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'The Office' season finale

Posted by Matthew Gilbert  May 20, 2011 06:22 AM

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I'm not a fan of sitcoms stretched to an hour. Compression is an essential part of the format, and when shows like "The Office" stretch out they too often lose their sharpness.

Case in point, last night's "Office" finale, which had maybe a good 20 minutes and then a whole mess 'o dull filler. The guests were fine, each slightly amusing and mostly what you might expect. It was a plus that their cameos interviewing to be the next Scranton manager were short bits. Will Arnett was an arrogant fool -- he seems to have a trademark on that type -- as he refused to share his secret for building sales numbers. James Spader was creepy smart, and dropped lines like "Everything is sex." Ray Romano was painfully neurotic, and too easily manipulated by Spader. Ricky Gervais was David Brent, and it was great to see the original "Office" boss again, if briefly. Jim Carrey was kookily obsessed with the Finger Lakes -- "People disappear in the Finger Lakes," he said -- while Warren Buffett was frugal.

Most of all, I liked Catherine Tate, who is reportedly the front runner in the race for new boss. As a woman with no center, who changed her point of view with the wind, she brought back some of the show's old cringe factor. The fact that her character is friendly with Kathy Bates' Jo only makes her ascention seem more likely.

The regular "Office" characters who went for the job -- Andy, Dwight, Darryl, Kelly -- ranged from funny (Kelly) to tedious (Dwight). With his pink sweater and green pants, Andy was sweet, as always, while Erin cheered him on. Andy is now afraid to go out with Erin, mostly, it seems, because he's more comfortable in an unrequited situation. And the subplot of Angela getting engaged to the gay senator was entertaining. I love her cluelessness -- she doesn't understand she's a photo op for him -- and her nastiness about Pam and Jim's wedding was a nice swipe.

I also like the way the writers had Phyllis as the potential mother of Erin. It was a great example of the way this series can be touching without making you want to shower afterward.

NBC has decided to wait until the fall to announce the new boss. They want us to spend the summer guessing. And while that's clearly one way to try to milk as much ratings juice as possible out of Steve Carell's departure, it tries our patience. This show is already past its prime, and NBC is running the risk of making us stop caring.

Who, if anyone, do you think would be the best choice for boss? Did you like the finale? 

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Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

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