So I realize I'm a little late to the wake for one of America's all-time-favorite television shows, but as many of you know, I cannot participate in the usual water-cooler conversations as they occur. I choose to wait for the TV shows I enjoy to show up on Netflix discs and gradually get through them, sans commercials and at my own pace, between movie viewings, reading, my weekly gaming night, and however else I fill my evenings.
I know the series finale aired on NBC in May, but I just finished the final season of The Office last night. I'm saving the gag reel and other behind-the-scenes extras for later, but my lovely wife and I are finished with nine seasons of a show we will definitely miss. We don't watch many TV shows, and precious few of them are guaranteed to make us laugh out loud like The Office always has. I'm sure all of you are well ahead of me and have already moved on to watch some other show that's really funny that I haven't even started, but just in case any of you are taking longer than I did to complete the series, here be spoilers, Office fans!
Ratings took a dive when Steve Carell left after seven seasons. Though the writing stumbled a bit in his absence, and despite the general consensus of the critics, I still found the show funny and engaging, even without its most compelling character, the bumbling but endearing Michael Scott. Perhaps the show's legacy would be more powerful if it had ended with Michael's departure, but I enjoyed season eight's new dynamic, which gave other comic talents time to shine.
Soon after Carell's departure, Rainn Wilson was more than ready to seize the spotlight as perhaps my most favorite sitcom character ever, the black-belted, trans-am-driving, security obsessed paper salesman/beet farmer/building owner and eventual branch manager--Dwight Schrute. Ed Helms had already established Andy Bernard as a another worthy, reality-challenged member of the regular ensemble. I've always liked James Spader, so the introduction of his despicable Robert California was at least interesting, even if his addition (and that of the corporate lackey Gabe) seemed incongruous with the rest of the cast, taking things to a darker, creepier place.
Season nine provided extra screen time for characters like Erin, Darryl, Angela and Oscar, and while I can understand why viewers bailed on the show when the focus shifted, I'm glad I stuck around. I was invested in all the characters and wanted to know how things would end up, but more importantly, I was still laughing. I'm not sure why Andy Bernard became meaner and stupider in this final season, but his American Idol-skewering adventure was good for laughs, as was his stint acting in safety videos.
The Ryan/Kelli reunion was appropriate and satisfying, and the buildup between Dwight and Angela unfolded brilliantly. What felt a little half-baked and awkward was the return of Michael Scott, little more than a cameo consisting of a "that's what she said" joke and a funny line about kids "growing up and marrying each other." Michael, and perhaps Steve, seemed distant and uncomfortable. It would have been much more satisfying to have seen more of Michael in the series finale, but maybe this was due to Carell's availability. We'll take what we can get, though.
Everyone knows that Jim and Pam are the emotional core of the series, and my one significant criticism falls on season nine's Jim/Pam storyline, which was based on a career conflict that I just never bought. The two characters were simply too smart and too committed to each other to have considered severing their bond or sacrificing such a great opportunity and surely would have simply moved to Philadelphia when Jim landed his new gig.
Pam never explained why she wanted to stay in Scranton, and the reasons for moving were obvious. The "possible breakup" drama just seemed contrived. By the end of the season, it almost seemed that Jenna Fischer slipped a little of herself into her character (Pam) in the last episode, when she apologized to the camera during one of her last "confessional" bits, owning up to her character's tendency to take too long to make important decisions and the irrationality of denying Jim his dream job for...her paper sales job in Scranton?
It almost felt like the writers were apologizing for trying to sell us on the unlikely drama between the poster couple of the show, a storyline that they perhaps knew all along was unrealistic. That said, I still enjoyed myself all the way to the end and tolerated the requisite emotional moments without even considering a vomit bag. In fact, I can't wait to watch the deleted scenes and all those extras.
The Office managed to do justice to the excellent UK original, creating a parallel cast across the pond with obvious links to its predecessor, yet the US version soon carved its own path, long outlasting the UK version's brief two-season run, building unique, well-developed characters through long arcs that were believable, often heartfelt, regularly wacky and nearly always entertaining.
Though some seasons proved funnier than others, The Office could be simultaneously absurd and ridiculous, touching and hilarious, combining an occasional dark or nasty streak with a strong emotional undercurrent, each tone complementing the other, a balancing act that allowed for realistic critique of soul-sucking office work and its accompanying boredom, dissatisfaction and disillusionment with an underlying optimism that the UK original never had the time or perhaps the intention to cultivate. Concluding the entire series with Dwight and Angela's wedding was a masterstroke. That's what she said.