So much of the chatter about television these days is centered on shows whose life has been cut short. “Arrested Development,” which Fox cancelled in 2006 due to low ratings, has become such a cult success in the television afterlife that is has been resurrected by Netflix and is now the most anticipated show this year. The CW’s “Veronica Mars,” cancelled after three seasons, raised an unprecedented amount of money via Kickstarter to make a movie that will continue the show’s storyline. Even though it consistently scores low ratings, NBC’s “Community” has been kept on life support by groups of dedicated fans (not to mention a network that, really, has nothing else that works).
If only there was more discussion about shows that stick around too long, squandering whatever goodwill they’ve accumulated. Instead of saving them, maybe we can launch a Kickstarter to put these shows out of their misery.
Of course, I’m talking about the main offender: “The Office.”
Over the past couple of days, as the NBC show flails and flops toward the finish line — the series finale airs Thursday — I’ve attempted to catch up on episodes I’ve missed, basically the entirety of the last two seasons. It hasn’t been easy. What was once great about “The Office” — the way it mixed the comedy of awkwardness with heartfelt sincerity — has turned shrill and agonizing, with jokes repeated until they have nowhere to go. The single-camera mock-doc format, which “The Office” popularized on U.S. television, is now so ubiquitous, and some would say stale, that networks are retreating back to live studio audiences. For a while now, “The Office” has been spinning in circles, unsure of where they are headed, continuing to exist, sadly, just to exist and for no other reason.
It’s worth remembering that, in the beginning, nobody thought “The Office” would succeed. It was an American remake of a British show that, at least in comedy nerd circles, was unanimously loved. The remake, which during its initial, shortened first season, relied on the same scripts as the British version, premiered six months before Steve Carrell, at the time best known as a correspondent on “The Daily Show,” became famous with his starring role in Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year Old Virgin.” It seemed like a misfire at best, pointless at worst.
When it emerged as a surprise hit, it was because of what it did differently than the original — the way it put more focus on the love story of Jim and Pam, or the way it transformed some of the cynical elements of the British version into genuine moments of earnestness. The show wasn’t just a network’s attempt to capitalize on the success of something else; it became its own singular thing, the success many would try to emulate, as evidenced by “Modern Family” and countless others.
Which is why it’s sad to see, especially over this last season, the parade of pointless guest stars — Michael Imperioli as a karate instructor? Roseanne Barr as a talent agent? — and new characters introduced that clearly serve no purpose but to prop this rotting corpse of a show up for a few more episodes. Why introduce a storyline, out of nowhere this season, that hints that Jim and Pam will get a divorce, when we all know “The Office” has no intention of ending things on such a dour note. The show expanded its world during its final moments instead of closing in on the people who we’ve been following for the past nine years, the reason we watch the show in the first place.
So we say goodbye to what “The Office” once was, and good riddance to what it’s become.