Scranton Elm Disease

18 Jan 2012

Andy Greenwald, for Grantland:

The American Office, quite rightly, differentiated itself from the outset: In the New World, the workplace wasn’t a sad metaphor for the crushed dreams and dreary reality of adulthood. Rather, it was an allegory for family, the screwed-up group of misfits one gets stuck with and learns to, if not love, then tolerate.

Minutes unto hours. Hours to days. Days to weeks and weeks unto forever.

The Office was always about the people whom we chose to love when the only other option available was hate them. It was a world that we watched and enjoyed because we could see shades of ourselves within it; those subtle elements to the characters that caused flickers of recognition. Jim and Pam were people that we believed we could be, if only we found it in ourselves to care about the family that our jobs chained us to.

These things were true, but anyone watching the most recent season will attest to the painfully obvious truth that they are no longer.

Some blame the departure of Steve Carell; or the introduction of James Spader; or the promotion of Ed Helms. But these incidents have absolutely nothing to do with the disappointment that comes at the end of each episode of The Office. That is to say, these are simply leaves falling from a tree; one that has, from the roots upward, long since been rotted hollow. If we look carefully, we can still catch glimpses of the beauty that once was, but it becomes harder with every passing episode as each worthy moment that is eked out comes at the expense of the The Office’s heart: we have stopped being able to love these people.

Somewhere along the way, the characters became the butt of jokes instead of the ones telling them. The people that we were supposed to love, the people that were supposed to remind us of our own lives, they transformed into sad and twisted caricatures of themselves. No one can love a parody of themselves.

Andy Greenwald’s piece asks if the office can be fixed, only to conclude that “it might be time to put it down”. He is right. The Office is a tree that has long been dead. We have been mistaking the faded greenery for life or, more foolishly perhaps, we have hoped that it was the autumn process and the beginnings of a rebirth. But a day is rapidly approaching when even the most stalwart of Office defenders have to admit that the show should be allowed to finally end; that the tree should be cut down to make room for new growth.

Personally, I think that actually happened a long time ago, back in April of 2009. When Parks and Recreation premiered.