11.07.2013

what i'm watching: the office (u.s.) finale

In my fine tradition of watching TV shows and movies - and then writing about them - months or sometimes years after their release, I recently finished the final season of The Office (U.S.).

I had seen many episodes of this show in re-runs and in random order over the years. When we started streaming Netflix, I re-started the whole series from S1e1. (Watching shows and movies end-to-end is my favourite thing about streaming. I'm completely gaga over it.) There was a brief pause while I waited for the final season (S9) to hit Netflix, then I finished it last week.

I was surprised by how satisfying I found the final two episodes of the show. But I was not surprised to see that these episodes were written by Greg Daniels, who developed the US version of the show.

When I first started the final season of The Office, I thought the show had jumped the shark. The writers were resorting to cheap gimmicks and repetition, not to mention the dreaded New Characters Out of Nowhere. I was still going to watch: I had come that far, and I need my half-hour-before-sleep TV viewing. So I persisted, but it wasn't very funny.

Then to my surprise, as the season went on, I began to find The Office compelling again. There were problems: Ed Helms' character often devolved into a faux Michael Scott, and some of the Schrute family farm adventures were too contrived for my tastes, among other issues. But as the story arcs moved towards closure, I once again found the show funny and sweet and credible in all the right ways.

The final two episodes were great. I loved the Dwight and Angela wrap-up, loved Mindy Kaling and B. J. Novack's ridiculous, hilarious return, and I especially loved the bits of wisdom in the final interviews. Pam reminds us that beauty is found in ordinary things, and Andy wishes we could recognize the good times while we're living them. Above all, Pam recognizes the need for carpe diem.
Jim was five feet from my desk, and it took me four years to get to him. It would be great if people saw this documentary and learned from my mistakes. It would just make my heart soar if someone out there saw this, and she said to herself, Be strong, trust yourself, love yourself, conquer your fears. Just go after what you want. And act fast, because life just isn't that long.
The brilliant final episode of The Office reminded me that some of my favourite sitcoms have been workplace comedies, the ones I grew up on: the groundbreaking "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," the dry "Barney Miller," and later, "Taxi". Even "M*A*S*H", at its heart, was a workplace comedy. (I was never a fan of "Cheers". I didn't hate it, but I never really cared about the characters.) They always demand a steady suspension of disbelief, since we know they don't reflect real life. But when you can care about the characters, and when credible situations and relationship develop, they can be very compelling. I wonder if I had been able to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Barney Miller end-to-end, if either would have held up.

An aside (since someone is sure to ask): I hated the original The Office (U.K.). I have seen very little of it, because I absolutely Could. Not. Stand. Ricky Gervais' character. While Allan insisted that my revulsion demonstrates how good Gervais really is, I maintain that if something causes you to turn off a show, that something cannot be construed as a positive. It was certainly a surprise to enjoy an American spinoff more than a British original.

6 comments:

laura k said...

Neat "Office" fact. The woman who runs the biggest fan site wrote to someone Greg Daniels, asking if she could be in the final episode of the show, as an extra. Amazingly, he did better than that - he gave her a part with lines. She appeared in the audience at the panel discussion, asking a question about Jim and Pam. The site is OfficeTally.com.

M@ said...

It seems we had the exact same reaction to the last season. We almost gave up on it and there are probably some episodes from the last three seasons that we didn't bother watching. But it definitely picked up speed around the middle of the last season, and we enjoyed the ending too. The episodes where Michael and Dwight was unrealistic and over the top were, however, sometimes nearly unwatchable.

I totally understand why you were unable to watch the UK version -- I've developed a hatred for Ricky Gervais too. One of the things that turned me against him is that his annoying, anything-fer-a-larf persona actually seems to be his real persona; he acts just the same in behind-the-scenes footage. I still love the show, and Extras was okay, but I'm fine with never watching anything Gervais again.

The US version had a lot more room and a totally different take on the office dynamics (e.g. Jim was good at sports, which is diametrically opposite to Tim in the UK version). As we finished the first season, SuMei and I said "this actually has some legs." I'm pleased that we were right.

laura k said...

I've developed a hatred for Ricky Gervais too. One of the things that turned me against him is that his annoying, anything-fer-a-larf persona actually seems to be his real persona

I was tempted to write that I hated Ricky Gervais, because this was always my sense of him, too. I forced myself to write that I hated his character, but... yeah.

Episodes where Michael and Dwight...?

laura k said...

And I'm glad you both liked the ending, too!

M@ said...

I think I meant that where their characters or situations were over the top and unrealistic. They started acting in ways that strained credulity, I think because the writers were running out of ideas.

Btw, there is a Ricky Gervais show on Netflix (the USA Netflix I think) called Derek. If you're not sure whether you hate him or not, go watch an episode of that, as he wrote, directed, and stars in it. It's an absolute travesty.

("You" in the general sense, not "you" in the Laura sense -- I don't think you-Laura will want to bother.)

laura k said...

I think I meant that where their characters or situations were over the top and unrealistic. They started acting in ways that strained credulity, I think because the writers were running out of ideas.

Yep. I have a lot of trouble describing why I lose interest in certain shows. For lack of a better word, I say that get too wacky. The last few seasons of Seinfeld was, IMO, awful. (I don't know how many seasons. I date it from the death of Susan.) I didn't watch the final season, and when I saw eps of it in re-runs, I couldn't believe how bad it got, considering its roots. "Too wacky." Too many completely non-credible hijinks. No longer character driven - characters become cartoons - and they enter into ever-escalating ridiculousness.

Of course there were always non-credible situations, but it crosses some sort of line... loses any pretense of reality.

I've seen Derek (as in seen the name and logo on Netflix) but didn't know what it was. Now I understand why it appears in my "Top 10 for Laura". Ha! And now I know never to click. Thank you!