I had originally imagined this review on the series finale of The Office to be celebratory, as the writers managed to finally pull themselves out of the nosedive they were in after Steve Carell bailed and B. J. Novak stole the rest of the parachutes. Fortunately their plane instead crashed through the fourth wall, salvaging these last two seasons. However I realized that with 30 Rock and now The Office done, I am now officially done with network television.
They have absolutely nothing either funny or dramatic to offer me. That may sound a bit hyperbolic, but since the sitcom’s heyday of the 80’s and 90’s the networks have done nothing but retread the situational comedy. It works sometimes, even when the show is painfully unfunny (see Two and a Half Menand The Big Bang Theory – sorry but I have friends, people I normally trust who somehow like that latter offensive nerd caricature banality. I want to free them from the Borg collective that tells them that Jim Parsons is funny, you know who you are!)
But then came the evolution of the docucomedy, when producer Ben Silverman tracked down Ricky Gervais to bring a quirky British comedy across the pond. In 2005 the American version of The Office was born. The networks, in their infinite cynicism only gave the first season six episodes. The ratings weren’t great, but due to a perfect storm that combined it’s huge popularity on iTunes, Carell’s star-making turn in The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, and his upset win at the Golden Globes, NBC realized they had a hit with something a bit risky and original. The years pass, Jim and Pam finally fall in love at the same time and have the whole white picket fence situation in full effect. Michael Scott also finally finds love in the equally idiosyncratic Holly Flax. Then came the aforementioned nosedive.
It was as if all the good writers snuck into Michael Scott’s luggage and took off with him. The thing was they knew for about the last 18 months that the show was ending. Have you ever given 2 weeks notice at a job? Do you remember how purposely worthless you were those two weeks? Well this was the same thing except these people gave notice 18 months ago. At one point during this final season we had four, yes four love triangles AT THE SAME TIME. Jim/Pam/Brian, Dwight/Senator/Angela, Oscar/Senator/Angela, and Andy/Plop/Erin. The love triangle is the laziest form of conflict in comedy, and they had four of them. The Jim/Pam/Brian was the most egregious, we all new there was no way they would actually mess with the one romance they had taken the entire series to build. This came soon after they realized that Ed Helms, who, like Carell is a Daily Show alum, is unlike Carell in that he can not carry this show. Then the aforementioned fourth wall was broken as the ‘documentary’ that had been filming these last nine years was to premiere on PBS. The build-up to this was fantastic, with the characters realizing their dirty laundry was to literally be aired in public, the cheating, the fights, the pranks and all. The characters all react differently: Andy decides to become famous so he poops on David Wallace’s car as a sort of icing on the cake (sorry about the imagery) to make sure his safety net is gone and then embarrasses himself by sobbing like Karen Carpenter during his America’s Next A Cappella Sensation audition. The deux ex machina comes for Dwight and Angela when she confesses that her child is actually his and they decide to get married, suspiciously convenient but sweet. Jim sacrifices his dream job in Philly to save his marriage with Pam.
The final episode takes place one year after the documentary aired. Apparently the documentary crew is back to get some bonus footage for the DVD. We find out that in the interim Kevin Malone was fired for his basic inability to do his job, along with Toby for his basic inability to interact with humans. Stanley retired to Florida and now carves birds. Creed attempted to fake his own death and is now on the run for the police for a variety of bizarre charges that seem less weird when you remember Creed. Some have gone their separate ways. Andy’s audition meltdown went viral, but he has parlayed that into a job at Cornell admissions. Darryl is doing incredibly well with his job. Toby lives with six other dudes in New York and is attempting to become a writer, and Nellie was blah, blah (hated her character from the beginning). They are all back for Dwight and Angela’s wedding, an act that probably should have taken place two years ago thus saving us from Nellie, four love triangles, Plop, and Dwight Jr.
From here things happen the way they should, be it good or ill for the integrity of storytelling. At this point, the final episode, having spent so much time with these characters and investing so much emotion, you don’t care how it happens for them, as long as it happens and that it is what they have always wanted. In that, the writers of The Office delivered. Ryan Howard shows up with a baby, then convinces Kelly to run off with him and the baby ends up with Nellie, who still wants to fill that blah, blah. Creed shows up in disguise and Erin finds out that her birth parents are Joan Cusack and Ed Begley, Jr., a very sweet moment. The sweetest moment came, however, with Jim’s best prank ever: stepping down as best man, at the 11th hour, much to Dwight’s dismay, only to bring in Michael Scott to pinch-hit for him.
For me that was the classiest part of the finale. Steve Carell was only given two lines (and you have to know what one of them was), so not to take away from the myriad of others who have not yet said goodbye. It was awesome to see him again, but it was more awesome that he was not there to outshine and steal the show back. Proper.
Speaking of proper, Pam takes the family reins and decides to sell the house and give Jim his dream job with Darryl in Austin. Wonderful. It was a great finale, everyone got their final say, even a final ‘Dunder Mifflin this is Pam.’ Creed Bratton (also his real name) sends off this bittersweet farewell with a song, a lament, and his subsequent arrest.
But now it’s over, and no matter how hard Parks and Recreation or Community may try, The Office was likely the last bastion of good network television. I keep trying new shows, but now it seems more trite and forced than usual. Maybe it’s me, or maybe the networks are comfortable with cop shows, hospital shows, and reality shows to fill their calendar. I know that I need to fill myself up with something better. That’s what she said.