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Goodbye, Toby and Hello, Holly in the Season Finale of "The Office"

I'm feeling a little happier today after watching last night's season finale of The Office ("Goodbye, Toby"), though anything would have cheered me up after watching the dismal pilot episode of HBO's upcoming vampire series True Blood. (Yeesh.)

Even so, I was completely captivated by this installment of The Office, penned by Jen Celotta and Paul Lieberstein, even though it was one of the one-hour variety. With this single one-hour installment, Celotta and Lieberstein may have undone my complete disenchantment with this series, crafting an episode that felt in tune with the good old days on this once-brilliant but waning series: it was touching, hysterical, and found comedy in the everyday, mundane office existences of these remarkable characters.

This is the foundation around which the series was built and what the writers need to remind themselves of. It's not wacky subplots (Michael kidnaps a pizza delivery boy!) or zany adventures (Michael drives into a lake!) that will get us to come back week after week. No, it's the characters' innate humanity and their very believability. When the characters don't behave in ways that we expect them to (Stanley's whole "did I stutter?" routine), it's off-putting and jarring to say the least. Last night's episode returned the characters that I had known and loved to me; each one behaved in pitch-perfect harmony and I absolutely accepted this version of the world that was being presented to me. (Bravo, Jen and Paul! Gold stars for you guys.)

Holly. Never before on this series has a guest star been so integral to the plot and fit in so completely well to the surroundings and integrated themselves to the rest of the sprawling cast than Amy Ryan (The Wire) did last night. (Sidebar: Ryan co-starred with Steve Carell in Dan in Real Life.) Ryan's Holly and Carell's Michael had instant chemistry together. Upon dismissing once he realized that outbound Toby had hired her as his replacement, Michael quickly changes his tune once he begins to know Holly and I absolutely loved the scene on the floor of Holly's cubicle in which she reconstructs Toby's chair and the two speak to each other in Yoda voices. Charming, funny, and grounded in reality. It's moments like these at which the series has always excelled and the charm which which Michael tried to win over Holly (and surprisingly her tender reaction to him) was the real surprise of the evening.

I had thought that Michael would have gone way overboard, pronounced his undying love for Holly, and scared her away (or, well, had her run screaming from the building), so it was nice to see just the opposite as Michael--working on Jim's advise--toned down his advances, exchanged "pleasantries" with her and actually won her over. That he then declined her subtle offer to join her for coffee spoke volumes. He clearly does like Holly and wants to be with her but his character has actually grown and changed: he accepts responsibility and (misguided) duty towards Jan and her unborn child (the result of a sperm bank fertilization rather than his own offspring) rather than try to make something work with Holly. It was a poignant scene that highlighted just how far Michael has come as a character; hell, he even gave up a "that's what she said" punchline with Holly on the Ferris wheel. If that's not maturity, I don't know what is.

As for Ryan, she was completely natural as Holly and I loved seeing her in this role. I'm hoping that she'll be back next season as she adds a new dimension to the series and her interplay with Michael (and thwarted love) will clearly inform the series' fifth season, should she stick around. I'm glad that the producers didn't opt to replicate the tortured enmity between Michael and Toby with a virtual Toby clone and instead went in a vastly different direction. (Hmmm, that too might just show maturity.)

Kevin. I was rolling on the floor with laughter at the subplot that had Holly thinking that Kevin was mentally challenged. The pride with which she looked on anytime Kevin did anything ("I do the numbers.") was absolutely hysterical and each of the characters just kept making the situation far, far worse. Hell, even Kevin didn't do himself any favors, handing over his change to Holly to count whilst standing in front of the vending machine, undecided about what to eat, or his inability to choose between pretzels or chips. But how proud was she when she learned that Kevin drove his own car and was going to go to the supermarket? "It's been a big day for him," she tells an oblivious Michael. Words cannot articulate just how awe-inspiring this storyline was, especially as Holly never learned the truth about Kevin in the end.

Best line of the evening: "That's a button."

Jan. Fantastic reveal having Jan be pregnant and then twist the knife even further to admit that she got pregnant while she was dating Michael but (A) he's not the father, (B) she didn't cheat on him (he made her promise not to), and (C) she was impregnated rather than risk having a child with Michael, despite having him have and reverse a vasectomy several times. While this would have been a great plot at any time, juxtaposing this with Michael's flirtation with Holly was a stroke of genius, as it forced Michael to make a decision: return to Jan and the possibility of a child (one of Michael's main goals in life) or put her in the past and try to move on with Holly. Still, I was surprised that Michael called Jan to tell her he would accompany her to Lamaze class and that he's going to try to salvage their relationship... or at least try to be a father to this unborn baby. Me, I'm just happy that it means that Melora Hardin will be sticking around... and that the baby's dad wasn't Hunter as I suspected for a few minutes. I'm almost hoping that Dunder-Mifflin will offer Jan her old job back now that Ryan has been arrested.

Jim & Pam. I groaned with annoyance when Jim mentioned that he was going to propose to Pam in this week's episode, given that it was the season finale and I had suspected that, if a proposal were going to occur, it would be during sweeps. Still, I was pleasantly surprised--and outright pleased--that he didn't actually propose during the sweeping fireworks display (did they get permits for that?) at Phyllis' fantastic going away party for Toby... if only because Andy stole his thunder by proposing to Angela. A proposal is an important thing and creating the right mood and atmosphere absolutely key, so I am glad that Jim knew better than to try to propose to Pam, even though she sadly admitted that she thought that he was going to. As for Pam's acceptance to the Pratt School of Design, what sort of program is only three months? I was hoping it would mean a longer separation between the two of them but will at least mean that when we return to The Office next season, it's possible that they've spent the entire summer apart.

Andy/Angela/Dwight. Loved that Andy carried around an engagement ring in his wallet for the last six years (you never know when you're going to meet the woman of your dreams) and that he invited his parents along to Toby's going away party. Better still: that Angela reacted to Andy's proposal with a softly spoken "okay" and little enthusiasm for the entire endeavor. (How fitting was that?) I wondered if Angela would go all the way with this entire scheme designed to make Dwight suffer for Sprinkles' death but I didn't think she'd actually accept a marriage proposal to do so. Still, I was shocked when Phyllis caught Angela and Dwight in flagrante delicto in the office. Could there be hope for an outward reconciliation between this former couple?

All in all, an absolutely flawless installment that made me remember why I once loved The Office. If the writers can sit down over the summer hiatus and really commit to rein in the zaniness and lack of realism that defined this sub-par season, I might just have to reconsider my current stance on the series. In the end, this season finale did slightly make up for the creative shakiness that permeated the last year of The Office and provided a brilliant ending to a less than brilliant season. Toby might be gone but here's to hoping the grounded humor and believable characterization is here to stay again.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer
(CBS); American Gladiators (NBC; 8-10 pm); Friday Night SmackDown! (CW; 8-10 pm); America's Funniest Home Videos (ABC; 8-10 pm); Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (FOX; 8-10 pm)

9 pm: Moonlight (CBS)

10 pm:
NUMB3RS (CBS); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Sarah Jane Adventures on Sci Fi.

On tonight's episode of the Doctor Who spin-off ("Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?"), Maria meets a young Sarah Jane in 1964 just before a pivotal moment in her life but it's up to Maria's dad Alan, back in the present, to set things right with the world. Afterwards, it's Part One of "The Lost Boy," in which a missing boy turns out to be a genetic match for Luke, whom Sarah Jane sends to live with the boy's family while she probes his disappearance.

9 pm: Doctor Who on Sci Fi.

Season Four of Doctor Who continues tonight with "The Sontaran Stategem," as Martha Jones returns to the series; Martha contacts the Doctors as his old enemies the Sontarans begin causing some trouble, establishing a covert base at the mysterious ATMOS Factory and working to launch a terror that would bring the Earth to its knees. Hmmm, this this connected to the disappearances of the world's bees? (Get it, bee's knees?)

10 pm: Battlestar Galactica on Sci Fi.

On tonight's episode ("Guess What's Coming to Dinner"), Laura Roslin faces some new challenges as the Colonials form an alliance with rebel Cylon forces to unleash a devastating attack upon the Cylon Resurrection Hub. Is this the end of the Cylons' ability to download into new bodies? Find out tonight.


Melissa said…
Spot on assessment, return to the best that The Office can be. Leaves me excited to see what the next season will bring.
ticknart said…
I know, way off topic, but you mentioned it in the first paragrah, so I have to ask, what was wrong with the True Blood pilot?

Last year you said it was one of the best scripts you read, how did they screw it up?
Halvorsen said…
I had similar questions about Pam's acceptance, but it may just be a fast-track adult education program to help her get the skills she'd need to apply to a four year program.

But yes, spot-on assessment. I also found the whole "Kevin is mentally challenged" plot to be brilliant.
Anonymous said…
Oh, man - I am SO glad to read this. As I watched last night, I had that "OMG, I am laughing out loud. Could this be an actual great episode?" thought. I was doubting myself as maybe I just wanted it so much. so happy to come here this morning and get some....validation.

I almost emailed you about halfway through to give you hope (I was home early, watching the early feed), but then I didn't want to jinx it.

The Kevin storyline was played to perfection.

Amy Ryan was awesome.

What you didn't mention (or maybe you did, sometimes I read too fast) - Ryan getting busted. Awesome. and then Jim's follow-up message to disregard his earlier message. Hilarious.

LOVED that there was a proposal and it wasn't Jim to Pam. A lesser show like, say, According to Jim, would have gone for the easy moment.

And you know that I am personally thrilled this ep was so good. ;)
Anonymous said…
omg, are you going to give TRUE BLOOD its own entry? I don't want it to be bad, it's an ALAN BALL-show and I liked the first book.
Anonymous said…
Fantastic episode. I wasn't even planning on watching next season and this completely sucked me back in. Jen Celotta is one of my favorite writers on the show and I was so pleased that she and Paul Lieberstein pulled this off and brought the show back to its roots. And now I will just keep my fingers crossed that the greatness will continue next season.
Anonymous said…
Because, of how far 'The Office' has declined, I didn't have high hopes for the finale. But you're right in your assessment, it did soften my resistance and finally win me over. However, I must mention that I thought my doubts were going to be confirmed in the very beginning, when Michael started talking ridiculous again with his anti-gravity machine, and the stuff about Holly being an alien (also, the cold open was lame). But it recovered from there, and if there was only a slightly moronic part to an hour episode, I'm more than happy with it. Maybe there is hope for my once extreme-favorite show...fingers crossed (but, hey, if not, there's always '30 Rock', which has usurped every thing else now, by far).

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