Jim Halpert declared it to be the “best prank ever” and that’s exactly what it was when Steve Carell made a surprise appearance on the final episode of “The Office” Thursday night.
In the 75-minute series finale seen on NBC, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) married Angela (Angela Kinsey), and Ryan Howard and Kelly Kapoor ran off together as B.J. Novak and Mindy Kaling both returned for the finale as guests at Dwight and Angela’s wedding.
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But it was the Carell appearance that came as the night’s biggest surprise. It was a prank in two ways — in the episode’s storyline and in real life, as cast members and producers, including showrunner Greg Daniels, denied repeatedly in recent weeks that Carell would appear in the final episode.
The question came up frequently in interviews conducted in the weeks leading up to the finale: Would Carell, the original star of the show who played regional manager Michael Scott until he left after Season Seven, make a cameo appearance in the finale?
The rumors that Carell would turn up were fueled further when it was reported that Carell was spotted on the set during the filming of the finale. But again and again, Daniels and others - including cast members appearing on various talk shows - insisted that Carell was merely "visiting" the set and would not appear in the finale.
And yet, he did appear as part of a “prank” staged by Jim (John Krasinski) as Best Man for Dwight.
Carell, as Scott, suddenly appeared when Jim informed Dwight, just minutes before the marriage ceremony, that he would have to relinquish the Best Man role because of an obscure Amish rule that said a Best Man must be older than the groom - disqualifying Jim. But then, as a surprise to Dwight, Carell suddenly appeared, and took over the Best Man's responsibilities, to Dwight's delight. That's when Jim turned to the camera and said, "Best. Prank. Ever." Those of us watching at home, who had been hearing the denials by Daniels and others for weeks, had to agree; we knew we'd been had.
Carell was glimpsed just a few times after that — but he did have one great line of dialogue. Watching the newly married Dwight and Angela chatting with the show’s other lovebirds, Jim and wife Pam (Jenna Fischer), Carell turned to the camera and said, “I feel like all my kids grew up and married each other. It’s every parent’s dream!”
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The expanded “Office” episode, which brought the curtain down after nine seasons, was long on both sentiment and comedy. The story took place a year after the documentary about this regional office of a paper company aired on PBS. That was the show’s premise all along — that a documentary crew was filming these “real people” in their “real” work environment for what turned out to be nine years.
In the finale, the documentary crew returned to film additional footage for the doc's DVD package. The additional material would also include footage to be shot at an on-stage appearance by all of the "Office" workers, who would reunite before a live audience in an auditorium in Scranton to discuss the documentary and its impact on their lives.
The episode was, in effect, a follow-up documentary about the documentary and its aftermath. And the gambit worked beautifully. Among the highlights to look for in the episode (watch it, above):
The rekindling of Kelly and Ryan’s romance. True to their self-centered personalities, the two ditched Kelly’s husband (guest-star Sendhil Ramamurthy) and Ryan’s baby in the middle of Dwight and Angela’s wedding.
The wedding: We especially liked the music that played when Angela was carried down the aisle (yes, Phyllis carried her on her back). It was an acoustic, instrumental version of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
The on-stage reunion: This was simply a great device in which various characters got a chance to put their experience as subjects in a documentary in perspective. The dialogue given to Jim and Pam (Fischer) in this portion of the show was particularly well-written.
The redemption of Andy Bernard: The buffoonish Andy (Ed Helms) became a YouTube celebrity when he embarrassed himself on a national TV talent show. What happened next was a great illustration of the old adage (which we’re paraphrasing here) that “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”
Creed: Just watch for Creed Bratton. He even sings and plays guitar.
The episode's last piece of dialogue was given to Pam Beesly Halpert, who faced one of the "documentary" cameras and summed up the nine seasons of this fictional documentary about a fictional office in Scranton, Pa. Said she, "There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn't that kind of the point?"
How’d the “Office” finale do in the ratings? Well, the show did improve on its regular viewership average — somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.5 million per week during the season. On Thursday night, the one-hour clip retrospective special that aired at 8/7c, just before the series finale at 9-10:15 (8-9:15c), drew 4.372 million viewers. The episode that followed averaged 5.412 million. Fact is, though, NBC’s “Office” special and series finale were not strong enough to beat the competition on CBS, ABC or Fox.
But hey, we loved the “Office” finale anyway.