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Saying goodbye to 'The Office': Why we loved it, maybe still do

And so it has come to the end, as it must for all good things. The end: "The Office" wraps nine seasons tonight, and some of us are wistful, some of us could care less, and some of us stopped watching years ago. I fall squarely in the wistful camp, and this morning offer this random collection of  "what I'll miss the most" thoughts about the show.  For the purposes of the space allotted in the paper, this is a brief list, and some of the reasons are not fully elaborated upon; the web allows me to do so, however, and add a few that I couldn't get around to .?.?.

For establishing the truth — not truism — that office life can be deeply absurd. "The Office" reveled in the manifest absurdities of humans confined to a small space, day after day, bathed in neon lights and basking in their own idiosyncrasies. It deftly located the curious social rituals of office life — "casual Fridays,' company picnics, Christmas parties, beach days — or the business rituals (product recalls, promotions, meetings, corporate retreats) — and turned them into enduring sitcom treasures.

For celebrating Scranton, and all the other Scrantons of America: Proud, possibly seen-better-days cities that Hollywood and everyone else forgot, except for "The Office." Scranton was never ridiculed, but made into a cast-member: Rough-hewn, dowdy, insecure, and — with a name like "Scranton" — a little bit funny, too.

For the richest parade of guest stars on any American TV comedy since "Seinfeld." There were dozens, but a few come to mind: Larry Wilmore, Patrice 'O'Neal, Amy Adams, David Koechner (Todd!), Rashida Jones, Idris Elba, Kathy Bates, Roseanne Barr, Jack Coleman and Amy Ryan. Meanwhile, a special nod to Melora Hardin — Jan Levenson, Michael's (Steve Carell) onetime boss — who was very nearly perfect as his deeply disturbed "soul mate."

For deftly locating our inner geek. "The Office" represented the supremacy of geek culture; it defined it, ridiculed it and reveled in it. "The Office" celebrated geekdom more than any comedy in history.

For wrapping the series memorably and emotionally. These last few weeks have been terrific, with some indelible scenes — like that "farewell" dance to "Boogie Wonderland" with Darryl — Craig Robinson — last week. Priceless .?.?.

For realistic psychology at the most unexpected moments. These characters were fully realized humans, whose comic quirks were exacerbated by their own deeply sympathetic flaws. Andy's rejection by his father .?.?. Michael's narcissism .?.?. Pam and Jim's parental and marital difficulties .?.?. Few shows have taken greater care with understanding their characters' inner demons.

For hundreds of joyously funny moments. They were the meat of this classic — little comedy jewels that took up residence in our heads, to be summoned at our leisure (or via Hulu) like (for example) the time Dwight (Rainn Wilson) was attacked by a bat living in the rafters, and Angela (Angela Kinsey) bitterly spoke of "poop is raining from the ceiling. Poop!' Or any of Stanley's (Leslie David Howard) countless asides: "I'm working in my coffin.." Dwight was the star of most of these moments so — like Dorothy's scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz" — I'll miss him most of all.

For taking the British version and improving upon it; not easy, and practically impossible, but done nonetheless.

For taking an established comedy format, and stretching it to limits where no man or woman has ever gone, or would ever want to go again. The "mock" as basis for a series has never come into favor for lots of reasons, and one is that it has to have a balance of pathos with humor, lest it drown in its own conceit. That's a tough balancing act (see: Christopher Guest's "Family Tree," series now airing on HBO, "Family Tree," as an example of one that struggles). But "Office" pretty much got it right over nine seasons.

For as a perfect a cast as any show could ever hope for. Great shows must have great casts — a given — but who would have imagined that Creed Bratton, Kate Flannery (Meredith), Phyllis Smith (Phyllis) or Brian Baumgartner (Kevin) would be nearly as essential as Pam, Jim and Michael? Each cast member was essential to the glory of this enterprise.

For an abiding belief in the power of love. As a matter of course, American comedies — "Seinfeld" excepted — are sentimental beasts. They're about the triumph of love, of guy-getting-girl, of happy, glib, requited endings. But as an offspring of Ricky Gervais's acerbic British comedy, this "Office" set out to expunge the saccharine. Then something unexpected happened — the writers and actors located the humanity of the characters. In time, they morphed from cutouts to fully realized people, who even (in some cases) discovered the power of their own hearts. "This is the ring taken form the buttocks of my grandmother," said Dwight in proposing to Angela last week. Hilarious. Perfect. And heartfelt.

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