The Office is not a great show anymore, but last night’s cold open was a kind of sweet, sidelong way of looking at what a long history we have with it by now. The premise was simple: a mylar balloon that’s been stuck on the ceiling of the warehouse forever is finally floating down to earth, and the office gathers around to celebrate it. As they think about how long the balloon’s freakish stay has been, the scene gradually turns from a fun diversion into a sad meditation on how old everyone has gotten, how different they are, what dreams they had that haven’t come to pass. Bummed out, they salvage the moment by getting a forklift and murdering the balloon.
At this point, I might actually like The Office better if it consisted of nothing but cold opens and bits. Since Michael Scott left, the show has not been good at nailing down larger themes, arcs and stakes for its characters. What it still does very well is the small things: capturing a sense of how, in the daily bubble of an office environment, miniscule details that seem meaningless to outsiders take on tremendous significance.
This scene worked because the basic situation (unlike some of the outlandish A-plots, like the Sabre Pyramid product launch) rang true to life, because it was funny-dark in the way the show has been at its best—and also because in a meta way, it reflected some of the feelings that at least this viewer has watching The Office now. Hasn’t it been a long time? Weren’t we all so much younger once? Isn’t it maybe time to move on? [Update: Myles McNutt also looks at the meta-implications of the balloon-as-show at the AV Club.]
It would have, in fact, been an excellent cold open for a series finale. We won’t be getting one of those for a while, I suspect, but at this point I’ll take my moments from The Office where I can find them—somewhere up in the rafters.