Wednesday, November 19, 2003

(Note: If you haven’t seen the final episode of season 2 of The Office, spoilers abound in this entry.)

Well, holy shit, that was depressing. The final episode of The Office (barring the two special upcoming Christmas episodes) paid off the series’ central theme of the isolating, soul-numbing drudgery of modern white collar life in spades. Admittedly, it was a somewhat sharp shift in tone from understated, subtly satirical comedy to heartbreaking pathos, but I don’t think it could’ve ended any other way. Tim’s noble charge at the end - giving up settling for a slightly better position and a perfectly acceptable but passionless relationship for a shot at the brass ring - was doomed to failure from the start, but you have to admire someone momentarily standing up from the gray prison of the office and doing something, anything, to redirect the course of fate. David Brent’s breakdown after his firing was handled brilliantly, forcing the viewer to feel momentary pity and sadness for the poor lug before pulling it away with one of his typically moronic monologues at the end. Brent doesn’t learn anything from his experiences, and one has to figure that he’ll land elsewhere and find an entirely new set of wage slaves to condescend to and irritate. At least Tim has finally shed some of his illusions - David Brent will probably still think his underlings adore and respect him while they mock him behind his back or fantasize about his death.

What set The Office apart from a normal sitcom is its unflinching eye on all of the vagaries and indignities of the modern office, the types of things that most of us would rather not focus on as we try to cheerfully muck through our day-to-day lives without turning to booze, pills or total escapism. The final episode brought that point home with a vengeance. The moral of the series? Not everyone can do or get what they really want, and sometimes the best you can do is shuffle papers under the charge of a unctuous failed comedian and unrequitedly pine for the cute secretary. That’s a pretty harsh piece of truth to swallow in the guise of a situation comedy, and it’s a credit to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant that they were able to put together one of the most searing, indicting bits of social satire of our times while also providing some of the most flat-out hilarious moments in the history of sitcoms.

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