Here we are at the beginning of the end. The first episode of the final season of The Office. The conclusion of our adventures at Dunder Mifflin Scranton. I admit to being somewhat negative about the show last season, but not without cause. I never went into an episode looking to hate it, but there were more than enough elements throughout most of the individual episodes, as well as the overall meandering quality of the season itself, that did not work for me. The pointless Florida arc; Kathy; Darryl’s forced love interest; drawing out Andy and Erin; Andy, who increasingly became test audience-approved Michael Scott; and the constant trips outside of the office all contributed to the sense that the writers were either very bored and/or didn’t know what to do anymore, and it seeped out of every pore of the show. However, I still maintain that James Spader gave a good performance, albeit one that did not fit the current incarnation of The Office.
But still, I am going into Season 9 with hopes for the best. I haven’t read many spoilers for the upcoming season, but I know that the remarkable Greg Daniels (King of the Hill, The Simpsons, Parks and Recreation, the “good” years of The Office) has returned as showrunner, which I consider a good sign. And I actually don’t care whether or not Steve Carell comes back; I’d rather he didn’t, unless the final episode was some sort of “documentarians catch up with everyone from the series” epilogue, similar to the original Office‘s series finale.
Regardless, here’s to a Season 9 that hopefully allows this show to end on some sort of high note. And I’m saying that even with knowledge of the ridiculous sounding Dwight spin-off that would make Troy McClure proud. Right, Ozmodiar?
And so we begin…
If you didn’t know that The Office is entering its final season, “The New Guys” would make you ask “is this the final season?” And that’s a good thing. For starters, it means that the show has enough time to wrap itself up. And secondly, the show seems to be taking the “final season” element not as a perfunctory label, but as something to be taken seriously. There’s a sense tonight that the writers (in this case former and current showrunner Greg Daniels, who also directed) respect that these are characters the audience has known and followed for nearly a decade, and they want to give actual closure that builds over time. Even during the Michael Scott farewell tour, it seemed more about having fun, going over-the-top, and jerking tears rather than actually developing a genuinely thoughtful ending that felt true to the series.
And this change in focus leads to the most Office-y feeling episode of The Office in a while.
Part of the reason why the early seasons worked was that there were things going on in the background- both in the office environment and within the lives of the characters. It could have been something mundane such as the branch’s relationship with corporate, but it allowed the show to feel fuller. Over the past several years, that aspect has been lost as the show adopted a more sitcom-y, plot of the week attitude. (“We need to meet another sales quota!”)
Tonight, the show tries to return to its past by setting up numerous plot lines that I presume will run through at least part of the year, and many of them are downplayed, or at the very least, true to character. Pam and Jim admit to being bored with life, and Jim has to decide whether to take a job opportunity at a start-up in Philadelphia or stay in safe and secure Scranton. (He chooses the new business.) Andy is still antagonistic towards Nellie and is looking for a way to fire her with cause. The New Guys (Clark (Clark Duke) and Pete (Jake Lacy), who are called Dwight Jr. and Jim Jr., respectively) represent the continuing cycle of young people dedicating their lives to cubicle hell. Before getting paranoid of his ulterior motives, Dwight attempts to “adopt” Dwight Jr. as a son, having learned that Angela’s offspring is not his. And Oscar has been having an affair with Angela’s husband. None of these storylines take center stage, and thankfully, none of them get resolved either.
The “main” plot of tonight’s episode doesn’t fare as well. The still annoying Andy Bernard comes back from a month-long outdoor wilderness adventure that David Wallace (once again making appearances on speaker phone) sends him on so that he can be more assertive. This leads to Andy setting up a slack line where people need to walk across a rope elevated a couple of feet off the ground. He forces Nellie on it just to push her off. Dwight tries to prove his vitality by doing it, only to collapse several times. This leads to Dwight constructing up an even more daredevil-y stunt by riding a bicycle on a thin wire strung between two buildings, but he fails, and the fire department needs to get him down. This part of the show simply doesn’t work, and it feels thrown in out of obligation.
Nevertheless, the episode mostly succeeded due to its apparent re-commitment to being about people rather than gags and fleshing out its universe. Whether this continues throughout the season remains to be seen.
• This change in tone is perhaps most obvious before the opening credits. After Jim and Pam have a talking head segment about their boring summer, we switch to an oddly angled, “behind the scenes” view of those moments. The Halperts take off their microphones and talk to the cameraman who actually responds to their questions (e.g. Pam: “Don’t you guys have everything? I mean, it’s just a paper company.”). It produced a nice effect that even temporarily returned the documentary feeling to the show.
• Kelly and Ryan are gone. Kelly moved to Miami University in Ohio (not Miami, Florida, as she thought) with her doctor boyfriend from last season. Ryan also left to go to Ohio because it’s “supposed to be the next Silicon Valley,” and we last see him at a bus stop, unshaven, with suitcases and a garbage bag of his clothes. I am sorry to see Ryan go, he was always one of my favorite characters.
• Gabe is also gone. I grew to like Gabe (or perhaps his potential more than the character himself), but the show struggled with what to do with him. As he was a Saber employee, I have no problem seeing him gone even without a mention. I also don’t think Zach Woods’ name was in the credits. (Though I did see that the actors who play Dwight, Jim, Pam, and Andy now have producer credits.)
• With the exception of Creed’s “day in the life of a dog food company” speech, Dwight probably had the funniest line of the night with “Some day they’ll hire someone who looks like [Dwight Jr.], and I’ll have a grandson.”
• Due to Andy’s treatment of Nellie and his “now I see why Michael hated you so much” outburst to Toby, I wonder if the show is going to pull back from Andy as a lovable lug and restore him as a pretentious, unlikeable jerk.
• I know I’m not the first person to compare the Dwight spin-off to the Ralph Wiggum, P.I. level fare of “The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase” but it fits too perfectly.