Season Finale of "The Office": Who's the Boss?

Slate's Culture Blog
May 20 2011 9:12 AM

Season Finale of "The Office": Who's the Boss?

Last night,after what seemed like years of build-up, the one-hour season finale of The Office finally arrived, with its cavalcadeof stars vying to fill Michael Scott's shoes as the manager ofDunder-Mifflin's Scranton branch.

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Havingmissed the two previous episodes, I settled in last night for two full hours ofquality Office time. By the time Igot to the finale, " SearchCommittee ," I was feeling pretty dubious the last hour (which included WillFerrell's final appearance as Deangelo Vickers) had felt draggy and unfocused;I worried that Michael had taken the office's mojo when he left on that jetplane to Colorado. But even at its supersized length, the finale turned out tobe zippy and fun and courtesy of showrunner Paul Lieberstein, who wrote thescript packed with quotable punchlines. (Dwight, justifying his short-livedattempt to get out of the paper game after being passed over for the top job:"Bread is the paper of the food industry. You write your sandwich on it.") 

Whether theepisode gave us any clue about what season eight is going to be like is anotherquestion. A few meager storylines were set up for next season, like thecontinuing will-they-or-won't-they between Andy and Erin, and Angela'simpending nuptials to the not-so-ambiguously gay senator. The way the officecame together to support Angela's decision without comment was touching andnicely done, I thought. Though I somehow doubt Oscar's going to get that elegant weddinghe's hoping for next season.

But ofcourse, the big question is who's going to take over the office. (Though I couldstand another episode or two with Creed helming the boat. What language is this,indeed.) I thought the writers handled the guest stars' appearances very well;the format of the episode allowed the writers to bring in such big-name actors as WillArnett, Ray Romano, Ricky Gervais, James Spader, and Jim Carrey for brief,showy cameos in a way that felt natural. They didn't pull too much focus orthrow the overall office dynamic out of whack. James Spader's cold, oily turn asrefinery equipment salesman Robert California was a particular highlight. ("Thefallacy is that it is up to the steamroller. It is up to the object whether itwill be flattened or not.") British comedienne CatherineTate who is apparently the frontrunner for the job gave a quietly manicperformance, with an inspired riff on the Thai masseuse she would bring in tocreate a more "Zen" office. Her character, Nellie Bertram, has shades ofMichael Scott a sort of confident cluelessness though I had trouble seeing howthe show would be rejiggered to fit around her as the new lead. The same goesfor Spader, who seems to be the only other likely external candidate. MichaelScott was the emotional heart of TheOffice , and "Search Committee" didn't give us much insight into how Nellieor Robert would develop as characters, as opposed to just comic sounding boardsfor the rest of the cast to react to. (In case you were wondering whether RickyGervais would take over the U.S. version of the show he created, he will not. "Iwould never ever in a million years take a permanent role in the show as anactor," he wrote onhis blog . "It really would be fucking mental. You don't start a company towork on reception." Right then.) 

The episodeended without giving much indication whether Nellie, Robert, or the threeinternal candidates Dwight, Andy, and a surprisinglyless-than-competent-seeming Darryl would be the new manager come September,though we do know that Nellie is a personal friend of Sabre boss Jo, whichthrows some weight in her corner. But frankly, I'm having trouble caring aboutthe outcome of the horse race at this point. None of the choices are reallyinspiring me yet. (I just hope it's not Dwight. Dwight is great, but only insmall doses.) Readers: Convince me otherwise. Which of the candidates will takethe show in some exciting new direction and hold your interest in aMichael-less future? Or should they just let Creed stay there and grind the whole place into oblivion?

Photograph of Will Arnett as Fred Henry, Paul Lieberstein as Toby Flenderson, John Krasinski as Jim Halpert, Zach Woods as Gabe Lewis by Chris Haston/NBC.

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