It’s been several years since the hit NBC series The Office went off the air, but there are still stories circulating about the cast, the crew and some of the backstories behind the show. Having grown up in Northeast Pennsylvania, where the series was set, I watched The Office faithfully before Steve Carrell left. After that, I watched it casually as the whole show seemed to have lost a bit of its edge. Despite the series being solid in so many ways, being a former NEPA resident, I can safely say there are some serious nitpicks I did have with it. I’m fairly certain some of my Office-faithful friends will want to slap me around for this, but these are worth noting.
- It’s not just Scranton. Though set in the largest overall city in northeast Pennsylvania, Scranton is far from the only major city, but this series made it seem like there was nothing else there. What The Office referred to as “Scranton” is actually the greater Wilkes-Barre/Scranton/Hazleton area. Depending on who you talk to, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre get interchanged in order, but Hazleton, approximately 45 minutes south of Scranton, is always last. Scranton is the county seat for Lackawanna County, while Wilkes-Barre is such for Luzerne County, just to the south.
- The show made it seem like New York was just a quick jaunt from Scranton. Hardly! While New York is about a 2 hour drive “as the crow flies,” this is northeast Pennsylvania, meaning you are going up and down numerous mountains on Interstates 84, 380 and 80, watching for trucks sliding out of control on ice patches in the winter, and dealing with New Jersey suburban traffic which starts about ten milliseconds after the Delaware River (or Water Gap, if you want to be really nitpicky!)
They rarely ever mentioned the bane of every northeast Pennsylvania resident – road construction. Maybe PennDOT (PA’s transportation folks), grew a brain inside that collective bureaucratic cranium, but my memory of northeast Pennsylvania includes potholes large enough to swallow an RV with room for clearance on all four sides! Orange barrels, lane shifts and closures, and single-file traffic for miles on end are a part of life in NEPA, and that’s year round.
- Yes, the show was on NBC, so they couldn’t mention other networks, but WBRE, which is the NBC affiliate shown on The Office, gets its ass slammed in the ratings by ABC affiliate and longtime news superpower WNEP-TV, Channel 16. It’s too bad we didn’t get to at least see a cameo of WNEP weather personality Tom Clark, because NEPA residents would have found that awesome. WBRE, as far as I know, still doesn’t have a helicopter (that may have changed) – WNEP does, Skycam 16.
- Steamtown Mall is made to look like some trendy hipster hotspot. The reality is Steamtown Mall is considered by many to be a “dead mall.” The shopping mothership in the area, Wyoming Valley Mall in Wilkes-Barre, was almost never mentioned in the series, and is twice the size of Steamtown. Up the road about 15 minutes is Scranton’s Viewmont Mall, which isn’t much better, but has a better selection. What’s sad is that it took Scranton almost 20 years to get Steamtown built, and it never really reached full capacity.
Was Boscov’s ever mentioned? Come on! If you’re gonna do a show in a town, reference more than just a grocery store. Gerrity’s was a great head nod, but I heard nary a word about Boscov’s, or The Bon-Ton, the two upscale department stores in the area! The scary part is Boscov’s is the primary anchor for Steamtown Mall! Yeah, I get Macy’s, who longtimers preferred Boscov’s.
- Lake Wallenpaupack fail. This nitpicks the staff retreat to nearby Lake Wallenpaupack, the main fishing and rec zone for NEPA residents. From my experience in the Boy Scouts, you had to jump through about a billion pounds of red tape to get approval to do anything like that “walking on hot coals” scene Pam Beasley became famous for during the office retreat. I won’t nitpick the location itself because, knowing my luck, it was filmed on location (I don’t remember Lake Wallenpaupack ever looking that picturesque), but the fact is that the local parks and recs departments, as well as PA State Parks, have very strict rules about fire, and hot coal walks involve serious red tape if you are doing them “above board.”
Radio fail. Yes, the “Froggy bumper sticker is cute and a head nod to a local country station, but not once, not once, was WKRZ-FM, one of northeast Pennsylvania’s highest rated and most-listened to radio stations, ever mentioned! Hell, they could have at least put a bumper sticker or a screen saver for them on a computer! These guys are part of the culture there! Hell, not even a head-nod to WILK, the local talk radio station? That would be like not once referencing the New York Times on Friends.
- Was that Avoca Airport that Michael Scott left from? Look, this is a massive nitpick, but I swear that the airport Steve Carrell’s character flew from was not Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. For one, Avoca is not, at last check, that neat. For another, it’s built on top of a mountain, with mountains all around it! I could be wrong, and it’s be a while since I even visited there, but Avoca didn’t look a thing to me like that place Michael Scott flew off from to be with Holly Flax. Just saying.
Where the hell are the mountains? Look, I get that a lot of The Office was filmed in Hollywood, but the love of God, at least get the driving scenes right! When you are outside, you see mountains everywhere! It’s the freaking Appalachians; you don’t drive someplace and always see blue sky in the rearview. More often that not, there’s a goddamned mountain! If there’s one thing I remember from my time in NEPA, it that you have mountains and valleys, and that’s it!
Well, Office fans, feel free to slam me for being a “hater.” I actually liked the series, despite saying repeatedly “nothing good ever comes from Scranton” prior to watching it, and that includes myself ;). So, looking forward to some comments.