It was late 2006. For the previous twelve months, I’d been dealing with divorce. Not just divorce, but divorce with children. I had been a stay-at-home dad for almost five years when everything went downhill, and I was having trouble finding work, because most of my career contacts were on the west coast while I was in Chicago. I was hemorrhaging money to bills and mortgage payments and late credit card fees and daycare, plunging further into debt every hour. Depression colored my entire view of the world, and it regularly mingled with fear, sadness, heartache and loneliness. I repressed much of it, especially when my children were home. They were young, and they weren’t particularly fond of sad Daddy. The resulting routine included many days of pretend happiness and many nights locked in a house unsuccessfully battling tears and pain.
Let’s just say life was at one of its less stellar points.
About that time I caught an episode or two of The Office. On a whim, I bought Season 1 on DVD (what’s a little more debt at that point?). While I possessed a suitable level of cubicle experience to appreciate the show’s premise, I’m really a sucker for well-written, unrequited love stories, and the Jim/Pam storyline hooked me immediately. Of course, as the audience knew from so many facial expressions and on-camera moments of silence, their love wasn’t unrequited at all. Jim lived in that awful place where, if he did nothing, he’d forever regret his inaction and perhaps miss an opportunity, but if he acted and pursued his desires he would instantly become “the bad guy”. It’s a rather tricky moral dilemma for those of us the world decides to label “nice guys”. In the years since, I’ve had a brush or two with it myself. The longing and frustration and uncertainty and indecision can be paralyzing, and the writers/actors/directors captured more of it than any show I’d seen before.
Soon I owned the first three seasons on DVD, and when I’d watched each season twice, I began to tune-in every week to follow along. I laughed. I laughed a lot. Steve Carell’s Michael Scott was brilliant and got better every year. Jim and Pam shared intimate moments interrupted by the realities of life. Toby, as lame and caricatured as he would eventually become, personified my own situation as the quiet, sad, recently divorced father with kids. The Season 3 Call of Duty battles were legendary. Michael’s spin-off paper company, although short-lived, breathed new life into the office dynamic. Jim and Pam proved, in the end, that love can win out over reality (albeit on a fictional show). Then there was Michael’s bittersweet departure to marry Holly, and now the revealing of the documentary crew. So many wonderful memories. So many laughs. So many moments of escape coupled with insights into humanity. There are few comedies that successfully maintain humor while realistically portraying the more mundane and frustrating aspects of life. The Office excelled at it, despite the occasional lapse into slapstick and absurdity.
I tend to be a loyal person. I don’t quickly fall for new bands or new women. I don’t quickly make new friends or get sucked into new television shows. When I do finally admit my fondness for anything, I stick with it, sometimes long past the point of sanity. Such is the case with The Office. Great moments have been rare the past couple seasons, but once upon a time, when I needed hope and optimism and laughter, when I needed a reminder that love stories do not always end tragically, The Office came through in ways nothing else could. Many a lonely Thursday night was made better by a fictional, 22 minute situation comedy. For that, I remain forever indebted and eternally loyal.
To everyone involved with making The Office, thank you. Some works of fiction transcend their premise to mean many things to many people. Your creativity and effort, as cheesy as it may sound, helped to change my perception of the world. You’ll be missed but never forgotten, and the memories will always bring a smile. Thank you.