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As you probably know if you pay attention to news about television at all, this is Steve Carell’s final season on the show. Seven years is a long time to stay on one project, and his decision is totally understandable. What you also probably know is that NBC intends to keep the show going after he’s gone. This is another decision I understand for financial reasons (and NBC really not having many better alternatives), but I find it much less agreeable. Maybe I’m just an idealist, but I’ve always believed shows should end when it’s right creatively rather than waiting until nobody’s watching anymore and letting them die slow, painful deaths. The departure of your main character seems like a great opportunity to wrap things up nicely, especially when many people would agree that you’ve been surpassed by pretty much every other show in your programming block quality-wise. The Office had its best ratings ever last season though, so what do I know?
So instead of slowly working the show towards a conclusion this season, they’ve been leaving hints of what could cause Michael’s departure, like some continuing issues with the new corporate regime and the possibility of a reunion with Holly, the one woman who ever seemed right for him. Meanwhile, they’ve tested out other characters in leadership-type roles, with the big question being who’s going to be boss when Carell’s gone. Ed Helms’ Andy led a meeting about discrimination and sexuality. Writer/producer Paul Lieberstein’s Toby showed some potential by actually getting through to Michael in mandated counseling before he realized what was going on. Meredith posed as a boss while the gang was pulling a sting on a rival salesman played by Timothy Olyphant, and in this week’s episode, Daryll, played by the hilarious Craig Robinson, showed both the ability and ambition to move up in the company.
After a funnier-than-usual cold open where the office experimented with just how little the perpetually grumpy Stanley would notice, including dressing up as each other and covering his computer monitor with a cardboard box, it’s yet another Halloween party at the office, with the whole cast in various occasionally clever costumes, this time competing in a contest to win a coupon book worth $15,000 in savings. Of course, as Oscar points out, you’d have to spend hundreds of thousands on crap you don’t need to get the full value of those coupons, but the rest of the office won’t hear it, and compete hard for the prize, even changing costumes in the middle of the day. That’s just background to the real conflict of the episode though; Michael finds out that Darryl went over his head to Gabe after Michael rejected his idea of having drivers sell paper. It turns out that corporate loved the idea, and it’s working out, but Michael’s not happy about the supposed betrayal.
This lead’s to one of the show’s more uncomfortable moments, where Michael changes out of his MacGruber costume (he’s exactly the kind of guy who wouldn’t realize that it’s a parody of another character) into a fake afro and warehouse uniform and yells at Darryl in front of the whole office. Eventually they compromise on a way to deal with this sort of problem in the future, but it was definitely a situation where the painful awkwardness of the situation outweighed the mild humor it provided, which is where the show tends to go astray. There’s also a C-plot where Jim and Pam are curious about why Olyphant’s character Danny didn’t call her back after they dated a couple times when Jim was in Stamford, and the revelation that it was because he found her kind of dorky was quite mild. We get it, they’re mildly goofy people who are perfect for each other. That didn’t really add a whole lot.
Overall I enjoyed a fair amount of the episode, but it also had a lot of the issues that sometimes bring the series down. Some of the costumes were pretty good. It was pretty funny how I was wondering who Andy was supposed to be the whole time before he had to explain it to Stanley, Bill Compton from True Blood. “How many vampires am I supposed to know about?” he asks. And moments like Michael accidentally making Kevin cry were fairly inspired. But the whole Darryl thing was the wrong kind of uncomfortable humor, and the whole office being dumb enough to care about the coupon book was another overly silly bit. Oscar winning the contest with his “rational consumer” bit wasn’t exactly a great payoff either. There’ still twenty episodes left in this season, I hope they use the time a bit better as far as finding a way to gracefully move Steve Carell out of the lead role without ruining the fun dynamic of the large cast.