Friday, January 11th, 2013

Checking In with 'The Office' Halfway Through Season 9

Like 30 Rock, The Office doesn't have to worry about cancellation or season renewal this year, and while that could make an easy excuse for TV senioritis to kick in, the writers and cast have managed to steer the show out of its shaky eighth season and into a final hurrah that evokes the more old-school Michael Scott-era sensibilities that made the show so great during the early days. We won’t be officially halfway through this season until the end of January, but The Office has already crammed so much into its first ten episodes that it’s anyone’s guess where the Dunder Mifflin crew's stories will end up in May (though realistically, unless Dunder Mifflin goes under, most of them will probably stay there for a long time). Here are my three main midseason takeaways:

1. It all comes down to Jim and Pam
Like the show itself, Jim and Pam were adorable during their awkward moon-faced stage and once they started dating things hit their stride, then right after they married and the baby rolled in, most of us suddenly couldn't stand them, whether it was the way Pam's New Mom Status made the vulnerable, heart-on-her-sleeve Pam go away forever or the way Jim got too old for cute smugness and general condescension toward his coworkers to remain a likable trait. With Jim's budding startup job in Philly and the Halperts' budding interaction with the documentary crew, it's likely that the Philly situation will play a huge factor in the series finale come May. (Note: Last night’s opening credits ended with Jim and Pam kissing instead of Andy knocking over the figurine at his desk, so the show’s definitely planting the series finale seeds now.)

2. Abandon accuracy, embrace characters
The reality of running and maintaining a paper company has never been a priority on The Office, and this season is no different. Sometimes it's considered (like when Jim asks Phyllis and Stanley to cover for him while he goes part-time), but for the most part things have been pretty nonsensical between the whole Sabre/Florida arc last year, long periods with no one at the reception desk, way too many Regional Managers since Michael, Andy ditching work for a soul-searching trip in the Caribbean, and Nellie effectively getting booted from her position only to retain her former "Special Projects" gig, which is ridiculous considering she's done nothing but be a dependable smartass (and at other times, unexpected confidante too). On the flipside, we can always count on an Office episode – from any season, really – to come impressively packed with subplots and supporting character development. So far this season we've seen Angela square off against Oscar for her gay husband's fidelity, Jim’s new job (which includes gushing like a tourist during a meeting with Julius Erving), Darryl and Val’s strained relationship, Nellie’s hushed adoption plans, and newcomer Pete's attraction to Erin slowly reminding her just what a tool Andy is. We also got to see Meredith go from token drunk to Pam’s only source of bald-headed sympathy.

3. It's okay that Michael's gone forever
There has already been some speculation about whether or not Steve Carrell will return for a series finale cameo, but Michael's departure was beautiful and succinct — a final happily-ever-after with a cute, cool girl who gets his weird jokes — and it should stay that way. Plus, if the documentary crew came for Michael's story, they would've stopped filming after he boarded that plane. I say let Michael's exit stand where it left us two years ago, and instead of hoping for a gimmicky cameo we should hope that all the other characters, most of whom had all nine seasons to develop, also get the touching happily-ever-afters they deserve. They've certainly earned it after all these years. Especially Creed.

What are your thoughts on this season so far? Do you find the Halperts likable these days? Are you looking forward to seeing The Farm pilot? Should Michael appear in the series finale? Does Creed deserve a happily-ever-after?

Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.

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  • 6 100

    Creed = The Real Scranton Strangler
    Kevin Malone = The Real Scranton Strangler

  • http://twitter.com/kylos37 Kyle Sutherland Reid

    I still don't understand why there is so much hate for season 8 online. I thought 6 and 7 were good, but it was definitely showing signs of stagnation.

    I thought the new dynamic with Andy as boss rejuvenated the show, and I thought season 8 was one of the sharpest and funniest seasons there had been. Particularly the one where Andy gets the tattoo and Robert's party at his mansion.

    Everyone I know over here who watches it (I'm in the UK) agree with me. Can someone enlighten me?

    • http://twitter.com/megh_wright Megh Wright

      I agree with you — season 8 was really funny, and I stuck up for it in most of my recaps. It just didn't make a lot of sense. Seems to me that a lot of it came from people hating Nellie, Andy, or both. I'm not the biggest fan of Andy as boss, but I'll defend Nellie to the end. Just the fact that she makes fans so hateful makes me love her so much more.

  • adammm

    I was a staunch defender of The Office continuing past Michael's exit, but I have to say, the past few episodes (last night's included) have made me just sad for how it has gone. There was an article (sorry, can't remember where) that discussed pre-Michael driving into the lake w/ Dwight, and post-that incident. That really summed it up for me – before that time, the show was great because it was actually realistic 80% of the time, at least. This realism (or at least relatability) began to fade away as Michael set off to Colorado, and it is now essentially completely gone. A basic breakdown of where I think the show has gone off the rails:

    -Nellie. Her character has never been likable, developed, or even given a purpose. I keep reading that the actress is great outside of her Office character, but I really think it was a mistake bringing her on.

    -The reboot was never a true reboot. I thought there was some hope when they announced that several series regulars were going to move on and new characters would come onboard. That was a step in the right direction in my opinion, but they never seemed to commit to the change. Dwight has remained on and played up his 'eccentricities' to such an extent that he is almost unwatchable. Jim and Pam, as mentioned above, moved away from being real people with vulnerabilities and became almost…cocky. I never thought that they'd become borderline(?) unlikable, but that seems to be the case now. Andy seems to have gone off the deep end (pun certainly not intended), which is not the reason he was ever funny. His character has changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable from his earlier appearances on the show, when his nuances were annoying but in a funny way. Clark Duke and 'New Jim' are both funny guys, but they haven't been featured enough to make much of an impact. Also, as a sidenote, it was a brilliant move casting 'K-Strass, the yo yo man' (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZ9TLftki5U) as another member of the warehouse, but he's barely even been on the show. Lame.

    -They never went with a serious boss as a new character. I guess Andy, Nellie, and Robert California shared this role, but I think in retrospect, it would have been better to just bring in someone fresh to run things in a new way and stick with it. No one would expect that person to replace Michael, but it would have been a chance for a new actor or actress to do something different.

    OK, sorry for ranting like that, but after last night's episode, I got into a long conversation w/ my gf about the show and lamented its demise. At least we've still got Parks & Rec!

  • JoshUng

    I always thought The Office was the perfect example of why US sitcoms are better than UK sitcoms (and vice versa), whether US shows run too long, or UK shows run too short. By season 4, I'd say the US version surpassed the UK version, and benefitted by the US style, then 5 more seasons came along, and I starting thinking the open ended series runs in the US was hurting it.
    I'm enjoying the season, but I'm ready for it to just end.