This article contains some minor spoilers.
After nine seasons, NBC’s The Office ended last night — and boy, did it end on a sweet note. The show, which started out so prickly, so awkward, and so uncomfortable in its humor, proved in its final episode just how big a heart it really has.
The episode was chock full of nice moments, fond memories, and life lessons. In fact, if someone watched the very first and very last episodes of the show, they might find little to recognize from beginning to end. The final episode was that of a mostly kind-spirited, fully realized ensemble comedy, as opposed to a show about a caricature of a bad boss and the folks who work for him. And that’s one of the great accomplishments of The Office during the past two seasons. While the departure of Steve Carell as Michael Scott made viewers worry about the trajectory of the show, and indeed changed its tone somewhat, Michael’s absence allowed other characters, and the cast as a whole unit, to truly shine. Even new and relatively minor characters like Nellie and the kids in the annex had a vital part to play in the last season, both comedy-wise and in terms of propelling plots forward.
Both comedy and real emotion were on display in full force in last night’s episode. Rather than follow directly on the heels of the excellent, feel-good penultimate episode, we encounter the characters a year later, after the documentary that has been the premise of the whole show has aired and become, it seems by the attendance at a follow-up panel, a smash hit. The show got around the “why are the cameras still filming these people if the documentary aired a year ago” issue by saying the crew was collecting “bonus footage for the DVD,” a somewhat weak, but forgivable premise for the sake of seeing these characters a little further along in their lives. It is the eve of Dwight and Angela’s wedding, and the whole gang is back in town for both the panel discussion and the festivities.
Plenty of hijinks ensue, at the panel, Dwight’s bachelor party, Angela’s bachelorette party, and the wedding itself. There is enough of the bizarre and the uncomfortable to make this recognizable as The Office, and not just some other treacle-sweet sitcom. For my money, one of the best bits comes at the wedding, when Ryan and Kelly see each other again (Ryan with a baby in tow), abandon the baby and Kelly’s husband, and “run away into the sunset” together. I’ve missed those two, especially Kelly, who left the show when Mindy Kaling moved on to her own project, the excellent The Mindy Project.
Of course, Michael Scott makes an appearance as Dwight’s replacement best man, but even he is softened. His hair has gone gray and he has to have two cell phones just to contain all the pictures of his children. He enters with a familiar “That’s what she said,” but is otherwise subdued, an elder statesman figure rather than the familiar buffoon. And there we see that the show itself has changed and softened a bit. Discomfort, while still a major component of its humor, is no longer its main angle. Instead, it has become a show about relationships, and about finding beauty in the mundane life of an office worker at a paper company.
The documentary, which was more of a gimmick than an actual part of the story for so many seasons, is revealed to have been incredibly important to all these characters, a way of tracing their lives, their development as human beings, their loves lost and found, and their friendships made and deepened throughout the last nine years. Several characters give heartfelt accounts of watching it, interspersed with clips from earlier seasons. Andy puts it best when he says he wishes you could know what the good old days were while you were living in them. “Someone should write a song about that,” he adds, tearing up.
There’s much more to say about the satisfying last episode, about Jim and Pam’s fairytale romance, Andy’s fall into and triumphant emergence from viral internet fame, and the general beauty of the relationships we’ve watched develop for all these years. Suffice it to say the show has taught viewers a lot, from how to pull an amazing workplace prank to how to love someone the best way you know how. It may not be quite the same show viewers knew the first few seasons, but over the years, it matured into a lovely take on the life of the relatively average Joe, and how rich that life can be.