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“The Office” Finale: The Triumph of Sweetness Over Cynicism

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b7bad79d-4717-4dc2-8165-f51f93e90b47theofficeWhat makes a great series finale? If we look at the greatest ones ever- M*A*S*H, Cheers and Six Feet Under- they stand out as great episodes of television, as appropriate sendoffs to the characters, and to be true to the show itself and what it was always about.

 The Office finale, Tuesday night, met two of the three criteria. It wasn’t quite a great episode- a little too long, unwieldy and uneven, just as the show itself had gotten in recent years- but it was certainly true to what The Office has always been, and to its characters as well.

On the episode, Dwight and Angela got married, Erin met her birth parents, Creed sang a song and got arrested, Pam and Jim at last fled Scranton, and, finally, Michael Scott came back, for a brief wedding cameo.

Of the critics and recappers I’ve read, the reactions seem all positive, from reviewers and commenters alike. The first half of the episode, though, left me sort of cold. I don’t care how much we see of Andy Bernard’s attempts at reality TV stardom, that entire plot was hacky and cringe-inducing from the start. I’m also not sure why it’s so hilarious for Angela to be kidnapped from her own bachelorette party and stuffed into a trunk. And the less said about the Kelly/Ryan abandoned-baby subplot, the better.

But the return of Michael Scott was perfect, from the best “that’s what she said” ever to the wise decision to give him only a few lines. The character already had a perfect goodbye and didn’t really need another. All the Jim and Pam stuff, ditto, especially Pam’s last-minute articulation of what the series has always been about.

The last 20 minutes of the episode were pretty wonderful, and you could see purposeful echoes to the last episode of Cheers, from the straightening out of a picture to the show closing in the titular workplace.

I came to The Office late. I was a huge fan of the Ricky Gervais British version, and believed at the time that the British-ness was the best thing about it, concerns that weren’t allayed by the show’s awful first season. It took a couple of years of recommendations from friends until I jumped on board the Scranton version, but luckily there were many re-runs on every day so I didn’t have trouble catching up. I even stuck with the show through the mediocre post-Carell years, and I don’t think I even missed an episode of the James Spader season.

The best episode? “The Dinner Party” stands out above all us, and never gets any less uncomfortably hilarious after many repeat viewings. I’m partial to “A Benihana Christmas,” too, and Pam/Jim wedding and Michael farewell episodes, either of which would’ve made a perfectly fine series finale.

My pick for the series’ best moment:

It’s sad that The Office is gone, but it will live on both in plentiful re-runs and on iTunes, where it was a groundbreaking hit. And the series created many stars, both on screen in the writers room, who have done excellent work and will continue to do so.

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