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Why I Love Seasons 8 + 9 of The Office (Even Though the Magic Isn’t Quite There Anymore)

 The cast of The Office for most of its history. Image via  Wired
The cast of The Office for most of its history. Image via Wired

I remember the first time I ever saw an episode of the US remake of The Office very well. It was on a school trip to New York in 2011, and one night in the hotel we were watching reruns on NBC. It was the episode ‘Women’s Appreciation’ from Season 3. And I loved it! In the UK, Ricky Gervais’ original series had long been hailed as one of the best comedy series ever made, and I had known that an American version starring Steve Carell had been running for a few years in the States, but I’d never thought to watch either of them. In all honesty, at the time I think I only knew Steve Carell from his role in ‘Bruce Almighty’, which was followed up by the starring role in ‘Evan Almighty’ (side note – I actually really like ‘Evan Almighty’, even if it seems to be mostly cast aside nowadays). I only managed to catch the one episode whilst out there, but it stayed with me.

Soon after returning home, I sought out the first and second seasons boxsets and binged them very quickly. This practice then continued for every season released up to that point (the first 5 I think, I’m pretty sure the first episode I watched live on TV was episode 1 of Season 6). The show became a firm favourite, I would rewatch it 2 or 3 times in a year those first few years of my fandom. It became something I still hold very dear to my heart, now nearly 6 years since the finale aired. The characters, the writing, and honestly the Mockumentary style were all encapsulating to me, and in a lot of ways I feel like it gave me an idea of what adulthood could be like, albeit in a mostly fictionalised way.

In 2018, I opted to give the show a rest for a year so that in 2019 I could come back to the show anew and rekindle a love for moments that I think I had started to take for granted a little. Now, here we are in 2019 and I’ve just finished rewatching the series, and I’m honestly so glad I took that year away! Whilst it was all still familiar to me and I could remember jokes that were coming up, I found them coming at me with renewed vigour. And on top of that, different characters started to pop for me in ways they hadn’t before, even Gabe! I was excited to keep going and going in a way I hadn’t been since the first time I binged the show back in 2011.

 The main cast of The Office Season 8 (Robert California excluded). Image via  Netflix
The main cast of The Office Season 8 (Robert California excluded). Image via Netflix

However, there did come a moment of trepidation for me, and I’m sure based on the title you can work out that, upon finishing Season 7 and saying goodbye to Michael Scott, I was a little worried about coming into Seasons 8 and 9. I’d never really had a problem with them in the past, although I’d happily admit they would likely be lower in my estimations than most other seasons of the show. And having only recently joined Reddit at the time, I think I’d become even more worried upon seeing that some people in the Dunder Mifflin subreddit really don’t rate the seasons very highly at all. Of course, I was obviously going to watch them, and whilst I did so, I thought I’d take notes to see if I could get a good idea of my overall opinions on the season. And I’ll admit that I was surprised to find quite how positive the notes were for the most part.

I’m going to start by talking about Season 8 and its biggest change, because I think we can all mostly agree that it’s the weakest of the 2 seasons, and possibly the weakest the show has to offer. Obviously, it’s the first season trying to find its feet after losing Steve Carell’s Michael Scott, the man who had been front and centre of perhaps 90% of the show so far. I would never want to detract from Michael, he is a massive part of the show, and without him I don’t think the show would have past the first or second seasons (Steve Carell’s then blossoming film career of course ended up getting the second season picked up, but we’ll set that aside for this). The really interesting thing about Michael to me is that whilst he is undeniably funny, and someone you end up rooting for even against your better judgement at times, I wonder how many people would actually call him their favourite character? The effective star of the show, and of the many people I’ve spoken to about the show, not a single person has named him as their favourite, and rarely have I even heard him named in the 2nd or 3rd spot. Of course, I’d love to hear your thoughts, I’m sure we’ll find a fair few who would like to prove me wrong on this case.

The point I want to make here, however, is that whilst Michael is a full and rounded character, I feel like the people we most want to hear about and spend time with are the rest of the cast – in earlier seasons this is especially true of Dwight, Jim and Pam. Michael at times would feel more like a plot device than an actual character earlier in the show, especially in his more unlikeable form as he was back then. Whilst Michael was always the star, it was the characters around him we really came to love and invest in. When he slowly started growing into a far more mellow and lovable character in his later seasons, he was still among other characters we knew and loved and wanted to spend time with – by this point practically the whole ensemble had been fleshed out too! It was always an ensemble show at its heart rather than a Star-Vehicle, I would argue. This has all been a roundabout way of saying that I really don’t understand people who stopped watching just because Michael left. If across the whole of those first 7 seasons you only had time for Michael, I question if you actually enjoyed the show or just liked Steve Carell? Moving on…

 Andy Bernard in the episode ‘Andy’s Ancestry’. Image via  Vulture
Andy Bernard in the episode ‘Andy’s Ancestry’. Image via Vulture

So, Season 8 starts, and Michael has, in effect, been replaced by 2 different people. Replaced as Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton by Robert California first and foremost, who on his first day drives to Florida and talks the CEO, Jo Bennett, out of her job and takes it for himself. He then, of course goes on to hire Andy in his place as the Regional Manager. Let’s start with Andy. Until this year, I never really understood why it was Andy who was made the Manager. Seemed the wrong choice to me. My frequent thought on the matter was that he didn’t suit the job, never really showed himself to be very good at his sales job at the company, and on the whole seemed to be a character that some people loved and other people hated. Outside of the show, Ed Helms had been on of the stars of the incredibly successful Hangover film series, and so I just assumed it was a star power thing. Maybe it was, in all honesty. But in watching the series anew this year, it suddenly started to make sense to me.

Robert California (who we’ll come to in a minute), when asked by Andy why he chose him for the job, explains that he wanted someone who the rest of the staff could rally around, which I do actually think Andy embodies pretty well. In truth, in his job as Manager, Andy is perhaps at his most successful as a character, in Season 8 especially. I always had images in mind of him being ill-fitting for the job, but across this rewatch, I couldn’t help but think ‘actually, he’s pretty good at this, and people seem to like him’. Of course, there is a point in which this all starts to change, and by the end of Season 8 and throughout the majority of his time in Season 9, Andy becomes almost the bad guy of the series. Some people would say this starts when he returns to Dunder Mifflin and finds Nellie Bertram (more on her later) has taken his job, causing him to flip out and lose control of his anger. Personally, I think it started a couple of episodes later, when he set his own consequences in motion by deciding to go down to Florida and bring Erin back. There’s an interesting post made on Reddit a few years ago on the potential reason why Andy becomes such a jerk in Season 9 (you can read it here if you like) and upon reading it, I started to accept it as the likely cause in the end for Andy’s bad direction in Season 9. The way he treats Erin and Nellie especially really grinds my gears to the point of genuine disdain for him in those moments.

That said though, I do think Andy is redeemed a little in the end of his character arc, it makes perfect sense that a character who seems to suffer at least some form of arrested development would go on to try and become famous in any way he can, only to become famous for a pathetic outburst on a TV show that goes viral. He of course ends up working at his beloved Cornell university, and putting a positive spin on this otherwise dark moment in his past. I think his arc in Season 9 is pretty rubbish honestly, but I think he works incredibly well in Season 8 as the underling of James Spader’s Robert California. Speaking of whom…

 Robert California in the episode ‘Turf War’. GIF via  Tenor
Robert California in the episode ‘Turf War’. GIF via Tenor

I love Robert California. That’s all there is to it. He’s a character that so many people hate, and yet so many people love him too. I’m firmly in the latter camp. When I found out he’d be joining the show after his cameo in the Season 7 finale, I almost punched the sky. Robert California is a no-nonsense kind of guy, who also has a side that is very willing to watch nonsense unfold, especially later in the season. I think the biggest mistake made in Season 8 is not having Robert as the Regional Manager. But then again, I almost feel like if he had been the Regional Manager, the job title would almost have been too small for him to settle his ego into. But then, perhaps that would have made it all the funnier? Either way, I really think he was used far too sparingly, and the writers should have been far more willing to lean into him than they ended up doing.

He’s a character with a menacing side we rarely get to see, but when we do it brings something to the show that it barely ever sees – take the phone call to Andy in which he proclaims himself ‘the F**king Lizard King’. It comes completely out of nowhere, he’s had his moments of weirdness in the past, but in this moment upon being challenged by an employee he’s just recently fired, he lets his true colours show. I’d have loved to see full-on dark side Robert California. On top of this, he’s clearly an incredibly intelligent man, engaging in verbal trickery frequently in order to manipulate events into how he wants them to go. And yet, in equal measure, he has moments in which his eccentricities (or some would say ‘character flaws’) are fully on show, for example the episode ‘Pool Party’ in which, following the finalisation of his divorce, he has the staff over for one last party in his house before he has to leave it. He takes a group on a tour of the house, moping about the parties and nights of excitement he never got to have in a house he had bought solely for those moments. Upon returning to the pool and discovering one of those mourned nights has been happening right under his nose, he promptly disrobes and skinny dips, before spending a night watching Ryan and Gabe (desperate to impress him) dance naked. Unfortunately, for the most part it felt like he was treated as a guest character rather than a starring character. Until the last few episodes he rarely did any of the talking head pieces to camera that the show does so well, and I think if he had done more earlier in the show, and we’d had a better idea of his view of things earlier, his character would potentially have found more love from the fanbase.

 Nellie Bertram in the episode ‘Angry Andy’. Image via  Dunderpedia
Nellie Bertram in the episode ‘Angry Andy’. Image via Dunderpedia

I think perhaps one of the main reasons people have a harder time enjoying these 2 seasons is the addition of new characters who seem to get as much screen time as the recurring cast when they perhaps haven’t earned it? The biggest offender here would almost definitely be Catherine Tate’s Nellie Bertram. Now, I’ll admit that when it comes to Catherine Tate, I have some bias. Here in the UK, Catherine Tate is, or at least was for a long time, something of a household name in the 21st Century. On top of that, she portrays Donna Noble, my favourite companion in my favourite TV show, Doctor Who. Odd, thinking about it, that she’s actually been in both of my favourite shows, considering she came to prominence for her self-titled Sketch-Comedy show.

Nellie arrives on the scene during the Florida storyline in the latter half of Season 8 (following on from her cameo in Season 7’s finale). During the Florida storyline, she’s a character who’s quite hard to like to be honest. Even upon arriving in Scranton and stealing Andy’s job, she’s not that likeable. But from the next episode onwards, in which we get to know more of her backstory and quite how tragic a life she’s lived/is living, she’s becomes a genuinely sympathetic character. Add to this Andy’s awful treatment of her upon his return, and I really struggle to see why you couldn’t root for her at least on a base level. Sadly (for me and a likely minority at least) as Season 9 and its story arcs really start to get going and the show starts trying to wrap up 9 years’ worth of story for the main cast, she does become a little bit side-lined. I think it’s a shame, and much like with Robert California, if the character of Nellie had been leaned into a little more, I think people may have started to see her as a really enjoyable character, even arriving to the series as late as she did.

 Erin Hannon in the episode ‘The Boat’. Image via  IMDB
Erin Hannon in the episode ‘The Boat’. Image via IMDB

The final solo character I really want to touch on who I think really comes into her own across these 2 seasons is Erin. Arriving in the latter stages of Season 5 as a replacement receptionist following Pam leaving to join the Michael Scott Paper Company, Erin started reasonably quiet. Across seasons 6 and 7, as her quirks started to show, she became one of my favourite characters in the whole show, especially because I genuinely buy Ellie Kemper in the role. She fits it so perfectly, and embodies Erin with a child-like wonder that I think only Ellie Kemper could have pulled off. In Seasons 8 and 9, her character arc starts with her unrequited love for Andy (which is actually rather requited even though he’s in a relationship), sees her decide to stay in Florida after the work trip because she can’t face being around Andy anymore, sees her getting with Andy properly, then after a few months sees her basically abandoned by Andy as he goes on a 3 month trip and barely makes contact with her. Then, we of course find her in a situation that mirrors the very beginning of the show a little bit, in her infatuation with newly hired Pete from customer support, whom she ultimately ends up dating. Across these 2 seasons, I think Erin really starts to grow up and sees the world from a new point of view, she really grows in confidence and starts to see that a little bit of self-belief suits her. And of course, you’ve got to mention the moment in the finale in which she finally meets her real parents at a fan discussion for the documentary within the show (played by Joan Cusack and Ed Begley, Jr in some casting that works so well for what is only a bit part. It’s almost a shame we don’t get to meet them earlier as I’d have loved to see the 3 of them interact together in a full storyline).

 The Office Season 9 cast photo. Image via  Caltimes
The Office Season 9 cast photo. Image via Caltimes

I’m hoping by now that you’re starting to get an idea of exactly why I think watching Seasons 8 and 9 of The Office is an absolute must if you’re a fan of the previous 7 seasons – it’s the characters! Sure, for the most part I’ve touched on new characters here who I think deserve a little more credit and goodwill than they’re given, but let’s be real here. You watched Seasons 1-7 not just for Michael, but for the cast. You watched to see Jim and Pam finally get together and bloom into what I would call the best TV couple there has ever been (although I will gladly listen to Michael and Holly arguments). You watched to see Ryan and Kelly fight, break up and make up on a regular basis. You watched to see what outlandish thing would come out of Creed’s mouth this week. The reason you watch The Office is because you love these characters, this ensemble that over 7 years has become so tight-knit that you almost feel like you’re a part of it. So why on Earth would you stop just because one character has gone? If anything, it gives the rest of the characters more time to shine, and honestly, I’m all for that.

Looking strictly at Season 9, I’d say that as a final season of a show it works brilliantly. One of the big things I see people give as a reason for not wanting to watch this far is Jim and Pam’s storyline in Season 9. Without wanting to go into it too much, it’s fair to say that their relationship becomes very strained this season. I can understand to some extent that people will find it uncomfortable, watching these 2 characters who are nigh-on perfect for each other struggle after all these years of happiness – I’m right there with you! But then, I don’t think it’s supposed to be comfortable? In fact, I’d say it’s supposed to be incredibly uncomfortable to watch as fans of the show – just as it would be uncomfortable for Jim and Pam to be dealing with themselves. We’ve been there wanting them to get together when they’ve been wanting it, we’ve been there happy for them during their proposal, their wedding, the birth of their child. So why shouldn’t we be there when things get a little bit tougher for the 2 of them?

I think as a storyline, it’s written pretty well, a good grasp on why each character is thinking and feeling the way they are is given. Ultimately, I think it’s pretty clear that one of them was largely in the wrong compared to the other, but it’s in the journey towards it that it all becomes so much clearer. I think it’s good that a show that is (mostly) based in reality is willing to show that the ‘perfect couple’ are very capable of going through rough patches, and that neither side is necessarily fully wrong or right. Life isn’t all perfect and happily ever after, and in showing that, I would argue the writers keep the show far more grounded than if Jim and Pam had just waltzed through the series quipping about the people around them whilst their life was perfect.

 Jim and Pam in a talking head segment. Image via  ScreenRant
Jim and Pam in a talking head segment. Image via ScreenRant

And of course, across these last 2 seasons, we see the friendship and camaraderie between Dwight and Jim grow, and it’s really great to see. There are some beats between the two of them as Season 9 progresses especially that are very touching, in a way that you definitely wouldn’t expect from Dwight. Admittedly, Dwight is the focus of what I would call the worst episode of the show altogether in Season 9 (‘The Farm’), but following that hiccup, he spends the last few episodes of the season up to and including the finale in a brilliant place and position. I’d be remiss not to mention Angela, too. She’s a character who at times is very hard to love, but as everything comes tumbling down around her in the back half of Season 9, it’s really hard not to genuinely feel for her.

Finally, I’ve obviously got to talk about the finale, which is honestly just brilliant. There are a few things in there I’m not so keen on (Poor Kevin!), but on the whole, it wraps up the show perfectly, and I’m not ashamed to say it still gets the tears flowing every time I watch it. It not only ties up the overarching story the show had been telling, but it ties up storylines from the final season with a neat bow in a way that some Series finales might just drift over. There’s not really a lot more I want to say than that. Even if you were to skip Seasons 8 and 9, the finale needs to be seen by any fan of the show. It’ll just mean a whole lot more when you’ve watched them beforehand.

 Most of the cast of The Office’s Finale episode. Image via  NYTimes
Most of the cast of The Office’s Finale episode. Image via NYTimes

There we have it then. A few of my thoughts and feelings about the final 2 Seasons of The Office, a show that I think I will continue to revisit for many years to come. If you’ve never watched the final 2 seasons, I hope I’ve at least piqued your interest a little, and if you have watched them and aren’t a fan, maybe I’ve given you pause for thought on something you weren’t so keen on. The Office was a Mockumentary about the work and lives of the staff of Dunder Mifflin Scranton. But that was just the setup. The real brilliance of this show was its excellent characters, the relationships between them, and how invested we became in their story.

 

By Matt Dobbie

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