For NBC and signature sitcom, this is one branch closure that came too late
SPOILER ALERT: If “The Office” finale is still waiting on your DVR, read no further.
“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things.”
That rather poetic observation came from Pam (Jenna Fischer) in what amounted to the parting thought delivered during “The Office” finale, and in the show’s heyday, that was certainly true. Driven by a touching romance and filled with amusing characters, it was NBC’s best comedy for a long stretch – not only consistently funny, but more human than something like “30 Rock.”
Still, the last few seasons pushed the show well past its expiration date – not because there was still a lot of gas in the tank, necessarily, but rather NBC had nothing else to pick up the slack. So “The Office” trudged on, enduring cast defections, desperate subplots and odd flourishes while the audience gradually slipped away.
Thursday’s sendoff essentially ignored that part of the equation, and it was awash in warmth and inside gags, including cameos by not just Greg Daniels (who developed the show for U.S. consumption) but also his wife Susanne, currently president of programming at MTV, who played the moderator at a panel for the fictional documentary within the show.
Of course, good intentions couldn’t entirely erase some of the creative missteps, and using a wedding as the device to close out the series seemed a little bit trite. Nevertheless, it was hard not to feel that old spirit rekindled when Steve Carell showed up in a perfectly orchestrated cameo and responded to the line “I can’t believe you came” with the inevitable “That’s what she said.” Ditto for Ryan (B.J. Novak) and Kelly (Mindy Kaling) abandoning a baby, no less – along with her too-good-to-be-true date – to run off with each other.
Frankly, I had my doubts about the series embracing the whole nine-years-to-make-a-documentary-series narrative thread – at a certain point, the format simply became another part of the show, easy enough to ignore – but Daniels (who wrote the finale, directed by Ken Kwapis) found a way to pay it off, giving the various characters a chance to reminisce. And if that represented a touch of overkill after the hourlong retrospective that kicked off the night, forgive NBC for treating the final vestige of its Thursday-night-comedy, “Must-See TV” imprimatur like sitcom royalty.
(As a footnote, the episode comes 15 years and a couple of days after the “Seinfeld” finale, which averaged more than 76 million viewers. Good times. (UPDATE: Based on Nielsen data, “The Office” averaged 5.7 million viewers, a bump over recent results and its biggest audience since January 2012, but hardly a major surge of interest.)
In that sense, seeing “The Office” tie up its loose ends couldn’t help but be a nostalgic, bittersweet experience for anyone who admired the show along the way. Because despite Pam’s closing note, at its best “The Office” was far from ordinary and, even if its most-rewarding days were in the rear-view mirror, deserved to finish on top.
That’s what he said.