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Sunday, May 19, 2013

THE OFFICE "Finale"

Article first published as THE OFFICE "Finale" on TheTVKing.

How do you say goodbye to a beloved series after nine (!) seasons on the air? Well, it helps to give every single person in the sprawling cast a nice moment, with even bigger payoffs for the show's leads. Toss in the most-missed character in the series' run, a slew of recurring returning players, a handful of well-known guest actors used in smart, not distracting, ways, and supersize it to 150% longer than the normal installment so it doesn't feel rushed.

That's what NBC's The Office did last night, to great effect. There are two major stories intersecting in one weekend: Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and Angela (Angela Kinsey) are getting married, and all of the former Dunder-Mifflin staff are gathered together for a reunion panel, post the airing of their documentary. Thanks to some wrangling by Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fisher), both are scheduled on the same day so that everyone special gets to participate in both.

This level of caring extends to how Jim approaches Dwight's bachelor party, intent on making it perfect for his best friend. Dwight and Jim have fought like brothers over the years, but "Finale" is the ultimate payoff, not only proving Jim's affections, but showing how much Dwight cares for Jim, too, when he gives Jim and Pam a generous severance (which we'll get to later), and how he's upset at Jim backing out being "bestest mench" at the wedding. Fear not, it's just Jim's greatest "prank" to date, as he arranges for Michael Scott (Steve Carell) to fill the role, a great present for Dwight.

Despite NBC and Carell's reps repeatedly and vigorously denying Michael's appearance in this last episode, it's more than a one-scene cameo. Michael is at both the ceremony and the reception, happily celebrating the union of two people that he deeply cares about. He may only get two lines (at least to the best of my memory), but they are such classic Michael Scott dialogue that it's all that is needed. His presence makes the event perfect.

Well, that, and the fact that everyone gifts Angela cats.

Angela's cat fetish isn't the only major plot part featured for a supporting player, with each of the vital members of the Dundler-Mifflin staff whose names have not graced the opening credits, save once, before now, have a tribute in this episode. Kevin (Brian Baumgartner) gets a couple dumb moments and a cake. Phyllis (Phyllis Smith) and Stanley (Leslie David Baker) get to tell each other how much they miss one another, now that Stanley has retired and, happily divorced, moved to Florida. Phyllis also saves Angela's walk down the aisle, after causing Angela's walking hardships, and tries to fatten up her new desk mate (Better Off Ted's Malcolm Barett) into a new Stanley. Meredith (Kate Flannery) is proud of her son, hired to be Angela's bachelorette party stripper, and gives him tips at work. Kelly (Mindy Kaling) ditches her husband (Sendhil Ramamurthy) to run away with Ryan (B.J. Novak). Nellie (Catherine Tate) finally gets a child, when Ryan's fleeing results in an abandoned baby. Erin (Ellie Kemper) gets to meet her biological parents (Joan Cusack, Shameless and Ed Begley Jr., Family Tree). Andy (Ed Helms) has found his niche in the world. Toby (Paul Lieberstein) feels valued when his colleagues insist that he hang out with them. Oscar (Oscar Nunez) is running for office, and even has an assistant (Ben and Kate's Dakota Johnson). Darryl (Craig Robinson) is very successful, and riding in limos. Creed (Creed Bratton) sings a song, and is arrested at the end.

It's important that The Office serves all of these personalities, and there are a lot to get to, as the long paragraph above attests, so the increased running time is invaluable. The show is about so much more than five or six main characters; it's about the huge family that has come together under these conditions, bonded through the experiences they have undergone together. All of these bits, and the large hang out of the staff at the end, Dwight and Angela even postponing their honeymoon to be there, mean so, so much. It's very gratifying for the fans to see the characters care about each other as much as we care about them.

Even better, in the group photo in the warehouse, the behind-the-scenes crew get to join their colleagues and be included in one of the last moments for The Office.

Not that the more central players are given the short shift this week. Pam feels bad, especially after the documentary panel, that Jim always gives up everything for her. The viewers remark that Jim adores Pam, and she doesn't seem like she deserves it, something Pam also realizes when she tries to watch the show herself, and finds it too painful. So she makes the ultimate sacrifice, calling Michael's realtor ex-girlfriend, Carol (Carell's real wife, Nancy Walls), to sell their house, and giving up her life to move to Austin for Jim's dream career. This is the perfect cap to their relationship, the one that proves their love is not one-sided.

I have very few complaints about this final hour. I think it's a little cheesy that Mose's (Michael Schur) kidnapping of Angela is faked out as sinister. I don't like that Pam paints the office staff on the warehouse wall, leaving the warehouse workers, who will have to look at it every day, out of the process, although the way that the cast sneaks away from everyone else during the party reinforces that they don't value the others so much, and they aren't exactly part of the same family.

It's also a little sad how many of the staff are gone from Dunder Mifflin. Dwight (deservedly) fires Kevin and Toby, Stanley retires, Creed goes on the lamb, Nellie moves to Poland, Andy moves to New England, Jim and Pam quit, following Darryl, and Michael has been gone for a very long time. Yet, they all feel exactly where they should be.

The best scenes in the "Finale" are the emotional ones: Michael talking about how proud he is his "kids," both literal and figurative; Dwight speaking of his relationship with his subordinates; Dwight and Kevin making up; everyone reliving the memories they share. It's hard to write this review without tears in my eyes. This is how we want to remember them, and because The Office gives us this nearly-perfect send-off, we will get that wish.

Thank you to everyone involved in The Office for a wonderful series to be thought of fondly and relived over and over again.

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