Season Finale — The Office, “Search Committee”

Like many of the series I’ve written about this week, I haven’t checked in on The Office for a bit. Thursdays are always busy for me and the series isn’t in a position where it MUST be written about each week. I thought about writing something during Michael Scott’s goodbye, but so many other people chimed in with great thoughts that it felt aimless and frivolous to really bring another voice into the already crowded, loud discussion. But thanks to a few series ended their seasons last week and my desire to talk about this particular episode, it seemed worthwhile to jot down at least a few stray, general thoughts about life after Michael and some specific thoughts about “Search Committee” in particular.

Obviously, filling Michael’s shoes was going to be a difficult task and unfortunately, The Office got off to a disastrous foot with Will Ferrell’s character Deangelo Vickers. And if you watched those episodes, you probably know that using the word “character” in reference to Deangelo is being nice. The scenes with Vickers are better off forgotten, that’s for sure. But despite my hesitance towards any storyline that involves Dwight in power, I found last week’s episode to be particularly enjoyable, charming, funny and comforting. The ending was unfortunate and surely part of my enjoyment of the episode stemmed from the fact that I knew Dwight’s tenure would not last, but “Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager” proved that The Office could actually survive without Steve Carell.

The hour-long season finale, “Search Committee” is definitely less successful than “(Acting) Manager,” but some of the contexts that surround the episode make me question what is really the issue here. First of all, it’s nearly a proven science that hour-long or super-sized episodes of The Office are not very good. The hour-long episodes that kicked off season four ranged from moderately terrible to just OK in a lot of ways. However, a number of the longer episodes built around a very specific and major event, such as the corporate job in season three’s “The Job” or the Halpert-Beasley wedding in “Niagara,” actually worked pretty well. In these respects, “Search Committee” falls somewhere in the middle. The cavalcade of zany applicants, both in and out of house, gives the episode much-needed structure, but this episode still feels disjointed and sometimes padded in spots.

Moreover, turning the search committee into an “event” is problematic in its own right. It is obviously an opportunity to bring in some big name guest stars and those sorts of people are in no short supply here. But there’s a weird tension going on with this episode that’s difficult to really process. The slew of new characters in a relatively short time-span means that we won’t really get to know any of these candidates, no matter how much time the episode spends on them. Moreover, our external knowledge of the various guest stars’ circumstances certainly colors the enjoyment of the episode. We know Will Arnett’s Up All Night is going to series, so he’s out. We know Ray Romano has Men of a Certain Age, so he’s out. We know Warren Buffett is not an actor, so he’s out. We presumably know that Ricky Gervais as much better things to do, so he’s out. Jim Carrey’s too big of a star and doesn’t get enough time to even be considered a candidate within the series’ universe, so he’s out.

This only leaves James Spader and Catherine Tate, the two actors who are relatively free and could probably benefit from being on The Office, which just happens to coincide with the episode’s more detailed development of their respective characters. I don’t want to say that my knowledge of the recent THR report that the Office brass really want Tate back totally ruined the scenes with Arnett or Romano or Buffett, but that knowledge certainly did…something to my viewing of this episode. For what it is worth, I enjoyed both Spader and Tate’s characters and would be willing to see them return, either permanently or not.

Finally, there’s the knowledge that the production team really had no final decision in mind when this episode was written, shot, edited, etc. Showrunner Paul Liberstein has been saying for months that they probably wouldn’t decide until the summer or maybe into next season, so this episode’s meandering build to a cliffhanger isn’t really substantial. Anyone who has been on the internet over the past two months and likes reading about the series probably already knew there wasn’t going to be a choice made. That makes the parade of guest stars feel even more artificial and problematic.

But despite all of that, “Search Committee” was often fairly good. Although many of the non-Michael stories were undercooked this season, I liked the way that this episode handled the weird Phyllis-Erin subplot, Gabe’s growing rage and whatever the hell it is that’s happening with Angela and her probably gay husband. All three of those stories were underdeveloped and not especially good throughout the season, but I really liked the group’s agreement to not ruin Angela’s storybook marriage and I surprisingly enjoyed Phyllis and Erin’s interactions. I’m glad they aren’t mother and daughter, but they had a few cute scenes together.

More importantly, this episode did right by those current Dunder Mifflin employees going for the manager’s job. It was smart how the episode played our expectations about Darryl against us, almost pointing out that his overconfidence in getting the job mirrored the fans’ common sense perspective on how he deserved it. Outside of Jim and Dwight, he probably is the most qualified, but that’s sort of an assumption we’ve been making because he’s not INSANE or WACKY, which is basically the same assumption he made when walking in to the interview. Andy’s interview went predictably bad and I’m glad they didn’t push him too hard. Unfortunately, Kelly got the short-shift a bit, but perhaps Mindy Kaling’s growing stock means she won’t be around as much in the future.

And surprisingly, this was a really good episode for Dwight and Jim. Despite his stupid actions last week, Dwight is most certainly the most dedicated and honestly, probably the most qualified person for the job. I appreciated that not only did the writers stray from having him act like a complete fool (the burn victim stuff was harmless in the grand scheme of things), the episode actually embraced Dwight’s dedication. I still don’t think he will get the job because it just doesn’t work long-term, but I’m fine with his name still being in the running as we move forward into season eight and the decision that is hopefully coming soon.

Finally, “Committee” is an interesting episode for Jim and his place in this office. It’s sort of weird that basically everyone (including Jo) respects him the most and understands that he should probably be in charge, but he’s just not going to be. I understand the reasoning for that, but I think this episode found a nice middle ground for the character, where he can be at the front of the office leading conversations without totally losing himself to the position. The last few episodes keep hinting at the fact that he might change his mind at the last-minute and just take the job himself, but we know he will not. Similarly, Jim is basically trying to figure out how to pick the person that will annoy him least in the future, but the series’ place as an awkward workplace sitcom suggests that the opposite will happen — which makes him look bad. It’s just so odd and those tensions certainly impacted by overall enjoyment of this episode, but I’m not even really sure how.

Let’s just end it this way: I did like “Search Committee” and am optimistic about The Office moving into season eight. But the series has to get through this transitional time and this awful stunts before I can really make a ruling.

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