Beginnings And Endings

How many times have they all gathered around a computer to watch something on this show? 

Late in the seventh season of The Office, Michael Scott quits Dunder Mifflin so he can move to Colorado with his fiancée. Sitting in a hotel bar waiting to meet with the man who will replace him as manager, he winds up unwittingly striking up a conversation with the man who will replace him as manager, played by Will Ferrell. Each oblivious to the other’s identity, they talk about work and their mutual love for the Olympics. (“I always wanted to do an animal Olympics.” “What happened?” “Life happened. Plus the monkeys would win everything.”)

At one point, Will Ferrell’s character lifts his glass in a toast. “To beginnings and endings!”

Michael Scott raises his own, dutifully trying to one-up him. “And middles, the unsung heroes!” 

Now that we’ve seen the full scope of what The Office had to offer us, that quote rings especially true. When The Office began it was a clumsy, hollow copy of the English series; when it ended it was a clumsy, sentimental copy of itself. But an awful lot of funny shit happened in the middle that made us forgive the show for its rougher edges.

The series finale of The Office was not a great episode. “The Injury”, “Michael Scott Paper Company”, or most of the Christmas episodes would’ve blown it straight out of the water in a quality contest, but I guess we can forgive that because it was an ending, and it’s almost impossible to make people laugh when you’re also telling them that a bunch of people they’ve known for 9 years are going away forever.

I didn’t like the finale because I don’t like long goodbyes. I don’t like long goodbyes because they open up the door for a whole lot of sentimentality, which I really don’t like, and which The Office has been trading in pretty heavily for the past couple of seasons now.

In the middle of the series, when The Office was at its best, it was a show about a bunch of people who didn’t have a lot in common and in many cases didn’t even like one another, their ordinary workplace gripes complicated by an incompetent manager who wanted everybody to be friends. 

When Oscar got sick of looking at Angela’s picture of babies playing musical instruments (back before the writers had truly committed to making her a crazy cat lady), Michael’s response was to make Oscar wear the poster like a shirt as a compromise – that way Angela could keep her poster in the one place where Oscar couldn't see it. In the process, they both wound up more miserable and angry at each other, and it was hilarious, because miserable people are one of the funniest things in the world. 

As the show drew to a close, though, the writers felt the need to start making everybody be friends. Phyllis and Stanley suddenly had a deep connection, Angela and Oscar moved in together to raise her baby, and the entire staff demanded an inexplicable goodbye dance party with Darryl before he left.

It’s really sweet to see people we’ve invested in over the past decade begin to come together and love one another as we love them. But it’s not terribly funny, and when it is it isn’t nearly as funny as those people squabbling over the thermostat and barely tolerating their micromanaging boss. And I think sitcoms should always be as funny as possible.

That’s why a finale – especially for a show that’s been on as long as this one – is basically a no-win situation. The Office was at its best when it was reveling in mediocrity and failure, commemorating trivial victories with sidelong smiles or foil tops from yogurt containers. But when everything comes to an end, everybody – even the cynics like me – wants to see that the characters we love are achieving their dreams and living happily ever after.

Endings aren’t so much about laughs as they are about closure, so maybe I shouldn’t be judging the episode on how funny it was.

I’m glad Angela and Dwight got married. The show has been setting them up for basically its entire run; I would’ve set Greg Daniels’ house on fire if they threw all that away in service of some godawful spinoff like The Farm, which NBC thankfully didn’t pick up.

I’m glad Jim and Pam worked things out and moved to Austin. I didn’t like the way the writers handled Jim and Pam’s tension over the course of the season – the whole thing felt kind of manufactured and then tied up pretty neatly in a matter of minutes – but them leaving Dunder Mifflin to do something hip, cool, and edgy is kind of what the show has been building to for years. 

Seeing Michael come back filled me with giddy, childlike joy, which was promptly replaced by giddy, childlike confusion when he only delivered two lines before disappearing. I’m well aware that the finale was about the show and not about the long absent Michael, but this is the guy who made the show what it was – he couldn’t have at least made a hilarious best man toast before disappearing back into TV legend?

I didn’t like Nellie simply being handed a baby for two reasons: 1) I’m pretty sure there’s a number of well justified state and federal laws preventing you from just grabbing a momentarily wayward infant and declaring yourself its mother, and 2) Who the fuck is Nellie and why was she ever on this fucking show!?!

Stanley carving a bird version of Phyllis was the one sentimental moment that really got to me. (Well, that and Michael having two phones full of pictures of his kids – along with two phone bills.) 

I love that Kevin – who in earlier seasons showed a natural aptitude for cooking – bought a bar, and I stand by my belief that a show about Kevin’s bar would be the best possible spinoff, especially if Oscar and Phyllis were patrons. That said, they’d need to up Kevin’s intelligence a bit; am I the only one who liked him better back in season 3 when he was a perverted rock and roll dullard instead of the mentally handicapped child he’s been in recent years?

Toby has been one of my favorite characters for the entire series – although, like Kevin, I preferred him when he was just a put upon loser and not a total creep – and I was pissed that his ending didn’t match the happiness of the others. I know I said a lot about mediocrity and failure earlier, but Toby is the one person who I wanted to see become an inexplicable success – a rich, world famous author with a supermodel wife to make up for nine years of torment at Michael and Andy’s hands. 

Image by Zack Wallenfang.

Ryan and Kelly’s ending was hands down the funniest and the truest to what the show was initially about – people stuck in a rut. They deserve each other, and they’re doomed to spend their lives falling in and out of love – not that they seem to care.

I was sorry to see so little of Clark Duke and “Plop”, the two fresh faces added at the beginning of the season. I enjoyed the addition of two younger, saner straight men into the maze of traditions, inside jokes, and love triangles (hexagons?) that had developed by season 9; I would’ve gladly had Nellie shipped off to Siberia for the season to give them more storylines and more time at the end. 

The ending of The Office was as good as it possibly could be. These characters, along with we diligent viewers who’ve ridden the show out through thick and thin, deserved a happy ending, and we got one. It wasn’t hilarious, but it couldn’t be happy and hilarious, and given the choice I’m glad that they went for happy in spite of all my earlier grumblings about sitcoms needing to be funny.

The Office is now a part of television history. In years to come, kids are going to discover The Office in weekday syndication and fall in love with it the same way I did with Seinfeld. Episodes of The Office are going to inspire some of those kids to become TV-loving comedy nerds, and the finale is not going to be one of those episodes. And that’s fine. 

The finale succeeded at completing The Office, so that when we go back to those stellar episodes from seasons 2, 3, 4, and 5, we can know that everything turns out okay in the end for (almost) everybody. And knowing that, maybe we can laugh all the harder when we watch these people sniping, bickering, and getting their feet caught in George Foreman grills. 

No matter how funny miserable people are, it’s always funnier when you know they’ll be okay in the end. 

Truman Capps has probably written more blogs about The Office than any other subject.