It’s been a long and, as of lately, uneven road for ‘The Office’. Fittingly, its series finale was largely representative of these recent struggles. But damn if it didn’t pay tribute to the show’s beauty and nuance over the last nine years.
Series finales are of course a tricky thing and rarely wholly satisfy the audience. Tonight, ‘The Office’ wisely forwent major plotting in order to give every character their fitting end. For some of the characters this was an excellent, touching service. Anger at how quickly they could dispose of Kevin turned to joy as they redeemed him with a new career. Stanley, Dwight and Oscar all got to pursue their dreams. As did Andy, in a strained yet fine redemption of a character that was practically decimated. (Though the viral star story seemed to broad and vague for the limited time it was given.) Pam finally makes it up to Jim after an elapsed period of time, though how she got to the point of being able to move on was pretty much glossed over.
On the other hand, certain character endings felt forced and unnecessary. Erin’s birth parents come ex machina to round out an aspect of her character I’m sure you forgot about. (Casting Ed Begley Jr and Joan Cusack was also distracting.) Though it was somewhat amusing, I didn’t need to see Ryan and Kelly go for it one more time — and mostly just felt bad for the kid that ended up with Nellie. Too much time was spent on these characters that were already long gone.
And then there’s Michael. Steve Carell’s cameo was one of the biggest things this finale got right. So right, in fact. From his two lines of dialogue (of course ‘that’s what she said’), to the brief glimpses into his current life. It was minor yet pitch perfect. It in no way ruined his last episode and only enhanced this finale. His final “That’s What She Said” may be the most memorable part of this episode.
The time jump, though not a misstep, seemed like a bit of backwards engineering to get to the wedding and the remaining characters to a place where they could move on. A parade of parties is nice when you want to see all the characters together at once, but it shined a light on the writers pulling the strings.
Addressing the documentary head on and having the characters discuss how it impacted their lives was superb though. It was the kind of interaction with the doc I wish they had been doing more of all season. Regardless, it brought things appropriately full circle and created some genuinely stirring, deeply emotional call backs and statements on what the series stood for. It all amounted to something.
Which is why I’m lamenting the fact that this series finale compared to the pantheon of great finales seemed devoid of that iconic moment. I’m referring to the one memorable image that most great finales have. Sam Malone shutting off the lights. Tony and his family at the diner. Chandler, Ross, Monica, Rachel, Joey and Phoebe all dropping off their keys on the counter. Where is ‘The Office’ finale’s memorable shot? Is it Pam taking the painting off the wall? Is it the reveal of the mural? (Which didn’t linger long enough in my opinion.) Or was it Michael appearing in the door way and saying ‘that’s what she said’? The feelings were all there definitely, but maybe ‘The Office’s iconic finale moment wasn’t in the finale. Maybe it was Michael taking off his mic and asking if the doc would ever air? Or perhaps Jim proposing at a gas station in the rain? Or Jim and Pam’s first kiss?
As the finale more than showed, ‘The Office’s legacy will likely be none of these and all of these — a collection of beautiful moments both big and small.