A review of “The Office” series finale coming up just as soon as I sell ceramic tile out of Newark…
“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?” -Pamela Beasley Halpert
Earlier today, I published a long appreciation of “The Office” and the volatile mix of elements that could often make it one of the great comedies of our era, and then at times make it an unwatchable mess. One of the things I really admired about the Greg Daniels-penned “Goodbye Michael” – which for a long time felt like it should’ve been the series finale – was how it managed to incorporate the many different personalities of Michael Scott, and the many different tones of the series, into a single episode.
The series finale did not attempt that. With the exception of Kelly and Ryan abandoning his baby at the wedding reception, everything here felt of a piece: a large helping of sweetness, nostalgia for who these people were and who they became, and occasional bursts of silliness that felt in step with the buoyant nature of the whole episode.
It was, in short, a tremendously satisfying conclusion to a show that could make us gasp with laughter, but that could also make us cry or smile at some milestone the characters acehived. Ideally, the show ends with “Goodbye Michael,” rather than with two years of Robert California, Andy as boss and other miscalculations. But “Goodbye Michael” was the conclusion to only one character’s story(*), and though Michael was the center of “The Office,” this world was bigger than him. Jim and Pam deserved endings, too, but so did Dwight, Angela, Phyllis, Stanley, Oscar, Kevin, Toby, Daryl, Erin, and the rest. This was “The Office,” not “Michael Scott,” and though the former struggled without the latter, the world was rich enough to fuel a lovely 75-minute trip through the past, present and future of it.
(*) As had been speculated about for some time, Steve Carell returned – Michael’s first line, appropriately, was a “That’s what she said!” – in a way that didn’t overshadow the stories of the people who remained after he left, but which made sense for the characters, and the end of the series. It would feel wrong for Michael to not attend Dwight’s wedding, you know? And though ideally Michael would’ve been at the documentary reunion – if only because his life would seemingly be most affected by all that footage being shown to the world – his brief appearance provided a more important piece of closure to the Michael Scott story: he always dreamed of having kids, and now he does. Pam: “He’s just so happy to have a family plan.” Awww…
By pushing for that extra few minutes, Daniels got to provide grace notes for all the regulars, whether spoken (Oscar the candidate, Stanley the happy retiree, Creed the fugitive) or simply implied (though she’s not sober all the time, Meredith has gotten her act together). Mose got to be gloriously weird one more time (and the rest of Dwight’s entourage at least cameo’ed). Angela finally stopped herself from yelling at Phyllis, and Phyllis in turn amusingly carried Angela down the aisle at the wedding. Erin got to meet her birth parents(**), played by Joan Cusack and Ed Begley Jr. (two of many cameos that somehow didn’t seem distracting).
(**) The best part of that sequence: the cut to Phyllis, also crying, given her own personal history and the brief period where she and Erin wondered if Erin was her biological daughter.
Heck, I didn’t even grind my teeth every second Andy was on the screen. In a way, his conclusion felt like one last Michael Scott substitution – had Carell stayed with the show til the end, I imagine this tale of unwanted infamy would have been based on reaction to Michael in the documentary (similarly to David Brent in the British Christmas special) – but the notion that he wound up back at Cornell, satisfied but finally acknowledging how much he liked his non-Cornell life, was the most human and non-punchable he’s seemed all season.
The biggest emotional moments – and the final two talking heads of the series – were, of course, reserved for the royal couple of “The Office,” as Jim and Pam finally grew to the point as individuals, and as a pairing, where they could leave Dunder Mifflin and Scranton behind. You can question whether Athlead would be so eager to take Jim back after he bailed a year ago, but Krasinski and Fischer were terrific in all their scenes, and the contrast between the happy and at peace Jim and Pam of the present and the flashback images of them miserable and lonely really drove home how much they, and we, had been through over the last nine seasons.
Mike Schur (who strapped on the itchy neckbeard one last time) often talks about the genius of the “Cheers” series finale, and in particular of the long bull session in the bar that concludes it. Though the closing minutes of “The Office” weren’t exactly the same, due to the difference in format and style, I imagine that episode had a great impact on Daniels, as well, as we simply got to watch the characters hang out, share memories, say their goodbyes (and, in Dwight’s case, offer a very generous severance package to his two favorite subordinates), etc.
Though “The Office” was capable of mayhem on an enormous scale, like the “Stress Relief” fire drill, or Dwight delivering a fascist speech to a packed ballroom, this was a series built on small moments: an obscure paper company branch in a sleepy city, a boss trying to win friends one joke at a time, a bored salesman dreaming up pranks and taking inordinate pleasure in the tiniest displays of affection from the receptionist he had a crush on, etc. Though everyone got a happy ending of one sort or another, the finale, and that final sequence in particular, still felt small in that way that defined “The Office.” And the final edit, from Michael hanging Pam’s drawing of the building to a shot of the anonymous-looking building itself – was the perfect, mundane note to close on.
I complained a lot about things in these last two seasons. But the ending was a really nice close to this show we watched in good times and bad for the last nine years.
Some other thoughts:
* Because the format was inspired by the rise of reality TV, we of course had to get a few complaints about how people were edited, with Oscar griping that the filmmakers never showed his origami, and Meredith explaining that she was getting her school psychology PhD the whole time.
* One last bit of great cringe humor: Meredith cheering on (and then dancing with) her stripper son when he turned up at Angela’s bachelorette party.
* Daniels dropped in lots of callbacks to the life of the series, like having Dwight rehire Devon (the guy Michael fired instead of Creed way back in season 2’s “Halloween”), Oscar saying “Whazzup!” in an effort to recreate his days in the closet, and Carol being the realtor showing Jim and Pam’s house. Even Dwight’s stripper had appeared twice before, to hand out the novelty check in “Fun Run” and then giving out lap dances in “Ben Franklin.” And various scenes were peppered with “Office” crew members (that’s Daniels himself intruding at the center of the group photo) or even superfans like Jennie Tan, who runs OfficeTally.
* As with Michael, there was no reason for Ryan and Kelly to not appear at the reunion special other than the availability of Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak due to their “Mindy Project” responsibilities.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org