It can hardly be overstated how good The Office’s final season has been, especially in light of what came before it. The Office had always been an inconsistent show, but when its star Steve Carrell left, it had already been in a rut for a while, and NBC’s decision to keep its signature show around on life support led to dreadful episodes and a show that had lost its identity. The Office was, for a season, no longer really about anything, and the puttering around of formerly minor characters took center stage in a sitcom without any sort of pathos.
Greg Daniels’ return to The Office has been extraordinary, not because he returned the show to its former quality but because he did so while turning it into something else entirely. The show’s faux cinema verite style became meaningless so long ago, with rise of so many other popular single camera sitcoms with confessionals, that The Office’s fiction of a documentary filming crew was rarely brought up. Sure, they peeked in occasionally, but this was almost always jarring and usually just a heavy-handed reminder of the style. In season nine, though, they were foregrounded. The crew and the drama they created made for a very different show, one that couldn’t have existed early on. The Office was no longer solely about how these supposedly average characters lived their lives; now it was about how the filmmaking affected their lives. In season nine, the entire cast felt more real and the stakes no longer felt like those of a sit-com. Suddenly, for the first time in the show’s history, it did feel like a documentary, as it was never clear that things would have a happy, sitcom resolution.
That being said, The Office’s finale brought things back to the cast, despite the premise that it takes place one year later and involves a Q&A scene ostensibly done for the DVD extras on the PBS show (I was never clear as to whether this was supposed to be exactly the show we watched, or something else). This offers up a new, third situation for them to cope with—how the show airing affected their lives—and we get to see how this played out. What’s surprising may be the way it doesn’t feel like a year went by for those who stayed in the office, more like a few weeks, so it’s a bit convenient, though no less clever a premise.
For all the talk beforehand about the show airing and the cast responding to it, that was actually a very minor, though excellent, part of “Finale.” The Q&A ended up feeling a lot like the many town hall meetings in Daniels’ other show, Parks & Recreation, with its line of idiots holding a microphone. But even in this scene, it’s clear what The Office is doing: giving every one of its characters a happy ending. Erin is finally reunited with her birth parents, and they leave together in utter bliss. It’s almost too happy and too contrived… but then again, oh well. That’s what the show is trying for, and the question is more whether those beats feel “real,” and here, as with almost everywhere else, it does. I managed to take some issue with the way literally everyone got their greatest wish fulfilled, but then, I’m a bitter crank.
Through the bachelor/bachelorette parties, the wedding between Dwight and Angela, the wedding reception, and the cast’s reunion party, we see the fondest hopes of and dreams of every member of the cast come to fruition. These range from heartwarming, such as the wedding itself or Andy’s surprisingly moving speech at Cornell, to the goofy, with Kelly and Ryan briefly appearing only to run off together and, presumably, get hitched themselves. The sheer number of resolutions, the sheer amount of utter fulfillment takes away a little bit from each of them. In a sense, this is the reason why “Finale” needed more than 50 minutes of screentime, as it was necessary to spread all of these endings out so as to not call attention to what was happening.
Even though the show’s long removed from its progenitor, I couldn’t help but think of the specials that took place after the British Office and the way they contrasted what we had here. Despite the documentary apparatus being foregrounded in the American release, the British Office felt more real because it wasn’t just a wish fulfillment machine. The utter happiness of everyone in the American version was infectious and uplifting, but it also rang a bit hollow.
I would guess that for all the fun everyone had last night, the finale is a bit of a letdown affair in the long run because of this. But then, “Finale” seemed to be less in many ways about the show itself and more about giving The Office’s fans, many of whom have been dutifully tuning in for all nine years, what they wanted. The resolutions were part of this, but so were the references and guest appearances. Not that anyone didn’t think the episode wouldn’t feature clips of favorite moments (if anything, it was more surprising how few of these there were), but unlike many show finales, it wasn’t a celebration of itself so much as a way of giving back to the audience, even if this meant stretching our capacity to suspend disbelief.
Despite my complaints, “Finale” worked, and it was a party the whole audience was invited to. The cartoonishness of some of the storylines was undercut by the performances, which had the tinge of happiness and regret that comes with finishing something like The Office. These were some of the most real performances the show has ever done, and that came across better than anything else. Michael Scott’s final episode was a better finale in many ways, but I don’t think anyone will be disappointed in “Finale” because it’s the fairytale ending way of concluding the show, and that’s the ending American audiences like and expect. In contrast to the sometimes grim ninth season, it seems particularly light and fluffy, but maybe that’s what it needed. I would’ve preferred The Office sticking with this tonal change, but I can’t fault the show runners for wanting to give its beloved cast a happy way out of Dunder Mifflin.
•”Dwight is imitating Japanese business practices, for reasons he explained to us in Japanese.” – It feels like there was more of this that was perhaps cut? Actually, the whole episode felt like there was another 30 or more minutes of material that they couldn’t make room for.
•Kind of a nice touch that it was the cast members leaving SNL who were parodying Andy.
•Ca-leven is an amazing number.
•Have to admit, I’m pretty jealous of Darryl myself.
•There was no acting in the scene where Dwight shot the bazooka. None at all.
•“I heard you need some pipes fixed or cleaned or whatever.”
•So how did Kevin have the money, and ability, and the… everything to purchase a bar? This was probably the strangest unexplained success of the episode.
•I loved that Stanley was asleep at the panel.
•Did that imply that Erin’s parents were still together, or that they both happened to be there?
•Cats as wedding gifts were adorable.
•I was surprised that Dwight and Angela would want “Sweet Child of Mine” for the wedding. Never thought of them as big GnR fans.
•“I feel like all my kids grew up, and then they married each other. It’s every parent’s dream.”
•Admittedly, there was one character who didn’t get what they wished for: Toby. Not that anyone should be surprised about this.