Mapping the ‘The Office’s’ Slow Decline

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For the dedicated fans of The Office who haven’t been offended/ disappointed/ heartbroken enough by its gradual decline over the seasons to abandon it entirely, tonight’s series finale may be its biggest disappointment yet. For all the show’s flaws, the Dunder Mifflin employees have indeed become something like family — not just among themselves, but to those committed viewers who have stuck with the gang through the good times and the very bad ones. Now that it’s time to bid the show goodbye, here’s our guide to the show’s steady descent, in a series of moments that made The Office really start to suck balls. (That’s what she said.)

When Jan and Michael were together

Remember Jan Levenson (Melora Hardin)? The former VP of Dunder Mifflin Sales was something of a nightmare. Under that smart suit and Chanel lipstick, there was a ballad-crooning, candle-making, velour-wearing, raging obsessive compulsive. And so, when Jan was dating Michael, she was in his dreams and his nightmares. And in ours. While she was ashamed of Michael, in reality he was far too good for her. Who could forget that crazy dinner party they held together and spent fighting in front of their guests? Jan got infinitely worse after she was fired from Dunder Mifflin. Thereafter, she became a disgruntled ex-employee, and then when she had a baby she sang to it all the time, and it was sickening. Oh, and didn’t she have a weird sex thing with her very young-looking assistant at some point?

Every time Todd Packer was on the show

Todd Packer (David Koechner), Dunder Mifflin’s roving salesman, is the worst. Where to begin? His sexist, sleazy jokes. His sexist, sleazy presence. And how annoying it was that Michael couldn’t see what a chauvinistic douchebag his old friend was. Last we saw old Packer, he was doling out apology cupcakes to the Scranton employees to make good on his previous despicableness. Sure enough, they were spiked with laxatives, drugs, and other stuff Packer could get his slimy hands on; of course, Kevin ate his cupcake and suffered woefully at the throne.

When Michael Scott left Dunder Mifflin and started The Michael Scott Paper Company

Well, this was rather a disaster. Michael’s brief departure before his eventual (and heartbreaking) leave of absence from Dunder Mifflin saw him found The Michael Scott Paper Company, an organization that lasted just a few days at best. Starting out working from home, he made Pam, his misguided partner in the business, feel uncomfortable as he worked in his bathrobe. And then, getting a tiny workspace in the same unit as Dunder Mifflin, he enlisted Ryan (for whom Michael has always held a special soft spot) to the fold. Somehow, only Michael Scott could make managing two people seem harder than managing a full office of disillusioned employees. Alas, The Michael Scott Paper Company saw its own downfall, but at least it meant Michael eventually went back to his old position at Dunder Mifflin, back in his chair with the “World’s Best Boss” mug he bought for himself.

When Michael Scott left for real

Which leads us to the next, most obvious point in the show’s decline: The Office just couldn’t be The Office without Steve Carrell. When Michael left Dunder Mifflin to live with his fiancée Holly Flax (Amy Ryan) in Colorado, he was sad to go, but not as sad as viewers were. And all the managers that came in after Michael Scott — even DeAngelo Vickers (Will Ferrell) — couldn’t fill his wonderfully silly shoes. “World’s Best Boss,” he was.

When The Office writers commenced playing managerial musical chairs

After Michael’s exit, The Office writers saw fit to play a game of Regional Manager musical chairs, as a host of less successful oddball characters took to Scott’s seat. A dose of Will Ferrell was wonderful, however, with his character DeAngelo Vickers, and there was that bromance-worthy shaving scene with Michael in his office as they were transferring roles (dicking around, basically), the air-juggling to an Evanescence song, and the impressive slam-dunk in a game of workplace basketball that led to his untimely, quite hilarious demise. There was that incredibly bizarre Robert California/Bob Kazamakis (James Spader) fellow, who was frankly deeply troubling. Every office has a resident creepy guy, and this one… well, he made even Creed Bratton look sane. Then, for a short time, there was Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate), which caused quite a ruckus in the online Office fan community, with a whole forum dedicated to why she was ostensibly sabotaging the show.

When Andy Bernard became Regional Manager, and Dwight didn’t for ages

And then there was Andy. Sweet, enthusiastic Cornell alum/anger management-reformed Andy, with his ukulele, beautiful singing voice, and ghastly British accent. Though Andy made his best effort as Regional Manager, he was no Michael Scott — and it’s difficult to understand why he made it so far in the role. Why wasn’t he fired before he quit to pursue his dream of hitting the big time? Remember when he just up and went sailing for a few months? Hardly trustworthy managerial material. (Speaking of which: another somewhat notable downfall of The Office was when Andy began acting wretchedly toward lovely Erin. Remember when he just up and went sailing for a few months? Hardly trustworthy boyfriend material.) Really, the role of Regional Manager should have gone to Dwight, and it’s a shame we’ve had to wait so long to see him in it.

When Kelly Kapoor followed Michael Scott out the Dunder Mifflin door

Kelly Kapoor never did have the monumental role she was entitled to on The Office. Sure, her character basically lives on The Mindy Project now, but as a result The Office has seen a notable decline in its Perez Hilton-derived gossip, bubblegum, sneaky make-out sessions with Ryan, and Beyoncé love. Of course, Kelly did meet her Prince Charming before she left at the end of the show’s eighth season, and it wasn’t Ryan but Ravi, a pediatrician friend of Pam’s. Yes, Ravi seemed all right, but it was a disappointing end for Kelly, who moved to Miami University (in Ohio) with her fiancé, believing she would be living it up in Miami, Florida. That girl should not be in Ohio.

When Jim and Pam Finally Got Together

The Office writers seemingly held out forever on getting Pam and Jim together. But could it be that they got them together too soon? Their recent tiff hardly packs the romantic climax that their earlier union did, and one can’t help but feel that, as adorable as that whole wedding episode was (yes, there may have been a few tears), perhaps the show peaked a little too soon with Pam and Jim. They’d been dating virtually five minutes before that proposal. Oh, and remember that whole aisle dance sequence to a Chris Brown song? While, yes, this was at the time a perfectly mediocre musical choice, in hindsight it might have been enough to doom any marriage.

When Jim joined Athlead, and started playing basketball with celebs

But it was when Jim began working with Athlead that their problems really began. It wasn’t just the beginning of his marital issues, however. The further away he got from The Office and from Pam, the more viewers began to resent him. But at least Jim has seen the light now and is back at Dunder Mifflin winding up Dwight, who, it turned out, was right: the name of the company does suck. Athlead, pfft.

When new people started working at Dunder Mifflin

It’s always awkward when a bunch of new people start working in the office — and, as it turns out, in The Office. First off, there was that weird merger where Dunder Mifflin Scranton and Dunder Mifflin Stamford got together — though this meant niftily getting Jim back in Scranton. But it also meant the introduction of Karen Filippelli (Rashida Jones), and though Jones is enjoyable enough in NBC’s reigning workplace sitcom, Parks and Recreation, all her pretty face accomplished on The Office was standing in the way of Jim and Pam being together. Perhaps a better business move in Dunder Mifflin’s history was when Sabre (that is, Kathy Bates and her dogs) became involved with the company. More recently, when Clark Green (Clark Duke) and Jake Lacy (Pete Miller) joined the show, The Office writers desperately tried to peg them as a little Dwight and Tuna, but they played like a bad cover version of your favorite band. Finally, Jake and Erin’s office flirtations only meant the inevitable decline of Erin and Andy’s relationship.

When the camera crew got involved

Of course, the Dunder Mifflin employees acknowledged throughout the show that they were talking to the camera, and even made (futile) efforts to hide from it in particularly incriminating moments, as when Oscar had an affair with the senator, Angela’s husband; when Angela and Dwight had their affair; and Stanley’s plural affairs. Even so, we never heard much about the documentary until the latter part of this season, in what seems like a hasty lunge to the exit. The story line has fallen a little flat in the lead up to the doc’s air, and the show’s final episodes would be better spent watching them do their office thing than watching them watch themselves do their office thing. Also, there was that random teaser where it seemed like Pam would have a sudden love affair with the beautiful camera guy, Brian, but it turned out they’d all been great friends all this time. Consistency really hasn’t been The Office‘s strong suit, especially with this plot line that seemingly snuck up out of nowhere like one of Big Tuna’s pranks on Dwight.

Toby, the HR guy

Just, ugh, Toby. All the way through.

When we met the Schrutes and Dwight had a farmer girlfriend

In another rush to the end of the series, Dwight’s character has seen some changes recently. When his aunt died, he suddenly had a family — that is, aside from his strange cousin, Mose Schrute. After this season’s awkward episode “The Farm,” it’s been unclear what the whole purpose of that weird story line with his sister and his brother returning actually was. It did conveniently bring in Dwight’s farmer girlfriend, Esther, who also appeared out of nowhere and came driving in on Aunt Schrute’s funeral on a truck. Thankfully, however, Dwight has cut himself off of his beet-loving girlfriend, and proposed to his “monkey,” Angela, once and for all. The wedding, no doubt crawling with beets and cats, should be the highlight of tonight’s finale.