Warning: We're talking about the current happenings on The Office, including last night's episode, so please feel free to skip this entry if you are still holding out and haven't been keeping up.
The Office is clearly having a lot of trouble saying goodbye to its good-hearted nightmare of a boss, Michael Scott, and to Steve Carell, who plays him.
A couple of episodes back, in the lovely episode "Garage Sale," Michael's co-workers helped him propose to his girlfriend, Holly Flax (Amy Ryan). They did it out of kindness, but they also did it to help him avoid disaster, and because they like Holly and wanted her to have a good experience also. And at that time, they didn't know Michael was leaving, so it wasn't so much a goodbye as it was a simple gesture of decency to a guy they knew meant well, particularly where Holly was concerned.
Last night, in Carell's penultimate episode, Michael headed up his final Dundie Awards, the ceremony we first saw in the second-season opener — a critical episode that did a lot to set the tone for the series. This round of Dundies was unfortunately dominated by the efforts to squeeze in Will Ferrell, whose guest appearances, as the new boss we all know isn't staying, have proved distracting and unnecessary in exactly the way many of us feared. There's no real purpose for Ferrell's character in the story, the writers don't seem sure what his personality is, and while Ferrell is doing his best, it's really not working. The episode suffered for it, and for the first 90 percent or so, there wasn't much to it.
With all that said, the episode closed on a terrific moment that showed, as the story of Michael Scott and his co-workers always has, a lot of thoughtfulness about what it means to be kind to people. After the Dundies were forced to relocate back to the Dunder Mifflin offices, the employees performed a song for Michael, set to "Seasons Of Love," from Rent. It was exactly the kind of goofy, stupid, ultimately warm-hearted stunt that Michael loves most. He loves performances, bits, parody songs — he loves moments, and they gave him a doozy.
Very wisely, the show didn't include the employees talking about doing this for Michael. Not only was that helpful because it made it a surprise, but it left the audience with the really satisfying opportunity to imagine what that discussion must have been like.
Because here's the thing — nobody did this because it's the way they express affection. Nobody did this because they, given the choice, would choose a Broadway adaptation as a send-off. They all think this is just as corny as you do. (Except maybe Kevin, who might think it's cool. Okay, and Andy.) Toby doesn't want to be doing this, Jim doesn't want to be doing this — they're doing this because this is what Michael likes.
And in that sense, it's kind of a beautiful comment on kindness. They know Michael well enough, and they care about him enough, to meet him where he is, and to do what will mean something to him. It's all well and good to show touching conversations where people say how much they mean to each other — and the previews suggest next week may have some of that — but this was a particularly nice acknowledgment that these people get Michael, and they've stopped fighting his personality. They've stopped fighting the things about him that would make you cringe, and they're embracing those things long enough to genuinely try to give him the gift he wants, not the gift they'd be inclined to give. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.