Last night on NBC, with the appropriate pomp and fanfare, The Office did what it should have done at the close of season seven: it came to an end. The American version of the British classic had an appropriate cause for conclusion when star Steve Carrel made his exit, but the Peacock wasn’t ready to let one of its few successes go quite that easily. So things got bumpy in Scranton, during an eighth year filled with miscalculations and peculiarities. But when original showrunner Greg Daniels was brought back in to steer the show snugly into port during its last season, a funny thing happened: The Office started to work again. And last night’s series finale was a fine, poignant wrap-up of an erratic but lovable show.
You certainly could accuse neither the show’s producers nor its network of treating the occasion lightly. The 75-minute final episode was preceded by an hour-long retrospective, with hour-long episodes airing the two weeks previous. Last week’s show had an air of finality itself, with Dwight and Angela’s surprisingly heartwarming engagement (and her confession that her child was, in fact, Dwight’s), Andy’s departure culminating in an embarrassing incident at a singing competition show’s tryouts, and Jim’s persuasive assurance to Pam that he does, in fact, want to stay in Scranton and devote himself to her.
And, at long last, we had the long-awaited premiere of the documentary series in production this entire time, a notion Daniels and his writers seem to have swiped from an Onion article and managed, rather surprisingly, to turn into both a creative reinvigoration of the show, and a logical framework for its completion. The finale picks up one year after the penultimate episode, as the crew is back ostensibly to shoot “bonus footage for the DVD” of two events: a reunion/Q&A, and the Dwight/Angela nuptials. It’s a bit of a masterstroke—a way for the finale to replicate the reunion narrative of the original British show’s Christmas specials.
Much has happened in the intervening year. Stanley has retired, Nellie has quit, Creed has disappeared, and Kevin and Toby were fired. Andy’s breakdown on the American Idol-style show “went viral,” making him a national laughingstock. The sports management company that Jim brought Darryl in on has blown up, but Jim has no regrets; he and Pam are healthy and happy, the genuine (and rare) trouble spot in their relationship seemingly in the rearview.
Their reconciliation a couple of weeks back was welcome—no one was rooting for them to fail, not after all these years, and this viewer remains firmly in the camp of those who were fine with the “boring” route of domestic bliss that the characters took after their long run-up to happiness. It beat the hell out of a bunch of contrivances and melodrama. The only trouble was, as happy as we viewers were that they’d gotten over their hump, only the most unadventurous among us could resist finding fault with Pam’s stubbornness. Jim’s capitulation was heartfelt, and honorable. But she was actually making him do the wrong thing—so the reveal of the show’s long game in the third act landed gracefully, and as a bit of a relief.
The presence of Carol (Nancy Carrel) as Pam’s real estate agent was a nice little deep cut for fans—in fact, the episode was full of long tails (that lovely final bit with Pam’s painting, purchased by Michael at her art show all those years ago) and inside jokes (you see, Creed Bratton really was a member of the Grass Roots). But its best payoff was the reveal of Michael Scott, a moment set up and delivered with as much perfection as the choice of his first line.
Mr. Carrel’s appearance was a brief one (only a couple of scenes, and by my count, only two lines)—perhaps by necessity of his schedule. But I’d like to think it was an admirable display of restraint on the part of the program, which had already bid him farewell; it was good to see him, but this show wasn’t about him (or Ryan and Kelly, thought their reappearance and re-disappearance couldn’t have been more right—and wrong).
What it was about was the ensemble, which became clear in the last half-hour or so. For me, the moment came when Phyllis and Stanley were dancing, and when she showed off the carving he’d made for her. At that moment, and throughout the rest of the program, we were reminded that this is a show with genuine affection for its characters, as petty and clueless and socially inept as they might be. And if the final head shots and voice overs went on a bit, we can allow them that indulgence; several of them, particularly Pam’s and Dwight’s, were genuinely moving and emotional.
But it may well have been Jim’s lovely little speech about the “gift” of the show that went beyond this particular ensemble comedy, and got at something essential about good television. He mentioned the luck of having a record of his youth, of falling in love, of becoming a husband and father—but for long-time viewers, those signposts match up to our own. Those clips of Jim and Pam in their courtship are semi-shocking; they were so young then. But so were we. When The Office hit its roughest patch last year, my wife and I—still just engaged when the show premiered—stuck with it, because it had been a part of our lives for so long by that point, we couldn’t imagine just walking away from these people. We wanted to see their story through. Good shows do that; they become part of your routine, and you get invested with these fictional people, whether you want to or not. The Office might have tried to mine that attachment for a bit too long, but credit where due: its finale was as kind and sweet and peculiar as the show deserved.