While Steve Carell’s departure from The Office has the feel of an era ending, there are plenty of people out there who feel like maybe that era shoulda ended a couple of years ago — and the show along with it. I’m not just referring to friends with whom I used to enjoy discussing the American adaptation of Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais’s comedy classic —though, yeah, most of my friends have stopped watching. Since the beginning of season six, though, many have argued that Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) getting married ruined the show, that the best days of the show are over and that it’s now just a sad reminder of how depressing the middle management life can be. In season 3, the show had a 9.0 user score on Metacritic; in season 6, that dropped to 6.9.
Frankly, I don’t know if I agree. For one thing, after watching all nine seasons of The X-Files, I’ll happily embrace a series that resolves its primary will-they-or-won’t-they romantic tension and moves onto exploring new territory (seriously, fuck Chris Carter). For another, the qualities that made The Office great in earlier seasons still exist; we all may have just forgotten what got us watching to begin with.
Season 1: “Diversity Day”
Hey, remember when no one liked The Office because they thought it was just a cheap rip-off of the original British show we all loved? And then remember when in this episode, Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling, back before she really was Kelly Kapoor, and wore patterned blouses buttoned all the way to her neck) got sick of Michael Scott shouting racial stereotypes at her and slapped him across the face? Good times. Good times.
Season 2: “The Dundies”
Not only was “The Dundies” the first episode of the show to really prove to naysayers that it could find a different voice from its British counterpart, but it also kicked the Jim/Pam romance into high gear, made Phyllis (Phyllis Smith) say the words “bushiest beaver” out loud, and featured one of the early instances of Stanley’s (Leslie David Baker) delightfully dry wit. In addition, this might be the best line of dialogue ever spoken on the show: “Finally, I want to thank God, because God gave me this Dundie, and I feel God in this Chili’s tonight.”
Season 3: “A Benihana Christmas”
The whole merger plotline of Season 3, which shook up the show’s established relationships with the help of some new blood, was fantastic. And The Office has a proud tradition of delightfully awkward Christmas episodes, and between Pam and Jim’s new girlfriend Karen (the kick-ass Rashida Jones) teaming up to take on Angela’s fascist control over office parties and Michael trying to hit on Benihana waitresses, this one was exquisite.
A note: This was also the first episode where Andy (Ed Helms) was somewhat bearable. One of the ways where the show has dramatically improved in the last seasons is in its treatment of Andy: formerly the most obnoxious person in the office, Andy now pines after Erin and channels his a cappella ambitions into community theater; he’s essentially become the show’s romantic lead, Charlie Brown chasing the football of love.
Season 4: “The Dinner Party”
So speaking of Christmas episodes, I have to admit that the 7th season episode “Classy Christmas” was kind of a downer, especially when it came to Michael’s petty and quasi-sociopathic behavior towards onetime true love Holly. But, frankly, the series has a long and proud tradition of pushing the comedy into dark and scary places, none so dark and scary as a dinner party with Michael and Jan (Melora Hardin). Watching “The Dinner Party” again is traveling further into the jungle, descending into the heart of darkness, but it’s too brilliant to turn away.
Season 5: “Prince Family Paper”
This episode had nothing to do with the season’s most dramatic plot development, in which Michael quits Dunder Mifflin and starts his own paper company. It’s a small and tiny episode in which Michael attempts corporate espionage on a small family-owned paper company, but it’s also the episode where the entire B-plot is devoted to the rest of the office discussing the relative hotness of Hilary Swank, a plotline which leads to one of the show’s most pure moments of humanity: Stanley Hudson embracing life, rejecting negativity, and declaring to the world: “Look at this healthy, sexy, pretty, strong young woman. Come on, people! She…is…hot.”
Like Stanley, I too am embracing positivity, and while The Office has definitely evolved over the years, its core values of so-embarrassing-it’s-funny hijinks and sincere moments of characterization remain constant. Plus, Andy is SO much less annoying now. So I look forward to the rest of Season 7 and hell, bring on Season 8, even sans Steve Carell. Because the beauty of The Office is this: It is much bigger than the sum of its parts.