Farewell party at 'The Office' after 9 years

"How do I get this up?" she asks. She catches herself: "That's what she said!" — a nod to the fan-favorite one-liner popularized by Michael Scott.

PHOTOS: On the set of 'The Office'

If the fictional office appears mundanely offbeat on TV, the real set dynamics are not much different. On a recent day on set, Helms' Andy was reading Deadline.com, while Creed Bratton, who plays creepy Creed, was killing time at his desk by playing his guitar. And Leslie David Baker, who plays crossword puzzle-loving Stanley Hudson, was talking about his next vacation and maybe how he'd like to eat a pretzel.

On this day, a group of hard-core Canadian fans is visiting — trying not to squeal as the scene finally gets underway.

"Red alert! Red alert! The reviews are in! I repeat: The reviews are in!" shouts Helms as Andy, drolly charging through from the office kitchen into the main space. The characters latch onto every biting word.

The real-world reviews for "The Office" of late have been just as captious. Although some of the criticism had been brewing before the Season 7 exit of Carell, it only intensified with his departure.

The cast doesn't pretend it was a smooth transition.

"It was a tremendous blow to the show," says Wilson, who plays power-obsessed Dwight Schrute. "It took us awhile to find our footing. There's been a number of bad episodes but also really good ones."

Daniels admits that ending the show with Carell's exit might have been the way to go. (Carell declined an interview for the story.)

But other cast members were under contract, and "The Office" remained one of the network's top-rated Thursday shows — so it carried on.

There would be more changes: Mindy Kaling, a writer-producer-star of the show, left at the end of the eighth season to headline her own comedy on Fox; Wilson was set to split off for his said spin-off; meanwhile, John Krasinski, who plays sardonic nice guy Jim, and Helms were juggling burgeoning movie schedules.

"It's like any other thing in life, any experience — from listening to a song to watching 'Les Misérables' to the best job of your life: It has to end sometime," Krasinski said.

The key cast members agreed to return for a ninth and final season — allowing Daniels to dump an idea of a rebooted season that would have introduced a heap of new characters. It's an ending that's bittersweet for longtime viewers.

"One could really feel the executive suits just sort of dragging the lifeless body of the show across the finish line," says Andy Greenwald, who writes about the show for Grantland.com, an online sports and pop culture magazine. "But I do think the show, as a whole, has made a mark on the American TV comedy by paving the way for a lot of the intelligent, witty and urbane humor we see in some half-hours today."

A real strength of the show has been its use of writer-performers — something Daniels has fully exploited. Three members of the cast have pulled double duty: Kaling, who portrayed bubbly pop culture nut Kelly Kapoor, Paul Lieberstein (who would also serve as showrunner for seasons 5-8) playing the mumbling human-resources manager, Toby; and B.J. Novak as temp-turned-sleazeball Ryan Howard.

"It's not an easy job," Novak said off-campus while directing an episode of "The Mindy Project" (Kaling's series). "You can't do 99% of the things you think would be funny because they wouldn't happen, and you can't do 99% of the things that would happen because they aren't funny. You have to find the delicate balance of where truthful and funny intersect."

What's next at NBC?

The big-money question is how flailing NBC will rebuild its Thursday comedy lineup in the coming year: Will it stay in the quirky, faster-paced comedy arena or steer a new path?

"There's a lot of talk of us wanting to move in the more 'broad comedy' territory," said Jennifer Salke, the network's president of entertainment. "We're in the ratings business. Our job is to deliver higher ratings. Our hope is that with our new comedies, we can slowly rebuild the Thursday night lineup that is not only critically acclaimed but can deliver on a higher rating point."

The network gave a trial run this season to Matthew Perry's comedy "Go On." The network also put "Community" back in its old Thursday digs after much delay. But their fates remain uncertain — and should they stay, there's no telling whether they'll remain on Thursday.