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The Office finale recap: Company Picnic


The Office writers gave us a lot of ammunition to really unload a heap of criticism on them with that finale.

Oh no, “Company Picnic” was awesome. Don’t get me wrong. It was cohesive, funny, layered and loose. It was over in a flash, but it left you thinking. The thing is, it was so good, it highlighted what’s been missing.

For one thing, I thought I’d gotten over Holly Flax. Not by a long shot, it turns out. Her scenes with Michael were golden, every last one of them, with her sidelong glances and mischeivous half-smiles that made it so clear how smitten she still is with him. And to think we had to forego that for the better part of this fifth season leaves me a little irked.

Just a little, though, because Michael’s final talking head was as desperate and despairing and brilliant as any his flawed anti-hero of a character may have ever given us. He’ll keep showing up at the company picnic, waiting for the year when they can be together. Meanwhile, she’s off to design her dream house. Oh Michael.

Funny, then, how they got you to move on to that so quickly from what was likely the cringingest few moments the show has bothered to offer in about three years, a darkly uncomfortable comic exchange that revealed the fates of the unsuspecting Buffalo crew. Wallace was right. Their presence should have tipped MIchael and Holly off.

That’s what funny is, by the way. It’s uncomfortable, unexpected and a little mean.

But if that’s too much for some of us, it was balanced out with a dose of jammy sweetness, wasn’t it? I don’t know how to feel about inserting a pregnancy here. It seemed gratuitous and a little off tone-wise, like a crooked picture frame? More about that in moment.

First I’ll just say Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski portray the normal, happy couple at the center of a vortex of dull madness as well as anyone could. From Pam’s “You don’t grab these for balance” (and Jim’s ensuing hesitation) to their embrace in the doctor’s office as the unspoken reveal unfolded. Jim conveyed the gasping joy of the moment perfectly, and I’ve been there. It’s the look that comes from realizing your reality has shifted and your life is suddenly not what it was.

Notice how Pam didn’t answer the nurse’s pregnancy question and the writers glossed over it with a joke?

I’m really happy for them, or as happy as you can be for people you’ve known for years who don’t really exist. That said, why a pregnancy and why now? They’re a young, relatively poor couple planning a traditional wedding in a small, working-class town. Sure, it could happen. I’m not saying it’s unrealistic, just that it feels inauthentic. And I can’t help but suspect the writers were pandering to the base by throwing it in.

It sure will keep the fans buzzing over the summer hiatus, at least as well as any non-parking lot-based cliffhanger could. I get it. I don’t love or hate it, but I get it.

Onto other things. Michael’s awkwardness with J.J. was palpable. When he went in for the hug or told him to go to hell, well that’s a brand of awkward only Michael Scott strives for. But wasn’t it strange for Michael and Holly to go off on their own for so much of the afternoon? I know they were planning their sketch, but where was her boyfriend? That’s a plot hole for me. The payoff was worth it, but it was still a plot hole.

The volleyball game had more great little moments than I can recall right now, but Pam rocks at volleyball, huh? Did she say “summaz”? Phyllis and Kevin do not rock, and Andy’s a bit too intense. I mean, he’s no Rolfe, but he was a bit harsh on Erin, weirdly so at that. Still, he wasn’t the biggest jerk of the day. That honor goes to Rolfe, who tied for it with Charles. The Idris Elba experiment is a failure. His return and his return to form only cemented that fact. It’s a shame they didn’t give a great actor like that better material.

I did love Dwight’s stalling tactics, almost as much as I loved the look on Wallace’s face when Michael told him the kid who asked about his daddy’s job at Christmas time was only worried about his own presents. Speaking of looks, Angela had an interesting one on her face when Dwight stuck up for her. I smell a weird reunion of two very weird people.

By the way, I loved Angela correcting Kevin on the score after he muffed a return. “Is that too much accounting for you?”

Did you catch the Toby-Kendall moment? Nice. Stanley had a couple choice moments too, sipping on his umbrella drink.

Oscar breaking up a lingering man-hug between Jim and Dwight was great.

And that was a hell of a cold open prank, too. Nice team effort. Wonder if that could work…

Oh, and if you’re a hardcore Office fan who spends a lot of time following the show online (not that I am), then you caught that glimpse of tanster, aka Jennie Tan, the creator of OfficeTally.com, who detailed for her readers her set visit that took place on the day this episode was shot. From uber-fan to friend of the cast to cast extra, she’s had quite a ride with this show. Kudos, tanster.

Why this finale had to be a half-hour, I don’t know. It deserved an extended time slot, but NBC doesn’t seem to do much right these days (i.e. the failure to renew Chuck so far).

So what are we to obsess on this summer? Michael and Holly would appear to be no more. This episode sealed that deal, though it didn’t really say much about that beyond what we’ve known since “Employee Transfer.” Jim and Pam are getting married and having a baby. That’s pretty big but not real suspenseful. The only question is how many episodes they’ll drag out the wedding. I have to figure the emerging Beesley Bump precludes anything even as late as a Christmas ceremony.

This season was mostly devoid of any rooting interest and was kind of a bookend to Season 1 that way. Since they’re not calling it a series any time soon, I have to hope the writers will be daring enough to go for a reboot of sorts. Something needs to be at stake to give a foundation to the dry humor and painful empathy that defines the show. They’ve ridden Jim and Pam as far as they could and they’ve beaten Michael to a pulp. Who do they build an overarching theme around? I can’t say, but then I couldn’t have predicted that a twist like The Michael Scott Paper Company could breathe life into a tired season, either.

So I hope for big things in Season 6.

Until then, I’m going to savor this finale, watch it a few times more and see if I’d really rank it ahead of “Goodbye, Toby” like I’m thinking I would right now. It was no “Casino Night” or “The Job,” but the “Company Picnic,” well, it was a good day.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 14th, 2009 at 10:00 pm by Brian Howard. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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