‘The Office’ – ‘Search Committee’: Cavalcade of stars

Senior Television Writer
05.20.11 102 Comments

A review of “The Office” season finale coming up just as soon as I wish the puppets would talk more about the alphabet…

“Or, I don’t know. Something always works out.” -Dwight

Ever since the news started to break about Will Ferrell, and then Jim Carrey, Will Arnett, Ray Romano, etc., appearing towards the end of this “Office” season, I worried. I worried that Ferrell’s presence would be a distraction during Steve Carell’s final episodes, and I worried that a parade of big name guest stars would not only not fit comfortably into the world of the show but turn the finale into a disjointed mess.

I feel my fears were unfortunately correct with Ferrell’s episode, and they sure seemed correct as I sat through last night’s bumpy, awkward, great big mess of a finale.

“Search Committee” reminded me of those sketches “SNL” likes to do where there’s really no premise at all, but rather just an excuse for every castmember to trot out their favorite celebrity impression. The search committee stuff wasn’t a story, but a platform to let Arnett, Romano, James Spader and company wander in, do some schtick, and leave. I found Spader’s persuasive evil genius to be somewhat amusing (though more from Jim’s reaction to him), but the other guest stars ranged from flat (Romano) to just goofy (Carrey as the oft-discussed Finger Lakes guy). Ricky Gervais’ cameo was particularly annoying, because the show used him so, so perfectly earlier in the season when David and Michael met, and then they went back to that well again and it wasn’t nearly as good.

And the most frustrating part of the whole hour is that we just saw only a week ago how well this show is capable of functioning without either Carell or any other big guest.

For that matter, the parts of this episode that had nothing to do with the search mostly worked. Pam having to stop Creed from destroying the branch was very funny (and, as should be the case with all Creed-related subplots, brief), I liked seeing the staffers debating what to do about Angela and her presumably gay fiance, and Phyllis trying to play mother figure to Erin while they waited for the DNA results was very sweet and (during Phyllis’ explanation of how she seduced Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration) uncomfortably funny in that “Office” way.

I didn’t care much about the Andy/Erin story, but then, I’ve never cared about it, as the writers have done a poor job of making those two seem three-dimensional in the way that Jim and Pam were back in the early days, but even isolated parts of that (Erin’s puppet show, and Kevin’s reaction to that) worked.

There are enough strong characters with established, funny relationships here(*) that I think the show can work just fine without Steve Carell. We saw a lot of evidence of that last week, and got to see isolated examples of it this week.

(*) And with Gabe going back to Florida, the branch’s overpopulation eases a little bit. Now the writers either need to think of something funny for Jordan to do or send her on her way. Neither the branch nor the show needs an office manager, a receptionist and an executive secretary.

Obviously, the branch needs a boss. We know from last week that Dwight can’t or shouldn’t be it, this week didn’t do a great job of selling Darryl’s chances, and I still think Andy would be (as even he admits) such a safe and predictable choice that it wouldn’t work. So if they want to bring in an outsider as boss, that’s fine. And when they actually pick somebody and craft a three-dimensional character for them, I look forward to seeing how that works. This, though, was a very poorly-executed sweeps stunt, and an hour I’m going to try to largely ignore when pondering the eighth season.

I should also say that over the last few days, a few reports have surfaced that “The Office” producers have decided on their own frontrunner for the gig. That person could easily wind up with the job, or NBC might insist on someone else. We don’t know yet. I generally treat casting news as a grey area in terms of the No Spoilers rule and lean on the side of it being okay to talk about, but this is all still speculative, and part of a cliffhanger of sorts. So I’m gonna do something different here, and devote a separate post where I can mention that person’s name and briefly discuss whether I think they’re a good or bad choice, and anyone who wants to can do the same. But for the benefit of the people who don’t follow every news report and would rather find out in the fall – or, at least, find out when NBC makes the news official – we are NOT going to discuss that possibility, or even allude to the choice, in the comments here. Any comment that does will be deleted. Whole other post just for that, folks. Nice and easy.

So what did everybody else think? On balance, how did these last two episodes make you feel about the show’s post-Michael direction?

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