Though I usually like to keep plot details to a minimum, because this is the last season of the show and so much of its success or failure rests on specific details and storylines, please be aware that there are some spoilers for the series and its finale.
While I'm happy that the show has now come to a close, there's still a part of me that can't quite believe that there won't be any new episodes of 'The Office' airing this season. After nine years, the series has simply become a habitual part of my regular TV watching schedule, and the thought of a Thursday night lineup without Jim, Pam, and Dwight just seems odd. Of course, it was definitely time for the show to end. Actually, it was well past the time for the show to end, but I'll miss the characters regardless, and thankfully, despite some notable hiccups, this farewell season offers a fitting goodbye to the staff of Dunder Mifflin. Many of the same flaws found in the show's more recent years are still present, mind you, and even the return of its former showrunner can't quite reclaim the spark of the series' glory days, but 'The Office' goes out on a relatively good note, even if we do have to endure some rough patches to get there.
Season Nine features twenty three episodes that once again follow the staff of everybody's favorite Scranton based paper company. After reclaiming his position at the end of last season, Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) serves as the branch's manager, but personal issues (and likely the actor's schedule) see the character exit for a long stretch of the season only to be replaced by… uh, no one. That's right, the office basically goes on without a manager, and somehow this actually kind of works, proving that the best way to replace Steve Carell, was apparently to just not replace him. Meanwhile, Jim and Pam (John Krasinksi & Jenna Fischer) deal with potential marital issues when the former decides to take a new job, and the entire office finally prepares for the airing of the nine-year documentary they've all been the subject of. Laughs, tears, lots of awkwardness, several missteps, and even a few surprises ensue.
Offering a slight "back to basics" approach, the final season sees the return of original showrunner Greg Daniels, who had left fulltime duties on the series at the end of season five. Daniels' return is certainly welcome, and his sensibilities do inject this last batch of episodes with some much needed life. Emphasis is once again placed on general office antics, deriving much of the season's humor from attempts to escape the monotony of work, and there are some genuinely funny situations throughout. Highlights include an episode where the office hits the road in a mobile workstation, the celebration of a traditional Schrute German Christmas, the search for a new part time salesman, and the series finale itself. The comedy still veers too far into the ridiculous from time to time, but the emotional core is strong, giving the central relationships that have carried the series since day one the proper love and respect that they deserve.
To this end, the Jim and Pam storyline becomes one the year's main arcs, and thankfully the writers do an OK job. After a very misguided attempt to add some drama to their relationship in the form of a potential love triangle, the producers (mostly) learn from their past mistakes, and instead offer a different kind of challenge for the seemingly steadfast couple. Faced with stagnation, Jim decides to finally take a risk and pursue a career he has an actual interest in, but the opportunity requires him to move to Philadelphia. This puts an obvious strain on his relationship with his wife and kids and raises bigger questions about where the pair will eventually end up. While the show has struggled to generate any real conflict between the lovers since they finally got together, this predicament mostly rings true (even if it is drawn out a bit), and Fischer and Krasinksi handle the emotional beats well.
In addition to Jim and Pam, Dwight also becomes one of the season's main focuses, and Rainn Wilson really deserves special recognition. The actor has always done a great job in the role, but even after nine seasons, he somehow finds new ways to make his performance feel fresh, hilarious, and ultimately heartfelt. Though his character is one of the show's most exaggerated, the actor does a nice job of grounding his bizarre behavior, and his late season developments are among my favorites. His friendship with Jim and Pam is particularly affecting, and there are some wonderful moments between the three that show just how close they've really become -- even with all the merciless pranks. At the end of the day, the office really is a family, and this last season does a great job of highlighting their humorous, dysfunctional love. That is, with a few very notable exceptions…
Like I stated in my review for season eight, I like Ed Helms as an actor and comedian, but what the writers do here with his character is just downright horrible. Like mind-numbingly terrible. So bad, in fact, that I don't think it really even deserves to be written about. Of course, it's technically my job to write about it, so I'll elaborate, but just so you know, I really don't want to. Essentially, they turn the man into a complete and total jerk -- one without any real redeeming qualities left. And what's worse, they sacrifice every shred of decency, believability, and relatability that the character had, for jokes that… well, for jokes that suck. Pretty much nothing the character does all year is funny. It's just irritating, mean-spirited, and dumb. And don't even get me started on his "relationship" with Erin.
After many trying episodes where their coupling was repeatedly dashed or rekindled, the writers finally had the two get together (again) last season -- and this year they simply decide to throw that all away. Now, I'm not exactly complaining, since I always thought their romance was handled very poorly to begin with, but I can't imagine how cheated actual fans of their relationship must feel. That is, if actual fans of their relationship exist. So much time and effort was put into finally getting them together last year, and to simply toss all that work aside in the abrupt and flippant manner that they do is just plain weird. Likewise, all the writers do in response is simply find another new love interest for Erin to once again offer another slight variation on the Jim and Pam office romance story. Thankfully, I think they eventually realize that no one really cares, as this subplot is oddly ignored more and more as we reach the finale.
Since day one, the series has always been based around the concept of a mockumentary, and many fans have been wondering if this would ever be addressed directly in the show. Well, about halfway through season nine, the curtain is finally pulled away. With the documentary within the show set to actually air, the characters start to discuss it more and more, and in a particularly dramatic and game-changing moment, the writers go so far as to introduce one of the doc's crew members as an onscreen character. While I was initially intrigued by these quasi-meta-fictional developments, all they really lead to are some faintly amusing self referential jokes and another ill-conceived attempt to add conflict to the Halperts' romance (which is thankfully quickly abandoned). With that said, the documentary angle does put the show in a unique position, allowing the characters to literally look back upon their televised experiences and reminisce about their time on the show in a manner that starts to blur the line between fiction and reality, especially during the finale which is full of nostalgic winks to the audience.
As uneven as the season is, the last episode really is pretty good, and though one could nitpick many things (and I will), it's a fitting and appropriately heartfelt farewell for the show. The time jump and subsequent documentary reunion panel are well implemented and there are several strong emotional beats and funny moments between various characters (I found Dwight's talking head about his relationship with his subordinates to be particularly touching). With that said, the whole affair can get overly sentimental and oddly self congratulatory with thinly veiled self-referential commentary about the show's own greatness peppered throughout many of the talking head interviews. Likewise, there are a few developments that feel rushed (Erin's reunion with her birth parents, for instance) or downright out of place (the less said about anything having to do with Ryan, Kelly, Nellie, and that poor, poor baby, the better).
And then, of course, there's Michael Scott. Despite repeated denials (that no one was buying) by the producers and Steve Carell, Michael does of course make a brief cameo in the finale, and while I think his very limited screen time is handled well, I don't quite understand why Daniels and Carell decided to be so ridiculously precious about his appearance. Yes, his farewell in "Goodbye Michael" was a fitting send off, but so what? There was still room for more development and having the character return for a larger stint wasn't going to negate what came before. Likewise, his inclusion here isn't just shoehorned in -- it makes complete sense and, in reality, it would have made a lot more sense if we saw more of him (with the documentary reunion and all).
In fact, as it stands, the character's oddly limited dialogue (he basically has two lines), restricted interaction with the cast, and bizarrely placid demeanor (Carell essentially just smiles wistfully), almost make him seem like an otherworldly apparition. Hell, I half expected Michael to suddenly disappear at one point, only to have Holly arrive alone a bit later to reveal that he actually died in a car crash weeks earlier. Still, nearly phantasmal behavior aside, it's wonderful to see the character again, and though I wanted more, Carell really does nail his two lines perfectly.
At its peak, 'The Office' was one of my favorite shows on TV, and while that peak has long since passed, the series remains entertaining all the way through the end. The last season is a definite mixed bag, with some solid episodes and a decent finale mixed in with a few ill-conceived subplots and head-scratching character arcs. It was an imperfect journey with some notable stumbles along the way, but this was a show that offered nine years of consistent, cringe-worthy laughs, some genuine heart, and perhaps even a bit of beauty and truth -- all under the unassuming glow of fluorescent lights. It probably overstayed its welcome a little, and there definitely were some painful moments, but in the end, it was a pretty satisfying ride...
"That's what she said."
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal presents 'The Office: Season Nine' in a Blu-ray/Digital Copy combo pack. Four BD-50 discs are housed in a foldout case with a cardboard slipcover along with an insert with instructions for a downloadable UltraViolet digital copy. Unfortunately, like the last season, the packaging once again leaves a bit to be desired, as disc one and three are housed partially on top of two and four, requiring you take out the top disc in order to get to the bottom Blu-ray. After some skippable trailers, the discs transition to standard menus.
Like the previous season, the show is presented in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 or 1080p/VC-1 transfers depending on the disc. I'm not sure why Universal decided to switch up the video codecs on this release, but I didn't detect any notable differences between the two. All of the episodes are in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Essentially in line with how the show has looked on Blu-ray in the past, this is a simple, mostly problem free presentation that suits the show just fine.
Shot digitally in high definition, the source is clean and free from any notable artifacts like noise or banding. Clarity is very solid, with a sharp image that offers nice fine details throughout the modest office setting. Whites tend to look a tad overexposed at times, but overall contrast is well balanced with steady black levels. The show's flat lighting design doesn't lend itself to much dimension, and colors veer toward a more restrained natural palette, but the image is always pleasing with no major technical issues.
With a clean and nicely detailed image, 'The Office' finishes its run on Blu-ray without any snags or hiccups. The show has never been a visual standout, but the transfer conveys the intended style very well.
The series is provided with English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Again, like the video, the audio mixes are on par with previous seasons, and though perfectly fine, the soundstage is small and unremarkable
Speech is crisp and nicely prioritized, giving the dialogue centric presentation proper balance. The track as a whole is very restrained and front-loaded with little activity. Slight office ambiance (typing, printers) can be heard, but these effects don't really add up to much. Occasional directionality is present (a car driving by) but any real sense of immersion is rare. Range is on the flat side and bass activity is negligible (there aren't too many opportunities for deep low frequencies in a paper company).
Straight to the point, the show has always had very basic, no-frills audio, and this last season is no different. The audio fits fine with the content, but does little else.
Universal has provided a nice collection of special features, including lots of deleted scenes, bloopers, audition tapes, and a table read. Unfortunately, like the previous season, there are no commentary tracks, not even on the finale. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and English SDH and Spanish subtitles (unless noted otherwise).
'The Office: Season Nine' offers a flawed but still enjoyable farewell season for the popular sitcom. The show doesn't come close to reclaiming its past glory, but it still goes out on a solid note, providing some decent laughs and heartfelt emotion. The video and audio are on par with previous seasons, giving viewers a modest but fitting technical presentation. Though the lack of commentaries is disappointing, the included deleted scenes and featurettes are worthwhile. Though this is still one of the show's weakest seasons, there are some genuinely good episodes peppered throughout this set and despite some issues, the finale is well done. Those who remain fans should be pleased with this release, and even those who gave up on the show years ago might want to give it a shot.