'The Office' Finale: A Footnote

The NBC comedy capitalized on its "mockumentary" style, one last time.

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Per comedic convention, "The Office" ended with a wedding.

Angela and Dwight's wedding was as delightfully bizarre as one would expect – from the "traditional" kidnapping of the bride for the bachelor party, to the vows said in the couples' graves "as a reminder that this is the only escape from what they are about to do."

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The wedding motif also allowed "The Office" to twist one of its greatest tropes: after years of tormenting Dwight, as his "best mensch" (a role he would ultimately give to Michael Scott, who makes a surprise appearance) Jim uses his ingenuity to celebrate Dwight and his union with Angela, rather than torture him.

Wedding shenanigans aside, "The Office" finale also benefited from one of its most influential legacies: the "mockumentary." Inspired by the dryer, sharper British series, The Office will be remembered for popularizing the fake documentary format, a framing device now being replicated on shows like "Parks and Recreation" and "Modern Family."

For nine seasons, cameras captured not only the amusing banality (an oxymoron, I know) of life at Dunder Mifflin, but also allowed each character to comment on the situational antics from his or her point of view. It's a device that enriched both the construction of each episode and the development of its characters.

"The Office" succumbed to a mid-series slump, particularly after the departure of Michael Scott and its efforts to grow storylines outside the Dunder Mifflin offices. But it injected fresh life into its final stretch by further twisting the mockumentary concept. After years of its characters subtly acknowledging their fictional filmmakers with a head nod or a smirk, "The Office" tore through the fourth wall completely, particularly with the cast's realization just how much of their lives had been taped and Pam's flirtation with one of the cameramen.

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(As an aside, the storyline of Jim and Pam's marriage troubles also made later episodes more compelling than "The Office" had been in seasons. Nothing raises the stakes on a show like putting its emotional core in jeopardy.)

It's fitting than that "The Office" capitalized on this in its last episode. Finales always present a challenge for comedies: how do you honor a show's history without sinking into outright nostalgia. They tend to be clumsy, like the final "Seinfeld" trial sequence, or outright chaotic, like the conclusion of "30 Rock."

"The Office" handled its finale as well as it could have, shaping it around a reunion being filmed for the "documentary's" DVD special (which Jim and Pam conveniently convinced the producers to host the weekend of the wedding). Taking us a year into the future, it showed some of the characters have already moved on – some (like Stan, living the good retirement life in Florida) better than others (like Toby, who suffers from full on depression). This, at least partially, addressed an existential anxiety within any TV show's conclusion: what will the characters do without an audience? Some will change and some will stay exactly the same.

The "reunion special" (such a staple of reality TV now that Bravo often gives them multiple episodes) also allowed a forum for the characters to resolve some of their concerns: old (Erin finally finds her birth parents) and relatively new (Pam and Jim discuss staying in Scranton at the cost of Jim's sports agent career – a decision reversed by episode's end, anyway).

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Finally, it gave the characters a chance to wax on about what having their lives taped meant. Their conclusions were sentimental to the point of cheesiness, but in an era of reality television, far more cynical than the fake "The Office" could ever be, their earnestness was nevertheless endearing.

It was also an appropriately meta-way for the real show to stake out its own contributions to Thursday nights.

At least some viewers will agree with its characters' guesses at what "The Office" – really or fake – ultimately meant.