'The Office' series finale: The beauty in ordinary things

the-office-series-finale-rainn-wilson-john-krasinski.jpgThe series finale of "The Office" had a lot of heavy lifting to do. For nine years, the audience had been getting to know and love this collection of characters -- even the ones that weren't that lovable -- and it couldn't really leave them in a bad place. Not too bad, anyway.

And, by the way, if it could find a way to work Michael Scott back in one last time despite repeated denials from all sides that Steve Carell wouldn't return, that would be OK too.

Mission pretty well accomplished. "The Office" may have been well past its creative peak the past couple of seasons, even before Carell left, but arguments about when it "should" have ended are pretty much moot at this point. This final season, and in particular the past few episodes, have managed to recapture some of what made the show great, and Thursday's (May 16) finale wrapped things up in a very satisfying way.

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Carell did in fact make a return appearance, and it was handled beautifully. Right before Dwight's wedding to Angela, Jim tells Dwight he has to bow out as "bestisch mensch" because he's younger than Dwight and tradition demands that person be older. The camera pans around to a beaming Michael. "I can't believe you came!" Dwight exclaims. "That's what she said," Michael replies.

Other than that and one brief talking head ("It's like all my children grew up, and then they all married each other. It's every parent's dream"), though, Carell was essentially a background actor in the finale, and that's kind of as it should be. EP Greg Daniels (who wrote the finale), director Ken Kwapis (who also helmed the pilot) and Carell handled it masterfully -- Michael couldn't really not show up for Dwight's wedding, yet his presence did not in any way overshadow the ongoing stories.

The finale was organized around a couple of events designed to bring everyone back together: Angela and Dwight's wedding and a panel at the Scranton Cultural Center a year after the airing of the documentary. We see some people have moved on -- Dwight fired Kevin and Toby, Stanley retired, Andy is, well, Andy -- while the likes of Jim, Pam, Phyllis, Oscar and Meredith are still at Dunder Mifflin.

The panel lets Daniels amusingly (and pointedly) answer some of the criticism of the show by having fans of the documentary voice them, in particular with regard to Jim and Pam's arc this season and the perception that Pam was a dream-killer. (The woman who said that if she had Jim, "he could do anything ... anything" was a highlight.) The reveal of Erin's birth parents ( Joan Cusack and Ed Begley Jr.) also landed beautifully, making for the first of several tearful moments.

Heck, there's even a redemptive story for Andy, which was hard to conceive of even last week. Of course his singing-show meltdown went viral, but enough time has passed that he's gone from object of ridicule to "Aw, that guy!" It's even helped him land a job at his alma mater, Cornell, and seems at peace with his Internet fame. Andy has been a problematic character ever since Michael departed, but it's nice to see him work his way back around to an OK place.

The wedding festivities were pitched at an appropriately Schrute-ian level of absurdity but also allowed for a lot of emotional moments too -- Stanley's carving of Phyllis, Toby's mini-breakdown and subsequent bucking up by people telling him to come to the after party. It all led to Pam's big "Jim gesture" -- she enlists Carol(!) to help her sell the house so they can move to Austin and Jim can rejoin the renamed Athleap.

Even though a lot of the criticism of Pam was somewhat unfair, and even though you really do believe Jim when he says he doesn't need more than Pam, it's a lovely way to make their happy ending even happier. So godspeed, Halperts, and make sure you get in line super early at Franklin Barbecue.

Fittingly, the series concludes with everyone gathering in the bullpen, just shooting the breeze and enjoying each other's company one last time before they go on with their lives.  It's a perfect, low-key way to say goodbye, and it caps off a great series in wonderful fashion.

A few other tidbits from the finale:

  • Of course Ryan and Kelly would run off together ("I've finally mastered commitment!") and leave his baby behind. It's a perfect summation of their relationship, and really, the kid is probably better off with Nellie.
  • Seeing the huge list of guest stars for the finale was initially a little bit worrisome -- would it be a distraction from the people we've gotten to know for nine years? But they all fit into the story -- well done by Daniels.
  • Creed Bratton lives. That is all. (Also: I'm assuming the song he sings at the end is an original composition, as Googling the lyrics came up empty. Whatever it was, it was very nice.) UPDATE: As a commenter points out, the song is a Creed Bratton original. It's called "All the Faces," and you can listen to it here.
  • Farewell, Mose Schrute.
  • That's Daniels standing next to Pam in the final group photo at the warehouse. I'm guessing a lot of the other people in the scene are crew members, and the guy taking the picture is an NBC photographer named Chris Haston -- who also happens to be Kate Flannery's husband.

What did you think of "The Office" series finale? Are you happy with the way everyone's story ends?

Photo/Video credit: NBC