Bob: I thought the development of Darryl was nicely done. A guy who didn’t care about his job to eventually realizing that advancement was important and he rose up the ranks. I actually thought he could have been a good choice as the replacement to Michael at one point. His progression was nicely done and his scenes were always humorous, too.

Josh: Michael Scott. His social ineptitude brought him trial tribulations and painfully harsh life lessons that you like to think he learned from. The self-awareness that we saw over the course of season 7 had been something we had a glimpse of prior, but not to any extent and it ended up rounding out his character. Michael had become a better person since the beginning of the documentary. Based on the finale you could say the same about Dwight (his answer to the question “Do you get along with your coworkers” showed us quite the growth without losing who Dwight Schrute really was) but if there was one person that the show was meant to spotlight, it was Michael.

Worst Character Arc:

Justin: I outlined much of this earlier, but I need to go with Andy Bernard. Andy peaked out of the gate as angry, violent, over the top annoying coworker that we all know and hate-love. As the years went along, Andy softened and by the end we were stuck with some weird hybrid mash-up of a pussified, beaten down, douche bag that has zero respect from his subordinates and peers. I miss the Andy that punched holes in walls, recorded annoying ringtones and told embellished stories of his days on the campus of Cornell. This new version should have sunk in the Atlantic Ocean a year ago. Honorable mention to Ryan Howard, who started as a mild mannered level headed temp, peaked as a coked up power hungry executive and petered out as a double talking hipster creep.

Jordan: This is a tie between Pam’s descent from being lovable to evil over the course of the show (not intended) and the bizarre decision to make Andy a completely selfish jerk in the last season. They tried to do a sort of Jim-Pam 2 with Andy and Erin, only both were more goofy and clueless…and then they decided to crap on it and have Andy leave for months, and when he came back, he was a monster. Very weird.

Jeremy: I didn’t, and still don’t, understand why Andy became such a douchebag in the last season. Don’t get me wrong, his disgust for Nellie was fine by me, but really made no sense, as did his attitude towards everyone else. Since Andy was introduced he was always the goofy lovable character, like Michael Scott only not as childish and he liked to sing. The last season his character seemed lost in direction, and it would stay that way until the show ended in my opinion.

Marc: Angela’s baby/ gay Senator husband. Other than her affair with Dwight and her interactions with him, I pretty much hated everything Angela did ever.

Bob: This was a tough one to answer, but after some thinking I decided to go with Erin. I’m thinking of her storylines and she didn’t really do anything interesting. Her dumb character was essentially a female version of Kevin, but not to his humorous degree. She was always just kind of there to me. Her story with Andy was just another love story that just became excessive.

Josh: Nellie did nothing but be a bitch and in the end stole a baby. Next.

Saddest Moment:

Justin: The layup here is Michael Scott’s touching departure and embrace of Pam in the airport. Looking outside the box a bit, I think the saddest moment to me was Michael Scott showing his old family videos to the rest of the office in “Take Your Daughter to Work Day”. The scene centered around Michael showing off archived footage of his brief run of childhood stardom when he appeared on an episode of a local children’s TV show entitled “Fundle Bundle”. During the episode, young Michael is talking to a puppet named Edward R. Meow. Meow asks Michael what he wants to be when he grows up and Michael answers, “I want to be married and have a hundred kids so I can have a hundred friends, and no one can say no to being my friend”. After an awkward pause and the drop of a stringed up jaw, Meow moves on, but the air of sadness lingered for years. The tortured awkward soul known as Michael Scott just wanted a friend to hang with and for arguably the first time in the show’s run, we get a glimpse into the pained childhood that shaped the modern day Michael Scott.

Jordan: This one is easy for me. When Michael showed everyone the clip of himself on “Fundle Bundle” as a child. The ensuing clip that shows us Michael has NEVER had friends (with the puppets classic response) and the kids asking him why he never achieved his dreams is both hilarious AND completely crushing. You completely feel for Michael in that moment, and that’s part of what made The Office so special. You laugh at the guy, can’t stand the guy, and at the same time, root for the guy so hard to find love, or even companionship.

Jeremy: I think the saddest moment on the show is when you realize Michael is really leaving. Michael may not be the glue that held the show together, I think that goes to the rest of the cast, but he was the captain of the ship. You knew if Michael were around you’d be getting something gold, and when he left, you knew it wouldn’t be the same.

Marc: When Michael finds out Holly has a new boyfriend. I was sure at the time these two would end up together and truly felt crushed for Michael, as they were the perfect match.

Bob: The saddest moment for me was when Pam rejected Jim at Casino Night. I don’t know why, but that moment really stuck out at me. It is probably because I’ve experienced a similar situation previously. Seeing Jim break down in front of a girl he was madly in love with was a tough scene for me to watch.

Josh: The moment that we discovered that the chair model was deceased. She was taken from us too soon. In all seriousness, one of the strengths of this style of shooting is that we are able to see moments of sadness and emotion in a way we would in real life. When Pam is feeling the pain of seeing Jim being happy, we see the disappointed look on her face that she is trying to hide from the cameras. You will never get that type of emotional depth on a show like The Big Bang Theory because your standard sitcom always feels like you need to be alerted when things are sad (“awwwwww” bellows the studio audience). When Michael called David Wallace to ask why he took Holly away from him, I felt that despair without being distracted. I guess ALL the sad moments were the saddest…compared to everything that came before it (with the exception of Fry’s dog waiting for him after he was frozen on Futurama and the finale of the show Dinosaurs. Don’t know it? Look it up!!!)

Jen: I’m going with the cliché of Michael leaving. Dunder Mifflin was his life, but all he ever wanted was a family. Dunder Mifflin gave him that, but he had to give all of that up to get the family that he wanted. One of my favorite moments of the show was when Pam ran after him at the airport and said goodbye. I felt like I was losing an old friend too. It was very real and not too over the top. It was Michael’s moment and although we were sad to see him go, we were all happy to see him happy in the end.

Was the elevation of Jim & Pam early in the series Good or Bad?

Justin: Well, it depends what universe we reside in. I think their early rise to the top was fine if you follow my alternate reality from before and assume they ride off into a spun off sunset after getting married. As is, I would say things happened too soon for them because we are now into season six of them as a couple. After years of battling the odds of long distance, working in the same office and children, Jim & Pam are finally hitting a rocky stretch in their relationship, something that was welcomed by nobody. The arc of Jim & Pam as soul mates that eventually found each other, finally got together and eventually got hitched was ideal as it comes. And it should have stayed that way. Now, I know there is no way the show runners could assume the show would last nine seasons, so they couldn’t wait too long on pulling the trigger or else you run the risk of running into another Tony Micelli and Angela Bower. Maybe they could have done a quick break up before being married, but that kills the idealism. This is a tough one, but I will say their elevation was a good thing that ended up being poisoned by the success of the show.

Jordan: It was great. When I think of early seasons of the show, the two things that come to mind are Michael Scott’s hilarious unawareness and Jim and Pam’s love story. It helps that it was subtler than anything else on the show-quick looks, small moments, and finding excuses to spend even an extra minute with the person. This is stuff we all know.

Jeremy: I think it was good because you could cater to a different portion of the audience. You didn’t have to have the entire show revolve around just one character or have the weight of the show on one person. Sure you need that character around, that lead, but you also need good back up characters to keep the show moving along and bring in more viewers.

Marc: Good. Michael Scott was always the main character, but Jim and Pam were always the heart and soul. It’s who we identify with from the beginning, who we laugh with, cry with, and all of that mushy stuff. I think Jim, Pam and Michael are the three truly irreplaceable characters on the show, and all three were necessary elements of its success.

Bob: I don’t see how it was a bad idea. The show wasn’t centered on Michael Scott; he just stormed ahead of everyone else. The whole point of the show was to record the paper industry. The storyline between Jim and Pam was good for three seasons and got a little played out by the tail end of three heading into four. I didn’t think their story or lead roles hurt the show whatsoever.

Josh: I don’t think there was ever a choice given the source material. Regardless, Jim and Pam gave the viewer something to root for, a sentiment that the finale touched upon in the panel segment. It took longer to get there compared to Tim and Dawn and there were times later on when I found myself wanting a little less “Jim and Pam stuff,” but due to their ages relative to mine, I found myself relating to their love. It would be a lie to say there haven’t been a few Pam Beasleys in my years of working for the man.

How did the show help sitcoms transition to a single camera style?

Justin: Judging by the amount of shows that followed in the sizeable footsteps of the Office, I would say the show was very influential in the shift of style. I think it proved you could do a sitcom that could be funny and not need to cue the audience as to when to laugh. It also removed that extra beat needed to build to a joke and let the laughter play out. It allowed for a quicker paced style of comedy where the jokes could fly at a 30 Rockian pace. And speaking of Liz Lemon, could you imagine THAT show with a laugh track? We would have gotten half the jokes and missed a good portion as well. Go back and watch an episode of Seinfeld to see how many jokes got stepped on by crowd laughter. Now, with all that said, the forefather of this style very may well be Curb Your Enthusiasm, which debuted five years before The Office did. Of course, Office was doing it on network TV, an outlet less adaptive to change and also began incorporating the reality style “talking head” set up that has now become quite prevalent. No matter how you dice it, The Office was a clear trailblazer in the single camera style and while it may not have been the first, it was certainly the biggest for quite a number of years.

Jordan: Obviously it paved the way for shows like Modern Family and Parks & Rec, but I think the biggest thing it does is raises the bar. When you don’t have a laugh track or anything “easy” to fall back on, the comedy HAS to be better. It’s funny to call such juvenile humor SMART, but that’s what it is. It’s not easy to do, it’s pretty hard. That’s what she said.

Jeremy: I think the talking head innovated the way they told their story, it all felt very real. You see it now with other shows, Parks and Rec being one of the most popular shows to borrow the style of The Office. Also, with having a documentary crew shooting everything, you don’t have to worry about explaining why we’re seeing everything that’s happening.

Marc: It did, no doubt as we can see from Parks and Rec and even the general style of other shows the use the same style now.  In many ways it revived the Sitcom genre as a whole…it was the first sitcom since Seinfeld that was a “must see” for me, and drew me back into TV comedies as a whole.

Bob: The single camera filming really helped the show. The whole point was to be a documentary, so having one camera makes that more realistic. There not being an audience is another fantastic thing about the show. It just comes across authentic. Having multiple cameras and a fake audience wouldn’t have helped the show.

Josh: It certainly wasn’t the first to use the single camera shooting style or not use the laugh track, but I would definitely argue that it has been the most successful in terms of accolades. It is also possibly the best. Despite pre-dating The Office (US), Trailer Park Boys and Arrested Development reached most of their fans after they had already run their courses thanks to the advent of streaming content. The Office, however, helped to anchor Thursday’s must see TV lineup while The Bluth clan was bounced around into oblivion. Plus, a quick look at the Outstanding Comedy Emmy winners since 2004 shows that besides the last season of  “Everybody Loves Raymond,” every winner has lacked a studio audience, laugh track, and most have been shot in the single camera fashion. It would be hard not to argue that The Office didn’t have a part in changing the landscape.

Jen: Shooting The Office with a single camera allowed us as the audience to feel like we were part of the show too. I wasn’t just watching these Scrantonites live their lives pushing paper; I was part of the crew in the office too. It was almost as if they were my friends. When Jim was looking at the camera raising his eyebrows at something that Dwight did, he was raising his eyebrows at us, saying, “Can you believe this guy?” It opened up the door for a new kind of sitcom, where the audience wasn’t just watching what was going on, but they were part of it too. You always felt like you were part of Dunder Mifflin when you were watching The Office, and you feel like you are part of the family when you are watching Modern Family and it’s a new way to keep people engaged and watching. After watching The Office for so many years, I find I don’t appreciate regular sitcoms the same way anymore.

Click here for Part Two of The Office Retrospective Roundtable

Author: Place to Be Nation Staff

Place to Be Nation Staff pieces feature any number of our contributors who are multifaceted when it comes to Pop Culture expertise.