'The Office' season finale: So who's the boss?

the-office-search-committee.jpgIt would have been nice not to know who the people at "The Office" are angling to hire for next season. It became a bit of a distraction when that person was on screen. Here's hoping you didn't have that issue (which we'll talk about in a minute), because "Search Committee" was really a pretty strong episode.

What the finale managed to do was focus on the people who already work at Dunder Mifflin despite the parade of high-profile guests interviewing for the job. Showrunner/Toby Paul Lieberstein wrote the episode, and he managed to have his guest-star cake without sacrificing the idea that everyone else is heavily invested in the outcome too. Nice trick, that.

So, OK, about the reported frontrunner for the (acting) job: The Hollywood Reporter says Catherine Tate is a favorite among the show's producers. She's a wonderfully funny actress, and I wouldn't mind at all seeing her in the part. What was distracting about knowing that before the episode aired, though, was that when she was in her interview scenes, her character, Nellie, came off as a complete loon.

The show gave itself an out by establishing that Nellie is a friend of Jo's, so if Tate does get the part it could be explained that Jo strongarmed Jim and Co. into hiring her. But she did not make a good impression in her interview.

Anyway: The guest stars may have been the draw, but fortunately "Search Committee" -- and this is a case where having an hour to play with helped -- kept its eyes on how the interviews would affect everyone we already know. The subplots with Phyllis and Erin, Angela getting engaged and Pam making sure Creed doesn't destroy the company all clicked, and (I suspect I'll be in the minority on this, but here goes) other than the real-world intrusion with Tate, the guests didn't overwhelm the story at all.

James Spader? Funny as heck. His standoff with Dwight was great, and Jim pretty well nailed both character and actor when he said "He creeps me out -- but I think he might be a genius." Ray Romano? Even hangdoggier than usual, but it fit the character. Tate? Also very good. The cameos by Warren Buffett and Ricky Gervais were really kind of pointless, on the other hand, and Will Arnett didn't get a lot to do either. On the whole, though, the gambit worked reasonably well -- and the tag of Jim Carrey being the Finger Lakes guy was a nice little surprise.

So did the various efforts of Jacques Souvenir Dwight Schrute to get himself back in the game. Rainn Wilson has stepped up his game of late -- despite the fact that Dwight is still a pretty cartoonish character, Wilson has found more real humanity in him lately, and it's served him well. His unsuccessful attempt to bribe Jim -- and later success at bribing Kelly -- played quite well, as did his self-conducted interview. The interviews with fellow in-housers Darryl and Andy also worked, with Darryl coming in utterly unprepared (although Jim still likes him for the job) and Andy getting derailed by Gabe's inability to separate the personal from the professional.

(Side note: If Gabe is really being sent back to Florida, we'll be sorry to see Zach Woods go. His brand of ineffectual toadyism was often quite funny.)

We'll find out in September (or, given how news cycles work, sometime before that) who the new boss is. But while "Search Committee" wasn't as good a finale as "Goodbye Michael" would have been, it served the new world of "The Office" rather well.

A few other thoughts from the finale:

  • Those of you who wondered if Erin might be Phyllis' daughter after "Goodbye Michael" were half-right. The characters started to wonder too, and though Phyllis tells the camera she's not, the episode got some great comic mileage out of the two of them together. (Although Phyllis' story about how she won Bob Vance's heart was more than a little disturbing.) We know Phyllis has a mean-girl streak in her, but her motherly side came out in a very sweet way in her scenes with Erin.
  • The Creed-as-manager story got just the right amount of weight, as Pam ("How is this on me?"), well-practiced from years of Michael, keeps him from blowing up the business before it has a chance to hire an actual replacement. She really should work on her character voices, though.
  • The interview process also brought out a few previously established traits in characters that we haven't seen for a while, notably Jim's less-than-stellar management skills ("This conversation really got away from me") and Andy's anger-management issues. We haven't seen Darryl be at a loss for words quite so often, but it's happened enough times for it to be believable.
  • Angela's co-workers are a patient, forgiving lot. You can argue about whether the right thing to do is tell her about the senator's sexual orientation, but they at least they arrived at a consensus about what (not) to do. It's a consensus I would have broken at her frightfully condescending attitude.

What did you think of "The Office" season finale?
Photo/Video credit: NBC
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