Last night’s series finale of The Office was way up in the ratings — meaning that a bunch of people who haven’t been viewing the daily happenings of Dunder Mifflin tuned back in to see Pam, Jim, Dwight — and yes, even Michael — one last time.
This morning at Entertainment Weekly Headquarters we naturally all had opinions about what worked and what didn’t in the farewell episode of the long-running sitcom. Was it a fitting end for America’s favorite paper company? Over email this morning, Jeff Labrecque and Erin Strecker hashed out the supersized episode — Jeff didn’t care for it; Erin loved it. Read their debate, and then tell us what you thought of the finale in our poll below.
JEFF LABRECQUE: For the record, I am a devoted fan of The Office. I’ve watched just about every episode from the very beginning and I’ve never been part of the herd that liked to complain that the show lost its fastball in the final few seasons. But I can’t remember a series finale of a beloved show that was more self-congratulatory. It was simple and total wish-fulfillment for every character. (Except Toby?) It almost felt like the writers crowd-sourced the plot from the whims of the show’s biggest fans. (Turns out they sorta did, according to Jenna Fischer, who told Dan Snierson that executive producer Greg Daniels asked each cast member for what their dream for their characters would be.) It just felt like one 75-minute long curtain-call, bow after bow after bow, patting itself on the back while taking every easy way out. Didn’t it feel a little pandering to you?
ERIN STRECKER: It definitely felt a little pandering to me, or at least it would have if it hadn’t been the finale. I feel like finales should get a wide berth for giving fans moments they want to see. I liked the curtain-call feel because in a very literal way, there was essentially a curtain call. (They were even onstage at one point!) The documentary was over and they were moving on with their lives. I think some finales fail because they try to attach too much meaning to an ending when it really isn’t the end. By having the actual documentary come to a close, and having several people leave Dunder Mifflin, I felt like the show was able to wrap things up and have genuine character-reflection moments, because in their lives things really were changing and ending. Plus, Michael Scott showed up, gave us some laughs, but didn’t totally overtake the show. The finale has to get major kudos for that.
JEFF: I mean, I get what they were going for. They seemed to be following the template that Cheers used 20 years ago. Not only did Woody become a city councilman and Rebecca get married to a plumber and Sam end up with his “one true love,” but the whole Cheers gang ends up back at the bar — their office — basking in their friendships, just like the Dunder Mifflin crew did after Dwight and Angela’s wedding. There was even a beautiful soliloquy about friendship from Frasier that was evoked by Andy last night when he lamented about not being able to recognize the “good ol’ days” when they’re actually happening. I appreciate these nods (even if they weren’t intentional).
But about halfway through last night’s show, I nudged my wife and asked, “Sowhaddaya think so far?” She was all-in, which sort of surprised me because of my own growing ambivalence and her relative silence while watching. “‘Really?’ I said. “How many times have you laughed?” Silence. She had to think. We both agreed that Meredith’s stripper son was a hoot. But where were the other laughs? The Office had every right to give fans what they wanted, I suppose, but I just didn’t find this episode particularly funny. Which is unfortunate. Did you laugh a lot during the finale? Did the comedy seem to be shoved to the corners to make room for all the neatly-tied happy endings?
ERIN: I certainly wouldn’t argue that this was the most laugh-out-loud episode the show has ever put together. (That honor goes to “The Convict” or “The Injury.”) I think I probably only laughed two or three times during the whole 75-minute extravaganza — but I was consistently entertained. The best moments on The Office, while it was a sitcom, weren’t always just the “That’s what she said” jokes; it was the emotional truth that the show managed to hit right-on a surprising amount of the time. (I’m thinking of things like Jim’s love confession to Pam, Dwight and Angela’s original break-up, or Pam and Jim’s recent relationship issues). To see that truth resonate last night — like in the ending moments when Pam talked about how there is beauty in the small things and that they matter — as a viewer, that felt like validation for caring, deeply, all these years. I appreciated that more than I would have just seeing a couple more Mose sightings that would have made me chuckle.
Obviously, at some point along the line, this show became about way more than just a goofy boss and the employees passing time counting down until 5:00. I felt like the finale acknowledged that, in fact, put that idea front and center, while also remaining true to the characters. To me, no one acted out of character last night (something I was very concerned about going in). If you had told me the plot in advance, it played out pretty much exactly how I would have expected. And there were plenty of amusing, if not laugh-out-loud, moments: I particularly enjoyed Kelly and Ryan running off together and Kevin thinking he was gay because he was crying. To me, the comedy didn’t seem to be shoved in the corners, it just popped up when you least expected it. To quote Kevin, it’s only human natural.
JEFF: It hurts me not to like the episode as much as I wanted to, and I expect time will probably soften my tough-love first impression. But you touch upon one of my other disappointments: The plot played out pretty much exactly how we all expected. The show did its best to keep Steve Carell’s return under wraps, but no one at home blinked when he showed up (except to wipe away a tear after his final TWSS.) Even Pam’s secretly selling the house — which for the record, is the most un-Pam thing she ever did — fulfilled a storyline that had been telegraphed in recent weeks. Of course Pam was going to reverse gears and free Jim from his boring career so he could finally thrive.
But just to prove that I’m not completely heartless, I’ll mention a scene that I thought was absolutely perfect and totally adhered to the DNA of the show: When Dwight “fires” Jim and Pam. He cuts them off mid-sentence, and only after a quick explanation do you realize that he’s doing them a generous favor. Then, in an instant, he’s back ridiculing their future hometown and offering them a place to sleep when they return… in his barn. Those kind of moments were what made The Office great when it premiered in 2005 and what made it great in 2013. I just wish the finale had more of them.
ERIN: You’re such a hater, Jeff! I agree that The Office gave us the finale we (or at least most of us) wanted, and because of that, there weren’t many surprises, save for the revelation about Erin’s parents (which I could have done without). But overall, I felt like it was a worthy ending to one of the great sitcoms: we got some jokes both in and out of the office, some tearful moments, and even an original song by Creed (no, not that one).
What did you think of last night’s The Office finale?