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Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Office ends season with another shakeup

NBC's The Office presents "Free Family Portrait Studio," the season eight finale. All of the turmoil over who is in charge seems to finally be dying down. After a year of uncertainty, with Andy (Ed Helms) being selected as manager, only to lose the position to Nellie (Catherine Tate), who just takes it, Andy is left back in charge as the smoke clears. This probably won't change again, considering that David Wallace (Andy Buckley) now owns the company, having bought it back from Sabre.

This is a relief. The Office has suffered this season from not having clear leadership. Whatever kind of manager Michael (Steve Carell) is, he keeps things running, somehow. His absence is felt heavily, as season eight shows viewers that Dundler Mifflin does not run itself. Without a strong person in charge, it flounders.

Will Andy be that person? Probably. He isn't at the beginning of the season, but that is before he is fired. He has to fight hard to get back into the head office, and now that he's there, it's likely to be a different kind of leadership. He no longer has to prove himself. He is the one that gets David to buy the company, and so his position is secure for the time being. His co-workers didn't fight for him all that much, so he doesn't owe them anything. The Andy who will run the show next year should be a markedly different Andy than season eight contains.

If Ed Helms stays with The Office. And if The Office is renewed. Which it probably will be, but has not been yet. Helms' contract is up, and he has not signed on for another year. One presumes, since his character is the boss once more, the actor will want to stay. But television is a fickle industry, and one never knows for sure.

One thing is certain: Robert California (James Spader) is gone. Spader only wanted to do The Office for one year, and with "Free Family Portrait Studio," his tenure is complete. How his character convinced Wallace to foot the bill for three years of seducing young, vulnerable Eastern European and Asian college girls is a mystery, but he is just that smooth a talker.

Dwight (Rainn Wilson) will also not be returning, as he gets his own spin-off, likely to premiere in January. Hopefully Wilson will be in a couple of episodes to tie up the character's arc, and it would also be nice if Angela (Angela Kinsey) goes with him, once the parentage of her baby is outed. Who else might join that cast? Surely, Nate (Mark Proksch)? And Mose (Michael Schur)?

Similarly, Kelly (Mindy Kaling) will be departing, though her new sitcom is looking at a fall schedule spot, which might not leave time for her to offer much of a goodbye.

Not yet signed for next season are Jim (John Krasinski), Pam (Jenna Fischer), and Ryan (B.J. Novak), the rest of the characters featured in the theme song. If they all choose to leave, too, there is no telling what next season will look like. If they depart without any closure, with season nine premiering and they are just gone, it will be a betrayal for millions of fans of The Office, who have followed the series so closely. They don't have to re-up for the season, but they do need to make some appearances.

But for now, let's get back to "Free Family Portrait Studio." It's a fun little episode, with David's tardiness spoiling Andy's big moment. Then Nellie spoils it further, knocking the wind out of Andy's gloating, so much so that he agrees to make her Head of Special Projects. Does he even have the power to do that? Anyway, it's sad, because Andy is once more screwed up by fate, putting himself out there, and being disappointed.

There are some very funny moments in this episode. One is when Jim fears Dwight will hurt his children. Another is Erin (Ellie Kemper) starting to believe that Andy may be hallucinating David Wallace. And, of course, there's Robert's announcement concerning the new "career" he is about to embark on. This is the kind of funny that The Office excels at, and even with the many changes that have come up, the show can still deliver.

Perhaps most triumphant in "Free Family Portrait Studio" is Darryl (Craig Robinson). Not only do a couple of his former warehouse employees come groveling back to him after squandering their lottery earnings, but by making a vocal declaration of his feelings for Val (Ameenah Kaplan), he wins her away from her boyfriend. The Office features many characters who just don't get what they want in life, slaving away at a paper company they care little about. Victories are few and far between. To see Darryl really get to a good place in "Free Family Portrait Studio" is incredibly satisfying.

If renewed, The Office should return to NBC next fall.

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