May 17, 2013

The Office Series Finale: Some Thoughts

 A WARNING: Due to EMOTIONS, my thoughts are a little scatter-shot, 
so some of what I'm about to write might not make sense.

When Steve Carell left The Office two years ago, I was impressed with the way that the show handled his goodbye. There wasn't a lot of fanfare, there was very little crying (on-screen, that is). It was simply a wonderfully perfect episode full of honest and sweet goodbyes. I wrote then that 'the show has always succeeded in the quiet moments', and that was true once again in the series finale, which saw the return of a lot of favorite characters and the departure of even more. There were big decisions made and character revelations abounded, but it was the smaller moments that took center-stage.  

It was really wonderful that every character got a small goodbye and a chance to reflect on the relationships that have shaped their lives. Even minor characters had moments to shine, and plot points I had completely forgotten about got nice little resolutions. Let's do a rundown of things that happened in this finale:

  • Nellie gets a baby
  • Erin's birth parents find her (Joan Cusack and Ed Begley, Jr., because obviously she comes from greatness)
  • Andy gets the job of a lifetime (working at admissions at Cornell)
  • Ryan and Kelly run off into the sunset for another ill-planned relationship
  • Jim and Pam head to Dwight's version of hell: Austin
  • Kevin gets fired and opens a bar
  • Oscar is running for Senate
  • Angela and Dwight get married
  • Phyllis waxes poetically about her time spent with Stanley
  • Stanley lives in a house in some sort of bayou, where the only way to get to him is by fan boat
  • Meredith coaches her son on how to be a better stripper
  • Creed unsuccessfully tries to run from the law
  • Michael Scott came (that's what she said) and has children (PLURAL, in three years!) with Holly

I'm sure I'm missing quite a few plot points, and I'm not sure what Plop or Clark were up to, really. For a show designed around the idea that nothing changes quickly, they sure got a lot done in the 'year' that the cameras weren't rolling.  Still, all of the big changes were nice to see. Though based on one of the bleakest television comedies of all time, The Office has always been uplifting. We wanted good things to happen to these characters, and good things usually did. Sure, it may have taken years for relationships to blossom or for dream jobs to become a reality, but it is clear that, eventually, everyone gets their happy ending.

Now, some of what was so great about the show was stripped away as the series progressed, and things were not going well even before Steve Carell left to go be a gigantic movie star. Plots got increasingly ludicrous, characters became cartoons, and jokes often were mean-spirited and ill-advised. Some of the joy was gone. Still, these past two years also saw the blossoming of the background players, much in the same way we got to see more of Norm, Frasier, and Cliff once Diane left Cheers. Without the last two seasons of The Office, we wouldn't have had the joy of seeing Creed and Meredith's life stories escalate in ridiculousness or that weird plot about Angela, Oscar, and The Senator (which was so strange, but also felt so right).  We wouldn't have gotten to know Nellie, who started off as a terrible character but really blossomed in the show's final seasons (thanks in no small part to Catherine Tate's innumerable comedy skills). We wouldn't have seen the momentary rift in Jim and Pam's marriage, adding depth to a relationship that will forever define great relationships on film. Honestly, Jenna Fischer deserves all the awards ever for this season.

This show was, at one time, legitimately one of the best shows on television. It was funny, honest, sad, ridiculous, and everything in-between. We were dropped into the world of Dunder Mifflin and its staff, who pulled comedy from the mundane, who clung to each other as much as they worked to stay apart, and who were ultimately one of the greatest families in sitcom history. There will be time to think about The Office's place in television history, how it will be remembered, but I'll always remember it as a fake place full of good friends that I will miss very much. I think Jim and Pam said it best:

Jim: Everything I have, I owe to this job. This stupid, wonderful, boring, amazing job.

Pam: I think an ordinary paper company like Dunder Mifflin was a great subject for a documentary. There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn't that kind of the point?

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