May 20, 2013 12:00 PM

>NBC’s unlikely hit earned its place as one of the past decade’s best sitcoms

Viewers may have forgotten that NBC’s The Office, ending its run May 16 after nine seasons, had the makings of a painful flop: It was an American remake of a distinctly British comedy of humiliation starring Ricky Gervais as the world’s most loathsome office manager. No network could replicate Gervais’s performance, a mesmerizing combination of self-love and shame. And that turned out to be just fine. Steve Carell, scarcely a household name when the show premiered in 2005, played manager Michael Scott as a politically incorrect dolt, smiling in panic through mistakes and humiliations. But there was also something childlike and almost innocent about Michael (he’s not too far removed from Carell’s 40-Year-Old Virgin). Michael’s geek romance with Holly Flax (Amy Ryan) turned out to be one of the most tender love affairs in sitcom history. And the show itself, brilliantly cast top to bottom, evolved into a more traditional celebration of the jostling if bruising fun of the human circus. The Office has been fairly aimless since Carell—who reportedly won’t be on the finale—left at the end of season 7, and in the last stretch, we’re learning about the “documentary” cameras that have been filming the characters all along. That’s a meta issue I never really cared about. None of which diminishes The Office’s achievement. Simply put, it worked.

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