I cannot count how many times over its nine seasons that “The Office” has caused me to cringe and raise my hands over my mouth in complete shock and gleeful disgust.
The show never failed to find new ways to horrify fans while reveling in awkward situations.
On May 4, in Scranton, Pa., my hands were once again drawn up to my face in “Office”-induced shock. But this time my palms cradled unhinged joy in place of their usual function of providing a barrier between me and the awkwardness on the TV screen. And it was all because of the 13th chair.
In honor of the upcoming series finale, cast, crew and fans made the trek to Scranton (What? The Electric City), where the show is set, for an official farewell at “The Office” Wrap Party.
Among the available activities were a behind-the-scenes panel, a parade through downtown Scranton, a slightly weird, yet amusing, karaoke dance party and the grand finale Farewell Celebration at a local baseball field.
Two friends and I decided to make the 7 ½ hour journey to Scranton to partake in the festivities, and it was worth every minute it took to get there.
How else would I have known that show star John Krasinski filmed all the Scranton footage seen in the opening credits while on a research trip through town to shoot the pilot?
Behind the scenes
Hundreds of people gathered in a recreation complex on the University of Scranton campus for the behind-the-scenes panel, led by executive producer Greg Daniels, who developed the American version of the popular British show.
He was joined by other producers, writers, editors, directors and the prop master, each one eager to share something from their area of expertise.
Audience members watched one of the director of photography’s favorite scenes, a lip dub musical number that traversed the entirety of the office set; a break down of a stunt involving Rainn Wilson’s Dwight as he attempted to bicycle across a wire to prove a point, working around Wilson’s crippling fear of heights; an example of how editing takes what was shot and molds it into the scenes we see on the show; and a video of the warehouse in L.A. which houses every prop and costume ever used on the show, including the many items collected and sent to NBC by real Scrantonians, adding to the authenticity in so many subtle ways.
Writers said they initially wrote for the characters, but as years and seasons passed, they began writing specifically for the actors who had grown to so fully embody those characters.
As the actors learned more about the people they were playing, they fought for the integrity of their character. When a writer wanted Brian Baumgartner’s dim-witted Kevin to be ignorant of what broccoli is, he argued against it and won.
Surprisingly, improvisation played very little role in the series. Members of the panel estimated only 5 to 10 percent of the show was unscripted, with 10 percent being a very generous guess. Unless a line was undeniably good, they aired what was written.
Parading through Scranton
Outside the weather was perfect for an afternoon parade. It was surreal to see the actors drive by just feet away, as fans lined the streets shouting their names and waving excitedly.
Andy Buckley, who plays Dunder Mifflin owner David Wallace, led the pack in his character’s homemade “Suck It” hoodie. Many of the parade cars even slowed down enough for fans to rush up to get a picture with or autograph from the generously obliging actors.
Everything was orderly and pleasant until them — the car containing Krasinski and his on-screen love, Jenna Fischer, better known as Jim and Pam. It was quickly surrounded as if dozens of brides-to-be were told they could have a designer dress for a dollar if only they could get to their prize before anyone else.
The swarm descended upon us in a fast and furious mass of TV lust. It was overwhelming on the outskirts, but Krasinski and Fischer remained calm at its core.
After the parade, castmates congregated on a stage for some singing and dancing, including a couple songs from rocker and actor Creed Bratton. We knew we’d come to the right place when that beautiful theme song rang out through the downtown area, played live by The Scrantones.
The final farewell
That evening an estimated 10,000 people made their way to PNC Field for the Farewell Celebration.
Prior to the actors’ arrival, fans were treated to a blooper reel from all nine seasons and a chance to win Dunder Mifflin stock by answering trivia questions correctly.
And before us, the 13 chairs, with an additional one for the moderator of the Q&A.
From the moment I found out about the event, I had harbored the not-so-secret wish that Steve Carell would make an unannounced, surprise appearance.
So we went through the list of stars that would soon fill the seats: Krasinski (Jim), Fischer (Pam), Wilson (Dwight), Buckley (David Wallace), Bratton (Creed) and Baumgartner (Kevin), along with Ellie Kemper (Erin), Craig Robinson (Darryl), Paul Lieberstein (Toby), Oscar Nunez (Oscar), Kate Flannery (Meredith) and Phyllis Smith (Phyllis).
“Twelve! That’s only 12,” I exclaimed, before realizing Daniels would more than likely join them, filling that blasted 13th chair.
After several rounds of bloopers and trivia, it was finally time for the Q&A and a 10 minute sneak-peek of the penultimate episode.
First to emerge from the locker room was Buckley. The announcers declared something to the effect of “Andy Buckley as David Wallace, our moderator for this evening.”
As Buckley rounded the bases to the music of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop,” my head whipped to the right to look at my friends as I shouted “Moderator? He’s the moderator? There IS an extra chair!”
One by one we cheered the others out until all known guests had arrived. With imitation coyness, the announcers pointed out the empty 13th chair.
In a split-second flash — trying not to get my hopes up — I reminded myself there were a number of cast members not present. It was likely Ed Helms or Mindy Kaling waiting behind that door. And then ...
All I heard was Michael Scott.
I shot to my feet as 10,000 fans erupted in a wild roar of applause and cheers. It was hands shaking, cheeks hurt from smiling, jumping up and down, utter disbelief and joy. Here he was — the man who had embodied a character who could simultaneously be embarrassing, sad, caring and a little bit loveable. Before us, the actor who let us know that however mundane our work lives could be, there is worse. Much worse.
I’m convinced the excitement could not have been bestowed upon a more worthy actor. Carell looked genuinely surprised at the welcome he received, as though it was slightly baffling that the crowd would be so pleased to see him. He responded to the frenzy with a simple, humbled “Wow.”
And why were we all so pleased to see him? All of them? What is it about “The Office” that makes it so special? There is maybe only one other show I can imagine driving 7 ½ hours for (that would be “Arrested Development”).
Perhaps there is relatability in the universality of work life and the show’s caricatures of real people. Maybe it’s because it allowed us to vicariously live out some of our own office fantasies.
My own pranks have only extended to stealing a coworker’s bobblehead, but how many times have I thought of sticking someone’s supplies in Jell-O or filling their phone handset with nickels?
Perhaps the character’s lives were parallel with our own at key times, and it made us feel less alone. And maybe it’s just, plain and simple, a funny show.
Whatever the reason, after May 16, there will be an “Office”-sized hole in many hearts. And goodbyes stink.
I’m glad I have the memory of Wilson telling a fan, “Idiot! Black bear,” in response to a question about what kind of bear is best.
Likely reflecting the sentiments of many a fan, Fischer said something she’ll miss most is the fictional characters, like Dwight Schrute and Kevin, she’s had the opportunity to interact with over the years. The finale will surely make us all grateful for TV on DVD.
What else is there to say except, overall, the event was a thrilling experience. That’s what she said.
A few favorites
Although virtually impossible, I’ve embarked upon the task of narrowing “The Office” down to nine episodes, one from each season, that would embody a highlight reel of some of my favorites. Here goes:
“The Alliance”: Anytime Dwight asks if you want to form an alliance, the only appropriate answer is “Absolutely I do.” And here we find out what happens when Jim does just that. Hilarity ensues.
“The Injury”: This episode holds a special place in my heart, as it was the very first episode of “The Office” I ever saw. When Michael burns his foot on a George Foreman grill in pursuit of his morning bacon, Dwight races off to help him, crashes his car and gets a concussion. All it took was Dwight puking all over the back of his car to show me this series was something special.
“Ben Franklin”: Any episode that begins with Michael demonstrating how to take off a woman’s bra on Dwight Schrute is an instant classic in my book. Dwight also goes head-to-head against a Ben Franklin impersonator and comes out of the interaction only 99% sure he’s not the real Ben Franklin, despite Jim’s assurances. Incidentally the George Foreman foot grill also makes an appearance.
“Survivor Man”: I. HAVE. HEMORRHOIDS. This episode is such a good example of Michael Scott wildly overestimating his abilities, so much so that it’s kind of endearing. When Ryan doesn’t invite him on a wilderness retreat, Michael takes to the woods to prove he’s got what it takes to survive. Luckily, the ever-faithful Dwight looks on to make sure he doesn’t end up dying in nature.
“Prince Family Paper”: Michael is asked to retrieve information from a small family paper company that will inevitably run them out of business. Watching Michael and Dwight work out an emergency signal of licking their lips and later chasing each other around the building — with their very distinct running styles — gets me every time.
“The Lover”: When Pam questions Michael about dating an employee’s mother, she is initially excited at being let in on office gossip. But as the realization of who Michael’s lover is dawns on her, she gradually slides into a horrified fit of denial that I can watch over and over again.
“Threat Level Midnight”: After years of hearing about Michael’s movie, we were finally rewarded with a screening of the finished Great Scott Films International project. Old faces make an appearance in the thrilling action flick that introduced us all to the Scarn.
“Tallahassee”: This was a tough season to get through. The single bright spot for me was this cold open when Jim, while on a business trip with others from the office, faked his own death and named Dwight as the murderer. The hilarious bit was reminiscent of the good old days of brilliant Jim Halpert pranks, and reminded viewers that the show still had a spark of greatness in there somewhere, after all.
“Finale”: Fortunately for its farewell season “The Office” found its footing once again and is able to leave us on a good note. Regular laughter has returned to my Thursday nights, and there have been plenty of tender moments as well. Though I’ve obviously yet to see the episode, which airs May 16, I’m choosing it for sentimental reasons. However the show ends, I’m glad it was here, and sorry to see it go.