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'The Office': A season finale worth watching

May 15, 2008 |  9:51 pm

After an uneven post-strike season, "The Office" came back tonight with a funny ensemble episode that hearkened back to some previous plot lines and obviously left open questions for next season.  It got off to a very promising start, going back to a basic plot point of the show: Jim (John Krasinksi) torturing Dwight (Rainn Wilson) by posing as him on the phone via devious means.  The show could be all Jim and Dwight and it wouldn't be half bad. 

The main setup for the episode was that it was Toby's (Paul Lieberstein) last day, which is a shame because his hound-dog expression and monotone voice have provided a lot of laughs throughout the show.  So has Michael's (Steve Carell) loathing of Toby, placing his view of HR as the killjoy enemy on Toby's unassuming shoulders.  In order to celebrate Toby's leaving, Michael ordered an extravagant party, but first he had to meet Toby's replacement Holly (Amy Ryan). After distrusting her, Michael found himself falling for her, as Holly was in some ways the female Michael, only more competent and socially savvy. 

As is the case with the best "Office" episodes, it was the little details that made the difference, such as the two photos of Toby in the break room that were supposed to make up his farewell slideshow. Another highlight was the interaction between Holly and Kevin (Brian Baumgartner).  As a joke, Dwight told Holly that Kevin was mentally slow, and Holly believed it, treated him as such, and Kevin thus thought she had a crush on him.  Thanks to Kevin's personality, the joke worked.  "She's cute and helpful," Kevin marveled, after she helped him figure out what to get from the vending machine.

The one weak point was Jim's intended proposal to Pam (Jenna Fischer), which cynical viewers suspected would get complicated in some way.  Jim being interrupted by Andy's (Ed Helms) surprise proposal to Angela (Angela Kinsey) would certainly put a damper on things, but why couldn't they go out for milkshakes afterward and laugh about it and Jim propose then?  It's understandable that Pam would be disappointed by the nonexistent proposal, but would she really have tears in her eyes about it?  The situation just seemed a little stretched for season-finale tension for a couple that has otherwise had such a happy, normal relationship thus far. 

After some promising chemistry with Holly, Michael came face to face with Jan, who was pregnant but not with his child.  This was somewhat similar to the finale of season two, wherein Michael was choosing between two women (one of whom was Jan), not to mention that Jim and Pam were at another crossroads. 

A few other twists were thrown into the episode, such as a last-minute tryst between Dwight and Angela, Pam being accepted into art school in New York and Jim telling off Ryan before Ryan got arrested for fraud, all of which obviously served to set things up for next season. Hopefully the new season won't rely too much on soap opera-y drama, because what made tonight's finale funny and satisfying was that it involved the entire cast and was rooted in some real-life office situations, which brings humor from small believable scenarios and not off-the-wall conceits. 

--Claire Zulkey