If you have not watched last night’s series finale of The Office or the hour long retrospective that aired prior, STOP READING THIS NOW.
Okay, you have been warned, now I proceed. Unlike a cranky critic at people.com, I LOVED this beautiful finale and the retrospective that appeared before it.
First, on the retrospective. It was an hour that included scenes from the wrap-party put on by Scranton, PA. Very, very sweet to see Steve Carell in attendance and all of the stars so gracious to their “adopted home town.” It included interviews with Pam (Jenna Fisher), Jim (John Krasinski), Oscar (Oscar Nunez), Angela (Angela Kinsey), Ryan (BJ Novak), Kelly (Mindy Kaling), Andy (Ed Helms) and Dwight (Rainn Wilson). It also included show creators Ricky Gervais (who starred in the BBC original version of The Office as the manager David Brent), Greg Daniels, and Ben Silverman.
It was endearing to hear John and Jenna discuss how they came to love the characters of Jim and Pam and how emotionally attached they had become to those characters. Particularly Jenna Fisher to her character Pam Beesley Halpert. She talks about how emotional it was to create the proposal scene and how, unbeknownst to all of us, the entire cast was off camera watching and getting very emotional. She also describes the scene when Pam bids Michael farewell at the airport and how it was “her moment with Steve” and because there was no sound, she was able to say her own personal goodbye.
Krasinski confirms what most of us came to our own conclusion about anyway, that when they called “Action” in the scene where Jim realizes Michael is leaving that day and Jim gets to say his good-bye (which included the memorable line, “then I would tell you what a great boss you have been,”) that the tears were immediate for both himself and Steve Carell and real and did not end after hearing “cut.”
Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak were added to the cast from the writers room. Kelly added in episode two when the script required Michael to be “slapped by a minority.” And BJ cast as Ryan Howard for the pilot. The two’s on camera “chemistry” was generated from the writers room. Kaling and Novak are long time best friends but would fight endlessly as writers in the writers room and the other writers jumped at the chance to move that dynamic on screen. They both talked about some of their favorite moments directing and writing as well with Novak actually showing us the writers room which looked like it could have been a room at Dunder Mifflin. Probably my favorite moment of their interviews came when Novak described writing the scene in which DeAngelo Vickers (guest star Will Ferrell) and Michael Scott meet for the first time at a bar. Novak said it was so much fun to write a scene where the writers got to play around and see how long these “two idiots” could talk to each other before finding out who the other was.
To be able to see into the minds of the writers and creators also confirmed what made the show so great, it started with great writing and as the characters fleshed out the combination was a slam dunk. Many, including myself, worried after the departure of Michael Scott that the show would be canceled immediately. But on the backs of the strong writing and the fact that although the show did somewhat revolve around Michael and his antics there were very strong characters in support (including Phyllis Smith as Phyllis Vance, Leslie David Baker as Stanley Hudson, Kate Flannery as Meredith Palmer, and Brian Baumgartner as Kevin Malone among others) in addition to the other principals (Jim, Pam and Dwight) which made the series last two more seasons. But after the conclusion of season 8, the cast was adamant, only one more season. One final hurrah.
The interviews with Angela Kinsey and Ed Helms were fun and confirmed that Angela and Ed are nothing like “Angela and Andy.” Kinsey has often been described as opposite of her character and has been quoted as saying it was fun to play someone so opposite of whom she is in real life.
Probably most poignant was the analysis of Rainn Wilson aka Dwight K Schrute who felt that audiences connected intimately with the sweet love story of Pam and Jim, of Michael’s desperation to be accepted and Dwight’s naked ambition. Everyone wanted Jim to be with Pam and we were all rooting for Michael despite all his bumbling and while Dwight might have been rather annoying at times, you had to hand it to the guy, he was ballsy.
Onto the finale episode which was an hour and fifteen minutes. It began a year after the previous episode on the eve of Dwight and Angela’s wedding and with a panel for the PBS documentary. Dwight has asked Jim to be his “Bestest Mensch” for his wedding and as we have watched over nine seasons Jim prank Dwight, Jim pulls off a series of pranks before the wedding, all of which were for Dwight’s enjoyment this go-round including getting Dwight to fire a bazooka as he has always wanted to, surprising him with Andy and Darrel coming back which Dwight had been told they could not make it, and enlisting Moze to “kidnap” Angela and take her to a bar in a Schrute tradition. That tradition also allowed him to reunite with Kevin whom he had fired and let them resolve their issues (Kevin owns the bar they are at).
But the best prank of all, Jim pulls just before the wedding. He tells Dwight that he cannot be bestest mensch because that role must go to someone who is older than the groom. Dwight is stricken til he sees Jim look over his shoulder and turns to see Michael Scott standing in the doorway.
After the wedding and reception (which also brought back Ryan and Kelly) and the panel the group came back to the warehouse for a party and shows Pam’s finished mural of all of all the staff and a group picture which shows the writers and creators of the show in it. Finally the cast members go up to the floor joined by Creed (who had been in disguise at the wedding as he is a fugitive from the law) who plays guitar and sings as they reminisce in confessionals. Those reminiscences include Jim talking about having these years preserved of him growing up, falling in love, getting married and becoming a father. For Pam, she talks about it taking four years to discover happiness was just feet from her desk and hoping that would inspire others not to wait. And for Andy, to ask why we can’t be told we’re in the good ol’ days while they are happening through tears.
What I probably loved best about this episode (which I am leaving lots of parts out of) is that this episode showed us the best of the characters we had grown to love. It showed them at their most authentic. Dwight was bound to tradition. Angela was uptight as ever but happy for real now. Jim was playing pranks. Pam was fixing everything as usual. Erin was naive as could be during panel when Joan Cusack and Ed Begley Jr appeared as her parents (not a dry eye in that scene!). Meredith’s son made an appearance as the stripper at Angela’s batchelorette party but we get to see Meredith in all her drunk and less than noble glory. Toby is still hopeless. Ryan and Kelly are still in love and at each others throats. Nellie gets her dream come true when Ryan abandons his son at the wedding. Creed is still crazy. Kevin is still hapless. Phyllis is still office “mom.” Stanley, while retired, is laid back as ever. Oscar has his life in order again. Philip’s Godfather is now running for state senate.
And Michael. His scenes were brief but showed he hadn’t changed. He was still his silly, fun, and awkward self. According to Pam, he has children he is in love with and has two phones to hold all the pictures with two different contract plans. And as he watched Jim, Pam, Dwight and Angela together at the reception he is true to all things Michael Scott when he says, “It’s like all my kids have grown up. And married each other.”
I was somewhat surprised not to see Roy (who we’ve seen since David Denman left the show, most noticably when Jim and Pam attend his wedding), Gabe (Zach Woods), or Robert California (James Spader) at the round table. David Wallace was present and Gabe was a cast regular for a couple of seasons. I did not like the storyline of Robert California or the “Saber” years of Dunder Mifflin but it would have shown some continuity. Also absent was Holly Flax or Holly Flax-Scott or Holly Scott, I have no idea how she calls herself. Of course, I think that had to do with the writers not wanting the finale to be overwhelmed by Steve Carell and the Michael Scott story-line. Because if Holly was there, the kids would have to be there and we would have had to see some other direction for the finale. Interestingly, we see Devon, who was downsized in the first season, was rehired by Dwight after Creed, Toby and Kevin were fired.
I’ve seen some great series finale’s—The Cosby Show, Everybody Loves Raymond, and That 70′s Show come to mind as especially good as well as Cheers. Others, ahem, Seinfeld, were awful. The Office‘s finale, to me, was the embodiment of what the series was overall. We saw the characters as their most authentic and therefore best. We had resolution to some of the more teasing issues. And we saw where the future was for these characters: in Austin for Jim and Pam and their kids as well as Darrel, NY for Toby, Europe for Nellie, in the bar with Kevin, in politics and still accounting for Oscar, on the farm for Dwight, Angela and Phillip as well as still at Dunder Mifflin, in retirement in Florida with Stanley, Erin’s new relationship with her parents as well as with Pete, Andy at Cornell, prison for Creed, Bob and Phyllis happy in Scranton at their respective businesses, Meredith still a bad girl at heart and Ryan and Kelly off in the sunset together where they can break-up and make-up eternally. What began as something we related to as office workers in real life, ended with us missing these characters as we had grown to love them like family. And as Semisonic sang in “Closing Time” (which Andy Bernard played when he was manager every day at 5pm): every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.