Reportedly, it’s the final season of “The Office.”
If you ask me, the show probably should have closed up shop when star Steve Carell left, but solid ratings are solid ratings, and when you’re NBC, you go with what you know. At this point even also-ran FOX, once the butt of jokes for every late night comedian in existence, regularly trounces them in the ratings. How far the mighty have fallen, indeed. NBC should be a case study- or better yet, a cautionary tale- as to how one can have it all and lose it in record time.
For those too young to recall, NBC used to have this thing called “Must See TV” and indeed it was. “Cheers,” “Seinfeld,” “The Cosby Show,” “ER,” “Law and Order”.the list goes on. NBC were unstoppable, or so it seemed at the time. Then, things drastically changed. Sitcoms became old hat, HBO changed the game with their acclaimed dramas, and reality TV became a viable- and cheap- alternative to more expensive shows.
NBC’s been struggling ever since to recreate those glory days, so you can certainly see where they would want to hold onto one of their last surviving successful shows, even if “The Office” has clearly been on its last legs for some time. When your leading man bails, it’s clearly time to rethink things, although, to be fair, a few shows have rebounded from such a loss, i.e. “CSI.” Not that many, though.
So, “The Office” limped along for the rest of the seventh season, shipping a cavalcade of guest stars in and out- never a good sign- and eventually making the dubious decision to install dramatic actor James Spader into the manager role. Nothing against Spader- he’s a fine actor, to be sure- but his brand of quirk is more indie cool than sitcom-friendly.
Sure, he did “The Practice,” but let’s face it; it’s just not the same thing. David Kelley’s brand of quirk is worlds away from Ricky Gervais, and “The Office” itself had so long ago become its own brand of comedy that even Gervais seemed like an intruder when he appeared amongst the celebrities that passed through at the end of Carell’s last season.
Viewers left in droves, myself among them. Hoping to squeak a little more blood out of the stone, NBC announced that this season, the ninth, would be the last. They also said that we would finally find out just who had been shooting a documentary on a paper company for all this time. (For those who’ve forgotten, the show was presented initially as a documentary being shot by a faceless group of people with seemingly unlimited access, for reasons unknown.) This facet of the show was indeed alluded to in the first episode of the new season, “The New Guys,” albeit to no real end.
They also introduced a few new characters: Pete (Jake Lacey), who I guess will be a love interest for someone or complication for others and Clark (Clark Duke), best known for his snarky work on “Greek” and for being pals with Michael Cera, with whom he’s done some amusing online shorts. Clark is far and away the best add, playing a guy who is immediately dubbed “Dwight, Jr.” due to his resemblance to everyone’s fave oddball of the same name (Rainn Wilson), who if you ask me, should have been made boss in Michael’s wake for the comedy value that would ensue alone. But that’s just me.
Either way, the initial relationship between the two is brotherly, before in typical Dwight-style, rushing headlong into jealousy. That tension far and away makes for some of the funniest moments in the season premiere, and should be a source of easy comedy throughout this final season.
The premiere itself is functional, if inconsequential. At this point so late in the game, you’re either in or you’re out, so bringing in new characters isn’t exactly going to help matters, especially to hardcore fans. Still, Duke does know how to bring the funny, so maybe the series will end on a high note.
If not, they can always trot out a bunch of celebrities towards the end of the show’s run, because, you know, that always works.