I don’t watch a whole lot of “TV” these days. I put TV in quotes because when I think of TV, I think of a cable box sitting on top of a CRT, along with a $50+/month subscription service. I don’t watch anything like that.
What little TV (in the broader sense of the word) I do watch is via a streaming service like Netflix, or more recently, HBO Now. And with the exception of Game of Thrones, the TV shows I watch are all already-ended series. I call them ‘old’ TV shows
This post is about my most recent ‘old’ TV show experience: The Office. But before I get there, I have to give some backstory, because The Office wasn’t the first ‘old’ TV show I experienced.
During our first year of marriage, Allison and I got up and left for work/school at the same time everyday. For whatever reason, one morning I turned on the TV while we were eating breakfast and stumbled upon this show featuring Navy lawyers. Our first ‘old’ TV show was called JAG, short for “Judge Advocate General”. JAG was a military drama produced by Donald Bellisario. The show had a novel concept: A Few Good Men meets Top Gun. I had always been attracted to the military, so this show was immediately compelling for me. I was hooked. Allison tagged along initially, but ended up liking the show as much as me.
We watched what little we could on USA, until we decided we wanted more. That Christmas, I asked my family for DVD seasons of JAG, which had its last episode four years earlier in 2005. My parents got me several seasons for Christmas, and I purchased the seasons I hadn’t received as gifts, in order to round out the collection.
Allison and I watched JAG during special lunches at home together, but most often at night while eating dinner. This routine of watching ‘old’ TV shows at dinner time has become an integral part of my life experience. Sometimes, when I am having a bad day, or when work sucks, my only consolation is that I get to come home and watch TV with Allison.
It took us the better part of 6 months to get through JAG. After that, the next ‘old’ TV show we watched was Gilmore Girls. Allison followed a bit of this show when she was a teenager. I was hesitant at first. I hadn’t heard much about the show, except that it was ostensibly a girl show, about girls, and for girls. She worked on me for a while before I gave in. Eventually I watched my first episode with her, and it was actually quite clever. In fact, I am convinced that Amy Sherman-Palladino’s writing for Gilmore Girls is some of the best ‘pop-culture-reference’ TV out there.
For most TV shows, the last few seasons are usually the worst. JAG and Gilmore Girls were no exception. One of JAG’s pivotal characters, John M. Jackson’s Rear Admiral A. J. Chegwidden, left in the penultimate season, only to be replaced by a bunch of new characters. In Bellisario’s defense of the new hires, he had hoped NBC would launch a few JAG spinoffs, much like they had done so previously with NCIS. These new characters might have been lead characters in the spinoffs. Unfortunately for Bellisario, those spinoffs never happened.
And for Gilmore Girls, Sherman-Palladino’s exit in the last season made for some truly terrible writing. Lorelei and Luke’s romance was left without a satisfying ending, and the same could be said for Rory.
Sometime late last year, we started watching our most recent ‘old’ TV show, The Office . The show that jump-started Steve Carell’s career has become, without a doubt, one of my favorite TV shows ever. When we started watching it, I was going through a hectic job transition. I left my job with a big corporate dental company in December, and was struggling to find a something better. I scrounged around, temping here and there, and went on more interviews than any person should have to go through. Things eventually worked out, but at the time, I wasn’t so sure.
Watching this [new-to-me] ‘old’ TV show seemingly about nothing helped get my mind off of work stress. The Office was a happy capstone to my sometimes depressing days.Initially, I thought the show was going to be like The 40-Year-Old Virgin. After all, Carell had basically typecasted himself into ‘that goofy midlife crisis guy.’ What could this show be about, if not that? Turns Out™ the show ended up being a lot more like another Carell movie, Crazy, Stupid, Love. What started out as a show focused on an insecure office manager’s dirty guy humor slowly became, over seven wonderful seasons, a show about a kindhearted group of people working for a dying paper company. Carell’s portrayal of Michael Scott ended up being one of the most memorable characters in TV history.
Last night, we watched what many consider to be the best episode of the show: the one where Michael Scott leaves the office. A few episodes previous to that one, sensing that the episodes were feeling awfully reminiscent and reflective, it seemed this could be the place in the show that I had heard about. (I recall being in class and overhearing some people talking about Carell leaving.) His character’s departure was as graceful as anything I could have imagined. It was heartfelt and satisfying.
Still, Michael’s exit left me feeling empty inside. Waxing nostalgic, I poured over YouTube for “Funniest” and “Best” The Office moments. Why was I feeling so crushed that Michael was gone? I don’t remember feeling this sad when the aforementioned Admiral left in JAG, nor do I remember feeling like this when Jess Mariano made his last appearance on Gilmore Girls.
Six to seven months isn’t an incredibly long amount of time to have spent with this make-believe collection of paper pushers. But this much is true: for the past half year, we let the gang at The Office into our home, into our sacred ‘eating dinner and watching something together’ time. Michael Scott, Dwight Schrute, Jim Halpert, and Pam Beesley all blossomed into pivotal characters in the story, ones that I feel I really know somehow. And, I suppose, Carell’s character more than the rest.
One could make the argument that what made The Office different was its production style. Unlike the previous two shows Allison and I watched together, Greg Daniels single-camera, simulated documentary gave the characters that much more gravitas when doing a scene. The characters would often look directly into the camera, at the audience, telling us how they felt. Usually these moments were reserved for comedy, but occasionally, they tugged at the heartstrings. Breaking the fourth wall has been done before, and continues to be done in TV today. But the mockumentary method served its purpose well: making its viewers feel connected to the characters.
must did go on. We haven’t watched the remaining episodes yet, and a part of me wonders if its even worth it? It’s no surprise that ratings fell steadily after Carell’s exit. It’s happened before—a main character in a series moving on—and it will probably happen again. I’m sure we’ll give it a crack despite Carell’s absence. It won’t be the same, but maybe it can still be something worthwhile? Thankfully [spoiler alert], my favorite character Dwight lasts for the remainder of the show, so there’s that. I’m glad I made it to The Office party eventually. If you haven’t already seen it, do yourself a favor: set aside $7.99/month for a Netflix subscription, and watch the Pilot. It only gets better from there. It’s so worth it, even years later.