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What made 'The Office' work?

Steve Carell as Michael Scott in a scene

Steve Carell as Michael Scott in a scene from "The Office." Credit: NBC

How to say "goodbye" to "The Office"? (whose final episode airs Thursday at 9 on NBC/4, preceded at 8 by a retrospective). With a list, of course. In no particular order, what I'll miss the most about it.

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 fluorescent 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 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 (Ed Helms) rejection by his father. Michael's narcissism. Pam (Jenna Fischer) and Jim's (John Krasinski) 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 comic jewels that took up residence in our heads, to be summoned at our leisure (or via Hulu), like the time Dwight (Rainn Wilson) set out to catch a bat living in the rafters, and Angela (Angela Kinsey) bitterly noted "poop is raining from the ceiling. Poop!" Or any of Stanley's (Leslie David Baker) countless asides ("I'm working in my coffin."). Dwight was the star of most of these moments, so I'll especially miss him.

For as perfect a cast as any show could ever hope for. Great shows must have great casts, but who would have imagined that Creed Bratton (Creed), Kate Flannery (Meredith), Phyllis Smith (Phyllis), Mindy Kaling (Kelly) or Brian Baumgartner (Kevin) would be nearly as important 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' 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. 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 from the buttocks of my grandmother," said Dwight in proposing to Angela last week. Hilarious. Perfect. And heartfelt.

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