Steve Carell's final episode confirms something that's been true for a long time: The show's original magic is gone
For a few years now watching The Office has had all the bittersweet frustration of checking in on an old flame. You want to feel that spark. You want to feel the love. But when you re-connect all you really feel is nostalgia for times past, when things were happier and funnier, and before it got weird. Sort of like how Michael Scott felt at the end about Jan Levenson Gould.
A diehard fan of the embering show for many years, I can't tell you how many times over the past couple of seasons I have dutifully checked in on Thursday night to see if Steve Carrell and the gang were funny again. And I have lost track of how many times during that period I've changed the channel when I've discovered that they weren't. For me anyway, there have been far too many gimmicks, sideshows, and plots that diverged for too long from the alchemy that made the show, for all those years, so immensely watchable.
Even before Jim and Pam got married (the show's obvious shark-jumping moment), the series' deft balance between the funny and the uncomfortable—always a delicate affair in matters of art—seemed off kilter to me. There just hasn't been enough clever humor to take the edge off the show's legendary scythe swooping down on workplace mores, relationships, and whatnot. Trotting out creepy Todd Packer every now and again was funny. Building a show around him and his sexist shtick was decidedly not. I liked the meat-and-potatoes Office of yesteryear. Not the inside-joke one of today.
The further the show's creators and writers moved away from the core workings of the Scranton branch, the less funny the show became. The more they tried to round out the character of the characters, to make them more than just gag-transmitters, the less tenable became the original premise of the American version of the show. The more we liked Michael Scott, or at least rooted for him, the less amusing (or becoming) were his antics. Nothing good lasts forever. But there is something to be said for not messing with a good thing, either.