Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Greg Daniels promises a good final season for "The Office" - do I believe him?

Note: This has been a work in progress since last week, so a little bit of the wording is off re: dates. "Tuesday" refers to last Tuesday, August 21.

On Tuesday morning, I took a fun trip to the dental surgeon to have my wisdom teeth removed. Meanwhile, as I was enduring a good deal of pain, somewhere in California, Greg Daniels was relieving a great pain of mine by announcing that the upcoming ninth season of NBC's "The Office" would be the last for Scranton's paper pushers.

I fell in love with "The Office" pretty quickly back in the summer of 2007. Within no time, I suddenly found myself quoting the show constantly and anxiously awaiting the premiere of the fourth season. To my sadness, the show hit a rough patch and slowly but surely has become a pale imitation of its former brilliance. In this writer's opinion, seasons one, two, and three are near perfect; season four has a batting average of about 2/3; season five is probably about half, and has the four or five "Michael Scott Paper Company" episodes carrying it; season six is largely forgettable outside of the Jim and Pam wedding and baby episodes; season seven saw a great sendoff for Michael Scott, and was decent considering how much of the show was broken by then; and last year's eighth season was pretty much horrible.

So I would say that going into the ninth and final season, I am the least cautiously optimistic than I've ever been in the second half of this series. Greg Daniels, who helmed the show during its brightest years, is returning to help send Dunder Mifflin off into the sunset. And he's promised the following changes (courtesy of, to which I've attached my opinions.

- Artistic ending to the show. Last season of The Office. Big exciting last season. Lot of familiar characters coming back. Wedding. Lots of drama for Jim/Pam. Darryl will learn PowerPoint. David Wallace running things. / Big Jim and Pam year. / Jim and Pam are the heart and soul of the show. From the early years, had an inkling of their ending / Will make Season 9 special, memorable, and exciting for fans / Still the highest rated scripted show for the network
     - When the new albums aren't selling, you bring out the greatest hits. In the early years of the show, the Jim and Pam relationship and all of the tension between the two of them was the center of the show. It seems Greg Daniels recognized that and wants the show to become that again. I welcome that kind of show back with relatively open arms. It's just a question of whether the show can so easily be that again after spending so many years doing exactly the opposite. The "wedding" in question is supposedly Roy's, and Jim and Pam are invited. That has the potential to be a really interesting revisit of that love triangle, or to be another way to make Jim look stupid. Let's hope for the former. Also, I am beyond ecstatic to hear that Andy Buckley is returning to be a regular part of the show. I'm not sure why I was always as excited as I was to see David Wallace, but I had the same reaction to seeing him last season, so yeah, I'm good with this.
- We'll find out who's behind the documentary, meet some of them / Why are the documentarians still filming after nine years? This will be explored / Break the fourth wall of documentary
     - With Greg Daniels back in charge and with his very good track record on The Office and Parks and Recreation, I am looking forward to seeing this previously unexplored part of the show. In the past we've seen little beats in which the documentarians influence the office (alerting Pam that Dwight is eating the second candy bar in "Email Surveillance", Michael turning off his microphone and the jarring silence that ensues in "The Injury", camera operators sneaking back in to capture Michael and Stanley's standoff in "Did I Stutter?") so I think this will bring a new creative dynamic to the show. And hopefully it will mean less time will be spent on bad parts of the show like Nellie.
- Gangbuster season. / All questions will be answered
     - There are a lot of unanswered questions from early seasons that fans have been waiting years to have answered. What did Jim write in the Christmas card he ended up not giving to Pam in "Christmas Party"? What did Pam's mom say to her on the phone at the end of "Casino Night"? Hopefully, the man who ran the show in those days is interested in finally giving us those answers, and with the promise of a "big Jim and Pam year", we just might get them after all.
- Last few years didn't do arcs so much, it was more episodic comedy. Season 9 will be an arc-heavy year, and will be set up in the premiere.
     - And to me, that is what damaged the show so much. The show has always told stand-alone sitcom episodes, but the last few years, skipping episodes or watching them out of order wouldn't have affected your viewing experience. The humour became broader and more zany and emotional threads were thrown in the garbage. Welcome back, arcs!
- Mindy and B.J. are coming back briefly
     - Eh, okay. There have been different eras of Ryan Howard - Ryan the temp, Ryan the boss, bleach blond Ryan, and hipster Ryan - and while I enjoy hipster Ryan, the fire guy was at his funniest when he was the temp in the first three seasons. So if he and Mindy Kaling want to go work on making "The Mindy Project" the best it can be, I'm totally willing to lose Ryan and Kelly for most of the final season.
- Now that we have an end date, we can blow things up, take some chances, hopefully it will be very exciting for the audience / Protecting characters long term: "maybe that's not important" / [NBC president Robert] Greenblatt mentioned "explosive ideas" in upfronts? Greg: "I know what he's talking about"
     - Taking chances is definitely something I'd like to see from the show that replaced Michael Scott with a half-ass version of Michael Scott. I think this comes back to the restoration of Greg Daniels as showrunner - back to big arcs for characters and less of just ridiculous slapstick comedy
- Now that we've announced this is the final season, hopefully we'll get guest directors and stars to fill in on great guest star roles / Would love Ken Kwapis to direct the finale since he directed the pilot
     - Guest directors are fine by me; I'm not sure how much they contribute to episodes anymore really as I think the overall show has lost some of the aspects that could have been moulded by a director like Joss Whedon or Jason Reitman, but if they want to have fun with Bryan Cranston for a week, what do I care? I think it's too late for me to complain about guest stars - this was a show that used to pride itself on not using big name guest stars and was able to bury their guest stars in the Super Bowl episode - so as long as they're not overly intrusive...whatever, there's only 22 of these things left.
- The majority of the fireworks will happen in creative writing choices and things happening to characters you already know
     - Good to hear, since it seems to hint that there will be less of a focus on Nellie, who honestly, there's no way Greg Daniels doesn't hate entirely
- In an upcoming episode, Nellie has a charity drive; Dwight wants to donate to the Taliban in protest
     - Fun fact: episodes of "The Office" used to end with people going home at the end of the work day.
- We'll find out who the Scranton Strangler is
     - Man, was this a running plot that the writers asked us to care about for a long time and then totally abandoned last year. I'm sure we're all still holding out hope that it's Gabe. Guess we'll have to wait and see!
- Try to get back to people being surprised when they watch the show, instead of finding out three weeks earlier
     - That would be great. Anything considered a "surprise" these days is nothing compared to the emotions this show could draw in its early seasons. Even when I wasn't watching "The Office" I have strong memories of seeing ads for "Casino Night" pimping a big Jim and Pam moment, and ads for "The Negotiation" telling me that I needed to be in front of my TV early because something big was going to happen in the very first minute of the show (which we know now is Roy attacking Jim).

The final season of The Office premieres Thursday, September 20 at 9/8c on NBC.