• U.S.

Television: The Office Punches Out

3 minute read
James Poniewozik

In the final episode of The Office, sarcastic clerk Tim (Martin Freeman) describes the central absurdity of working life. You have nothing more in common with your co-workers than the carpet you walk on, he says, and yet you have to spend more time with them than with your friends and family. Leaving a job, he might have added, is even stranger: suddenly, to your “family,” you no longer exist, and a new sibling takes your place.

Some sitcoms leave just as little impression when they depart. Fortunately, this two-hour finale (BBC America, Oct. 21, 9 p.m. E.T.) offers a satisfying, touching and excruciatingly funny severance package.

The two seasons (available on DVD) introduced us to the dreary cubicles of the Wernham Hogg paper company in Slough, England, through the framing device of a BBC documentary. The finale revisits the characters three years later to find that receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis), who previously rejected Tim’s last-minute confession of love for fear of upsetting her life plans, has moved with her lunkish fiancé to Florida. (The drudgery of routine, and the terror of changing it, is the show’s constant theme.) Meanwhile, the power-hungry pip-squeak Gareth (Mackenzie Crook) is now office manager, having replaced the boorish David Brent (writer-producer Ricky Gervais). David complains that his life was ruined by the documentary–a nice touch, since The Office immeasurably changed Gervais’ life as well–bitterly claiming that he was the victim of bad editing. “The one time I accidentally head-butt an employee makes it onto the program,” he says. Now he is peddling himself as a D-list celebrity, doing nightclub promotions with ex-Big Brother contestants.

The finale continues the series’ minutely observed, uncomfortable humor. The closest American equivalent is Curb Your Enthusiasm, though NBC is attempting a remake of The Office, starring Daily Show alum Steve Carell, for next year–a nerve-racking prospect, given that NBC’s last such import was Coupling. Executive producer Greg Daniels (King of the Hill) says the show will have a new setting–the Dunder-Mifflin paper company in Scranton, Pa.–but similar characters and sensibility. “We love the awkward pause,” he says.

The Office’s comedy of quiet desperation will probably need tweaking for America, where we prefer noisier desperation in our workplace satire. (A sublime example of that style is the movie Office Space, from Daniels’ Hill co-producer Mike Judge.) But The Office finale isn’t a downer; it offers the characters some hope and a chance at redemption–even David. At one point he shows up at Wernham Hogg, asking his ex-employees to go out for a drink–begging, really–in the mistaken belief that they love him. Only Tim accepts, to break the awkwardness–but also, perhaps, because he and David, like war veterans from opposite sides, share a bond that only they can understand. They have walked that carpet. In the end, The Office suggests, that’s as good a basis for a connection as any. –By James Poniewozik. With reporting by Jeanne McDowell/ Los Angeles

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