The Office Finale Was a Big, Frustrating, Lovable Mess, Says PEOPLE’s Critic

The Office finale

Chris Haston/NBC

updated 05/17/2013 AT 8:35 AM ET

originally published 05/17/2013 AT 8:45 AM ET

The series finale of The Office took up an hour and 15 minutes of NBC’s prime-time schedule Thursday night. The last quarter-hour had a special sentimental magic, as we got parting moments with each of the characters at the Dunder Mifflin paper company of Scranton, Pa.

The rest you could have fed into a shredder.

After a season that carefully worked out significant narrative strands – the ultimately inevitable ascension to manager of the insufferable Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), the unexpectedly tender travails in the marriage of Jim and Pam (John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer) – this episode was poorly conceived and clumsily structured.

It really wasn’t worthy of all the years of affectionate humor that had gone before it.

Steve Carell did, in the end, reprise his role as former branch manager Michael Scott, but he had very few lines – possibly because he didn’t want to upstage anyone. He was very sweet, but it was like a visit from Charlie Chaplin.

The episode started by leaping forward: A year has passed since the documentary about the Dunder Mifflin staff aired. Everyone is reunited in Scranton for two reasons: First, the local PBS affiliate is sponsoring a Q&A, at which the coworkers (and former coworkers) will discuss how their lives have changed. And second, Dwight is getting married to the equally unpleasant Angela (Angela Kinsey), the love of his life.

The Q&A didn’t serve much purpose, since no one seemed to have been deeply affected after nine years of being followed around by a camera crew. (It did allow Joan Cusack to turn up for a touching moment that I won’t spoil.)

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