The Office’s Final Season Is an Amalgam of Highs and Lows

[25 September 2013]

By Jennifer Lind-Westbrook

Even before Michael Scott (Steve Carell) resigned and moved to Colorado to be with his true love Holly Flax (Amy Ryan) near the end of season six, The Office was showing signs of fatigue. The exits of producer/writer/actress Mindy Kaling, who played the ditzy, pop-culture obsessed, disingenuous Kelly Kapoor, and her smarmy, on-again, off-again love interest Ryan Howard, played by producer/writer/actor B.J. Novak, at the start of season nine gave the impression of rats fleeing a sinking ship.

However, the show’s creators found a clever way to wrap up the sitcom by having the last season coincide with the documentary crew’s final months of filming, and the airing of a public access mini-series almost a decade in the making. After one interview, Pam (Jenna Fischer) asks one member of the crew, “Don’t you have everything? It’s just a paper company.” His response sets up the premise for the remainder of the season, “Well, we’re more following you guys to see how you turn out.” Season nine emphasizes endings while at the same time demonstrating that life at most companies is cyclical in nature.

The biggest disappointment by far is the evolution of the character of sales representative turned regional manager Andy Bernard (Ed Helms). His managerial style evolves into one similar to Michael Scott’s. Only Helms lacks the finesse with which Steve Carell was able to play a narcissistic, socially awkward, insecure and inept boss but still retain a sensitivity and sense of patriarchal devotion towards the majority of his employees.

Andy not only dislikes human resources outcast Toby (Paul Lieberstein), as Michael did, but he has his own nemesis; Special Projects Manager Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate). Even though she temporarily took his job in season eight, his prolonged and malicious grudge isn’t amusing, and she doesn’t deserve to be told to “get her wrinkly old balls” into his office.

Indeed, Andy is ambivalent and even mildly abusive towards the staff for almost the entire season. He disappears for three months, leaving girlfriend and receptionist Erin behind. No great loss since their relationship felt forced when compared to the office’s power couples: Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and Angela (Angela Kinsey) and Kelly and Ryan. Kevin (Brian Baumgartner) sums up Andy best in “Livin’ the Dream” when he says, “You’re too character-y to be a lead, and you’re not fat enough to be a great character actor.”

The most compelling storyline is the marital woes that arise between soul mates Jim and Pam. Viewers finally see the couple face some very realistic dilemmas. The show explores what happens when the often repetitious reality of day-to-day life settles in, and the couple discovers that when it comes to their future, each wants to follow a path that diverges drastically from that of their partner.

Jim’s restlessness over career satisfaction finally propels him to take action, but in doing so, he exposes that his previous bursts of spontaneity can have a duplicitous flipside. Pam, at her lowest point, becomes reminiscent of the non-assertive, mousy, people pleaser she was when she was engaged to Roy (David Denman). The couple eventually find their footing again, and fans are even treated to one last grand romantic gesture from Jim.

When the focus shifts from primary characters to the entire cast, we’re reminded that a strong, comedic ensemble still exists. Some episodes that showcase this cohesiveness include “Lice”, when Pam gives the majority of her co-workers lice but lets Meredith take the fall. New guy Pete (Jake Lacy) proves he has the gift for time suckage when he, and several other staff members, spend an afternoon building a tower of customer comment cards.

One can’t help but remember Jim and his office Olympics in season two. A personal favorite is “Suit Warehouse”, when the staff transforms into a frenzied sweaty mess after spending the day imbibing espressos.

Far too much time is devoted to the ridiculous love quadrangle between Oscar (Oscar Nunez), Angela, her husband ‘the senator” and Dwight. The apex of stupidity occurs during “The Target”, when Angela turns to Dwight to find someone to rough up Oscar. What was intended to be the backdoor pilot for a Dwight spin-off, “The Farm”, this episode reinforces the fact that the character becomes intolerably obnoxious when not diluted by a myriad of different personalities. “Dwight Christmas,” the sad bastardization of even fictional traditions, makes you long for classic holiday fare like “Christmas Party” and “A Benihana Christmas”.

The series finalé is a mixture of absurdity and sentimentality, ultimately what The Office has always done best. It takes place one year after the documentary airs, and the staff gathers together for a panel discussion with the general public about the film and for a long overdue wedding. Some familiar faces return, and it happens in a very organic way so it doesn’t feel forced for the sake of ratings. As the characters discuss what effects both the documentary and their employment at Dunder Mifflin has had on their lives, viewers know the actors are drawing parallels to their time on the show.

The Special Features include deleted scenes for many episodes, promos and a lengthy blooper reel. On disc four there’s a featurette called The Office: A Look Back, a typical retrospective that is full of interviews of cast and crew recalling everything from the genesis of the show to the final farewells. There’s a sketch that features an elderly Andy still auditioning for America’s Next a Capella Sensation.

There is audition footage from the show’s casting in 2003 that includes Seth Rogan and Patton Oswalt trying out for the role of Dwight, Eric Stonestreet for Kevin and a few other famous faces along with clips of the actual casts’ auditions. Viewers can also watch the finalé table read in its entirety.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/the-offices-final-season-is-an-amalgam-of-highs-and-lows1/