In the final episode of the US version, the character Jim’s final words are: “Everything I have I owe to this job – this stupid, wonderful, boring, amazing job.” The work might be dull, the boss annoying, but it’s given him a regular pay cheque, security, friends, a wife and in turn, a family. With the rise of the gig economy and young adults switching jobs more regularly than previous generations, that promise feels like a fantasy to many.
Over the past 18 months, the world of The Office has felt more out of reach than ever. What once felt so run-of-the-mill – heading into the office to spend eight hours with your co-workers – is now something some of us can only experience on TV. We’re pining for those surrogate families, which some of us might never have in the same way again.
“I think there’s something kind of comforting about this little hermetically sealed world that you can kind of go and swim around in for a bit,” says Merchant. “There’s something very pleasing about being able to spend time in the company of those people. That’s what I always enjoyed about my favourite sitcoms.”
So how does it feel now that his own co-creation is 20 years old? “It makes me feel old,” says Merchant. “It’s a milestone I guess, but it’s a bit chilling. But given my ambition when I was a kid was always to be involved with a sitcom that people held to their hearts as closely as I did with my favourite shows, the fact that this one is cherished by people is more than I could have hoped for.”
Many of the cast of The Office have gone on to have thriving careers – including roles in Marvel and DC movies, the Harry Potter franchise, The Hobbit and The Pirates of The Caribbean. There’s even an Oscar winner among them (Olivia Colman had a small part in series two).
Its creators have also each gone on to star in and direct a huge range of projects, Gervais most recently having a hit with his black comedy After Life on Netflix. Merchant is currently directing and starring in a new BBC/Amazon co-production, The Offenders. Whatever they do, it’s unlikely anything will ever have the impact of The Office, though – and that’s perfectly ok, says Merchant. “It’s the closest thing, certainly that I’ve ever done, to what I imagined or hoped it would be. It’s hard to do something that well but, for whatever reason, all the alchemy was right. We were just in our own little bubble with no expectations, and that’s my greatest memory of it really.”
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