Different people have criticized this season of The Office for different reasons. (At least different critics and blog commenters have; it’s worth noting that for all that it remains easily NBC’s most popular Thursday comedy.) For me, the problem has been the lack of stakes. The Office has been best when it’s about real problems that affect real people (as wackily as they might play out), and when it pursues those problems to places most comedies won’t go for fear of bumming us out.
The season finale, “Whistleblower,” in some ways was characteristic of this season, in that some of its best moments came from characters at the periphery of the story. But it was also at best a sign of what this season could have been, and ended on at least a glimmer of hope for the next one.
The revelation that Andy was the whistleblower behing the flaming printers (after double misdirections first suggesting that he was, then wasn’t) was an example of the kind of story I wish this meandering season had pursued more. It was funny in a way that grew from character, as we saw Andy chafe under pressure and go against his upbringing. (“The Bernards have always silenced whistleblowers. It’s how we made our money. Woody Guthrie wrote a song about us.”)
But it also dealt with work life in a real, and on some level serious, way. Nick the IT guy was one of the funniest bits in the episode (“Did you really call me ‘Man’? I said my name. Just now”), but his scenes came in the context of the fact that, yes, these characters, like many of us, do work in an office where someone will come and search your computer when push comes to shove. And while on the one hand I found it a little sad that no one but Erin would recognize Andy had done the right thing, I can’t say I found it unbelievable.
Meanwhile, the final setup for Michael—in which he takes the heat for Jo in exchange for a kind-of promise that she will transfer Holly back—puts the show in a position to give Steve Carell some real work to do in what could be his last season. (If it’s his last season—and I hope that question is resolved soon enough that The Office’s writers can commit to satisfying closure for him if it’s true.)
As Michael said, in what seemed like a meta-comment, it’s been a rough year for him. (“My old favorite restaurant closed down. My new favorite restaurant sucks.”) Let’s hope he’s positioned for a turnaround next year. Now a quick hail of bullets:
* I’m mixed on the idea of Dwight buying the building. On the one hand, I think his character is best when his crackpot schemes are smaller-scale, and I worry about his lunacy getting entangled in something that can have major effects on the company. On the other hand, I was reminded of just how well Rainn Wilson plays the character in that brilliant moment when Jo asks Dwight if he’s been making money out of his money, and he takes a second to look over his shoulder before whispering, “Are you talking about alchemy?”
* Also dug the reference to the original British Office in the address, 1725 Slough Avenue.
* Since Kathy Bates has a midseason series for NBC, I would assume she’s not long for The Office, or at least her availability will be limited. I personally think the show never made as much of Jo as it could, and yet I really liked her in this last episode, in scenes like her Barbie-doll confession to Michael. (A kind of conflation of childhood and adult dreams Michael Scott can relate to.)
* OK, time’s running short. I have to send myself a Woof.