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Looking Back on The Office Season 8: C'mon Guys, It Wasn't THAT Bad

Andy won back his managerial position from the British usurper Nellie. Dunder Mifflin Sabre is now just Dunder Mifflin again. Robert California is out as CEO; David Wallace is in (again). Erin and Andy are together. Kelly and Ryan are not. Angela's baby is probably Dwight's and her husband is definitely into Oscar. On paper, The Office Season 8 was not the most eventful season! (Unless you're a superfan for the status quo.) And although it was widely disliked by both fans and critics, I'm here to tell you it wasn't entirely a waste of time. No really! It was occasionally pretty good, even!

At this time last year we'd just had our first taste of a post-Michael Scott The Office and we definitely weren't convinced it would work. Sure, seeing huge stars like Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey flirt with the idea of taking over was a fascinating distraction, but the sinking feeling that Season 8 would be an aimless, superfluous exercise was mostly confirmed by the 22 episodes that followed. Let's be real: Season 8 definitely wasn't the show's best and the seemingly general consensus that The Office should've ended along with Michael Scott's employment was/is entirely valid. Unfortunately the TV business just doesn't work like that. The show still gets strong ratings and is a lucrative moneymaker for NBC, so Season 8 was always going to happen and it was always going to be a challenge to the writers' room: How can you keep something fresh when it's so clearly out of steam? Well, not to be all contrarian about it—because, again, Season 8 wasn't the best—but there's a strong possibility that while everyone was busy being disappointed, The Office sneaked in some genuinely great jokes, new characters, and affecting plotlines. All things considered, this is still one of the best shows on TV.

The main problem with Season 8 was that it came after Seasons 2, 3, and 4. Be honest: The critical pummeling this show has taken all season is mainly a problem of relativity. The Office was just SO good in its earlier seasons. But take away that comparison and we're left with a sitcom that stars Ed Helms, Craig Robinson, Rainn Wilson, James Spader, and Mindy Kaling. Imagine if, say, a movie came out with THAT roster of comic actors. It'd be must-see for any comedy nerd! But in the context of The Office legacy, that roster is just a bunch of people who don't include Steve Carell. See what I'm getting at? We're mostly disappointed because we can't let go of what used to be. So let's put aside the legacy of The Office and talk about Season 8 by itself. Specifically, what worked and what didn't?

First, the most obvious aspect that didn't work: The bosses. Bosses are crucial to a properly high-stress work environment. For most of the season Andy sat in the managerial chair, but something never quite clicked. Although Ed Helms is extremely funny (and increasingly movie-star famous), it turned out that Andy Bernard the character works better in small doses. We first met him as the back-biting yuppie douche Jim worked with at the Stamford branch, and his fratty buffoonery provided a new annoyance for our everyman hero. Over time Andy's plotlines have become a series of emasculations and abuse invitations that haven't quite been as endearing as Michael Scott's childish-yet-competent attention-craving. Sure, Andy was always drawn more broadly than most of the other characters, but his character seemed to work best when he wasn't 100 percent pathetic.

Unfortunately, rather than prove that Andy had what it took to lead the office AND lead The Office, this season painted him as an almost unlikable, feeble wallflower whose lack of backbone made it hard to get invested in. His romance with Erin—another character who works best in small doses—proved to be a maddening, tired cycle of unrequited love between two characters so cartoonish that it never felt compelling. Fortunately Andy's plotline recovered by the end of the season once he and Erin were squared away and he'd found himself out of a job because Nellie had literally stolen it. The stakes finally seemed seemed high and Andy's enusing scheme to get his job back was both engaging and rewarding. Maybe there's hope for him yet!

The other two authority figures, Nellie and Robert California, were both interesting characters in and of themselves, but the inclusion of TWO low-key psychopaths only served to make the show seem jumbled and unfocused. On the upside, I never once grew tired of Robert California; to me he was the most consistently hilarious character, and the slow reveal of his crumbling personal life was one of the best things this season did. But with that said, was there ever a good reason why the supposed CEO of the corporation was constantly hanging out in the Scranton branch? It was a plausibility-stretching conceit on a show in which stretching plausibility can be fatal. Anyway, while I loved the novelty of this new character and his effects on everyone else, it's probably a good thing that James Spader won't be returning next season. It's unclear whether we'll see more of Nellie next year, but she had some great moments. Darryl introducing her to tacos was one of the funniest scenes all year, plus the late-season reveal of just how sad Nellie's life is made her machinations more compelling and forgivable. I'm not sure Catherine Tate's subtle absurdism works as a lead character, but like Robert California, it WAS refreshing getting to know a new character at least.

Which brings me to my last main criticism: How thoroughly mined these characters' personal lives have become. Sure, that comes with the territory when you've followed the same group of people for so long. But that's probably why I was suddenly excited when earlier this year NBC floated the idea that perhaps they'd reboot The Office with a brand-new cast. I'm not sure such a total shakeup is necessary, but I DO wish there'd be an influx of new characters, similar to when the Stamford and Scranton branches merged suddenly during Season 3 and the characters were forced to share space with strangers. The constant revolving door of employment is such a major aspect of real-life work environments, so it's fairly surprising how much this show has actively avoided it. I say open the floodgates and actually make these characters live in constant risk of firing or layoffs. Not enough of them have office enemies (and we ALL have office enemies), and the relationship options have dwindled to zero. Heck, move them all into a new building, switch around the desks, something.

Among the bright spots this season had to offer, my favorite by far was Darryl's burgeoning friendship-cum-romance with Val from the warehouse. This recurring subplot hearkened back to the old days when Jim and Pam were kept separate by circumstance and longing. That frustrated romance grounded The Office and made it crackle with possibility. The Office USED to do longing so well—particularly in the fourth season when many of its episodes were stretched to an hour-long format and we really got to know the characters intimately—and the more it gets away from those emotions, the staler it feels. These people SHOULD develop impossible crushes on each other; they SHOULD pine away for better careers. Val was a new character but I instantly cared about her more than some of the old faces. How great was it when she mortifyingly showed up to the Christmas party overdressed in an evening gown, then Darryl tried to make her comfortable by running home to put on his tux? These kinds of funny, human moments are what I love about The Office. It's no surprise that my favorite moment in last week's season finale was a tiny one: When Val stood beside Darryl in his family portrait and quietly took his hand. That felt real, it felt earned, and it made me care again.

When The Office returns for Season 8, it'll be short a few cast members: Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak will be off making her Fox sitcom The Mindy Project, plus Rainn Wilson's due to get his own Dwight Schrute spin-off at some point. But I hope NBC will take the opportunity to sorta-reboot things. I stuck with this season due to the aforementioned bright spots, but as long as the show stays mired in old tricks—Dwight's criminal wackiness, Jim's camera glances—otherwise great ideas will continue to get lost in the ho-hum. Find a stronger boss who's more nightmarish to work for. Refocus on the emotional lives of the characters, their longings, their frustrations. Bring in new faces to keep the constant churn of awkwardness (and threats of layoffs) going. I want The Office to say something about our jobs. I don't want it to feel like one.


Did you watch this season of The Office? What did you love and/or hate about it? What would you fix, if anything, for Season 8?

Comments (45)
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Finally some who agrees with me! Believe me, I was one of the first to start complaining about the new episode, especially after that terrible Halloween episode (or maybe the one prior? I don't remember). Those episodes were truly awful! However, the show took a huge turn after that and suddenly got pretty funny again! There were even several moments throughout the season - albeit here and there - that cracked me up something fierce!



Best moment of the season: When Jim framed Dwight in the hotel room while he hid in the closet. Oh man, I seriously LMAO'd at that!
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I only watched the Jack Coleman episodes and I'm not sorry. Robcar needs to happen.
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I love the Office and will continue to watch it no matter what!!! :) I am what some might call a die hard fan.
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That was a great review and recap of the season. I think you summed it up perfectly. It's not great anymore, but there is still some good.
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Meh, I like it better without Michael Scott. He was always the part of the show that I liked the least. Now if Dwight was no longer on the show I'd stop watching for sure. Michael Scott though? I couldn't care less.
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The episode with Dwight and Jim teaming up to try to win the paper contract was one of the funniest episodes of the series, really great work from the two of them. Personally I was happy with this season, worked well, IMO it's still strong and they should ignore the haters and continue it.
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Couldn't agree more! I loved the episode where, at the beginning, Jim hid in the closet of his hotel room and made it look like there was a murder in the room. I LOL'd so hard when I saw the "Dwight did it" written on the wall hahahahaha
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Actually yeah, that was hilarious.
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Meh.
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I have yet to miss an episode of The Office but I have to admit... this season tested my devotion to the show. The moments that reminded me why I love the show were few and far between.

I thought it was because the writers were trying so hard to fill the Carell void that they sacrificed what made the characters human and relatable just to try and make them funny in themselves. But the rest of them aren't funny in themselves... they were just great accompaniments to the Scott-Schrute craziness.

Poor Andy suffered the most.

And I really hate the Erin-Andy romance. It was incredibly boring.

Nellie was great (for the most part) though.
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I'm glad to see someone point out that most of the criticism this year has been over the top. Relativity is indeed the reason for most of it; we were spoiled by several great seasons. I would actually go further than you and say it was a great season. It's one thing to say that Robert California didn't fit well or that its not quite as good as it was with Carell, that sounds reasonable. But most of the criticism i've heard doesn't make any sense. Most of the criticism seems to be driven by confusion over the fact that for once the show was actually different. People just didn't seem to know how to take it; everyone doesn't get that it's supposed to be more about the entire cast itself now as opposed to about one character (Michael) driving everyone else crazy. People don't seem to realize that despite the fact that he's now manager, Andy's not supposed to be the center of the show; he's not the star, so don't expect the world out of him. Either he should be more like Michael or he's acting too much like Michael; this criticism is ridiculous. Enough with the high expectations! Stop expecting so much out of it. Regardless of Carell's departure, it's a show with a lot of funny people still on it and is still interesting. Just because it changed doesn't mean its not still good; it's just different. There was plenty to tune into: Jim, Dwight, Andy all had great seasons.
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It wasn't a bad season at all - and I think it will be addition by subtraction with Spader, he just didn't work in the show for me. The lack of Holly was certainly a plus, and I felt Dwight was more Dwight-y akin to the first few seasons. Sometime I'd watch again, yes. Mindy won't be missed (from an acting perspective), and I would say the same for Jenna if she were to go.



As a pretty big Scrubs fan, there is a huge gap with how The Office is standing on its own without "the main guy" and other shows that have gone down the same route.
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I wasn't sure how The Office would survive without Michael Scott, but I was happy when James Spader's weirdly brilliant Robert California from season 7's finale was added to the staff. I agree that he proved to be the one character I found interesting throughout the season. This was not a character for the long haul, but a one year arc was interesting. I'm not a fan of Nellie's, but I like her better since they tried to make her more sympathetic. If she continues next year I hope she appears in the episodes more like Meredith than like Pam...a little of her character still goes a long way.



Just like season 8 season 9 needs some new characters to shake up the mix. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this next season plays out.



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Watched it all but, I don't think the departure of steve carell was a bad thing, actually kinda felt annoyed by him since season 5'ish. The problem however is the writing has gone way too stale, jim and pams marriage, babies blablabla. jim and pam are annoying and awful characters. And it doesn't help at all either that pam has become old and saggy cheeked. seriously what happened to her cheeks over just 1 season, looks like some plastic surgery went horribly awry.



They should just end it before it turns into a farce of itself, ala CBS shows.
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I actually thought this was the best season since season 5. Honesty I thought the writing on seasons 6 and 7 were pitiful, in two years I only laughed a couple of times. After Steve Carell left I thought it was going to be done for. I only watched the first episode of season 8 for the hell of it, but discovered it was pretty good, so I continued. Throughout the season I noticed a step up in writing and satirical moments. Sure this season had some bad episodes like the Halloween one, the garden party one, and every one that had Nellie in the manager's seat. But you can't say that "Christmas Wishes" wasn't hilarious, and the Tallahassee arc wasn't at least interesting. I'm glad to see David Wallace back and Dunder Mifflin just Dunder Mifflin again. Judging that this season had either GREAT episodes or HORRIBLE episodes, maybe season 9 should only have 13 episodes, that way the writers can focus more. Just a thought.
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I have been a fan of The Office since season 1 (earlier if you count the UK version), but like almost everyone says, this season was a bust.



I hated Robert California, simply put. He was interesting in the season finale last year but when they announced he would be a regular on the show for season 8 I knew it wouldn't work. James Spader's creepy character worked perfectly on Boston Legal, it did not work on The Office.



I actually like Nellie. She was hilarious when she was reintroduced in the Florida episodes. I wouldn't mind if she stuck around. I actually liked that she took over for Andy as manager to shake it up a bit.



The Cathy character was annoying. Her character trying to sleep with Jim, knowing he has children and his wife works in the same office, was better left for a soap opera. At least she is gone now.



I would like it if Steve Carell returned for one episode so they can show the wedding of Michael Scott and Holly.
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I enjoyed a lot of The Office this season. Sure there were some very bad ones but there were a lot of enjoyable ones as well. They just need to stop doing too much and let it go back to the usual basic Office high jinx.
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I kept watching The Office this season basically because I didn't want to give up on it after watching it for the past years and years and I'm glad I did. I never really liked the Robert California character too much, and to me he just got annoying by the end; I'm glad David Wallace is back - I always liked him. Andy had his moments, but I am glad some of his storyline has settled down again (with Erin etc). Honestly, to me at least, Jim is the backbone of The Office, he is ALWAYS funny to me, if he left I think I'd stop watching but since he's not... bring on season 9!!
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haven't read the review yet but i totally agree with the article's title. not a fan of andy as boss ever at all (too much screen time for him or something?) and it took me a while to warm up to robert california but other than that i thoroughly enjoyed it.



i for one was stoked that michael left as i just really wasn't liking him. maybe the writers can't write a different kind of boss?
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Honestly the worst thing about this season was Ed Helms, he's simply not a leading man. They should have gotten a new character to be the manager and then focused on the rest of the cast more.
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Honestly, if this had been season 1 of the show with Ed Helms at the center, it wouldn't have seen season 2. The writing was lazy, the motivations were sloppy, they took the brilliantly bizarre Robert California from the end of season 7 and turned him into a relatively mundane, boring character. The cast was good, but the writing and directing wasn't. Eventually the writers fell back on soap opera material and repetition of prior storylines such as Michael Scott Paper Company for Andy, Andy's relationship with Erin, Darryl's relationship with Val. Nellie really didn't work mainly because they wrote her as another loony toon rather than a competent character with weirdness. And Jim & Pam just felt like they were "there", they never seemed bothered by the fact that they were going nowhere at Dunder Mifflin, they were no longer rebelling against the company in their little ways, and while that probably is somewhat realistic, it makes the former stars of the show rather boring characters to watch.



You are right that we've overmined these characters for plot, and it needs new people to mix things up, it's too sedentary at this point. Losing Kelly and Ryan won't hurt too much, and BJ Novak's gotten a little too much producing time it feels like. Losing Dwight will be another story though, it's hard to not have a character as big as that, his little moments of badassery offset his dorky weirdness, and when he works with Jim rather than against him it's often hilarious.



This season wasn't as bad as most fans are saying, but it wasn't great either.



Fixes: the documentarians we never see should start trying to focus a narrative which could lead to strife as the office realizes they're trying to wrap things up, there's other things they could do with that too like the material getting into the public either as an official release or leaked. Jim and/or Pam need a new direction, a goal in life, or an ability to recognize that they're giving up. Andy needs a co-manager or some other way to manage either bigger or more effectively, and the show just needs a different center. A longer break, or more writers, or a new showrunner would help too, this season lacked focus.
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One of the best on TV? Please. Whitney is better than this.
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Saying this season wasn't that bad is like saying the curdled milk didn't taste that bad. It's still bad.
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"When The Office returns for Season 8, it'll be short a few cast members" - don't you mean Season 9??
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It was OK, it was mostly not that funny though which is a problem for a comedy....

Think how many episodes you watched without a proper deep laugh I can think of quite a few, but then I like the characters and that keeps me watching but I am happy it's going to finish.
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Yeah, it really was THAT bad.
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I liked this season because it shook things up. It added Robert California, who was amazing. Nellie, while universally hated, wasn't as terrible as people say, though I could do without her if I had the option. (She seemed to be trying too hard to channel David Brent - who I wish had joined the cast instead, as much as I kind of liked her on Doctor Who.) Andy did a pretty good job as manager.



It's interesting how they're handling Nellie's hostile takeover, California's refusal to intervene, (Even though she was fired when the store failed, he must be deathly afraid of her to not even try to get her removed again.) Andy's inability to take back his job and perform in bed because of it, and the rest of the Office just going along with everything instead of helping Andy. Then Andy finding old friend and now millionaire David Wallace and convincing him to buy the company, that kicked him out, back from the company that kicked him out.



I did miss Kathy Bates though and did tweet to her that she should come back. She was my favorite. And Gabe was thankfully neutered this season. Last year he started to "Pierce Hawthorne" a bit too much when he kept threatening Andy.



I hope we get a wedding between Andy and Erin at some point next season.



I am going to miss everyone who leaves the show. I mean losing Michael was one thing, and not once this season did I think to myself "I wish he would come back" because I thought they were able to do the show just as well without him. But losing Kelly, Ryan and Dwight not to mention California only being signed on for one season and it's going to lose a lot. Ryan has always been my favorite Hipster who is there for some reason though no one knows why he still has a job and his on again, off again relationship with Kelly.



If I don't stop now I'm going to type forever so I'll stop now. I look forward to next season just to see what they do, and I rarely ever stop watching a show when it gets bad. (Simpsons...) I ride it out to the end through the bad and good so even if this isn't the last season, I'll be watching. But I will miss everyone who leaves. And I don't believe Dwight, or even Rainn, can carry a show on their own. I mean, look at Joey. Just because the character is beloved, doesn't mean they are guaranteed to succeed. It's hit or miss.
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it wasn't THAT bad, but it was still the worst season. I love Catherine Tate (DONNA!!!!!) but I hate Ellie, and Robert California is FINALLY gone!
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The Office has been one of my favorite TV shows to watch. Most of what this article said is spot on. i will say that Dwight's antics and Jim's camera glances won't get old. The absurdity of a tablet computer that is shaped like a triangle. How can you not love that?



I do miss Pam and Jim having a storyline, when they were flirting and maybe going to get together but couldn't etc. was probably the most attached I was to the show. I was actively rooting for them to just get together.
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nellie is the worst. they should kill her off on the premiere.
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Price, spot on opinion. This is everything I've always wanted to say about the New Office. The lack of a Jim-Pam storyline has been severely missing for a few seasons. I almost wish they wouldn't have had a kid so that they could actually have some form of drama in their storyline. Now they're just boring.



But I have to disagree on something. I'll always laugh at the Jim camera looks.
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I can only say through December of Season 8, but it just wasn't good enough to keep my attention. It may had been good enough for any other sitcom but not the standard that the Office held itself up to. Carell leaving, Spader, Helms becoming manager, the disintegration of Jim&Pam just wasn't great and a minor quip of Jim & Darryl earlier being promoted really didn't make sense. It should have ended last season & most definitely this season.
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Um, you missed ANOTHER typo at the very beginning of the first line. "When The Office returns for Season 9" I'm guessing is what that should say.



I agree, it wasn't totally terrible, and the new characters were pretty funny (nellie, robert) and I loved bringing back the old CFO... However, like many have pointed out, Michael Scott really did make up the core of the show... if they had gotten someone like Will Ferrell or someone of his ilk that would have been awesome.



So, much like the sequals to Deus Ex, sure they're good in their own right, but they suck compared to the original. The bar was raised very, very high in seasons 2, 3 and 4. Season 5 is where the cracks started to form. Call me crazy, but after Jim and Pam got married (I HATED the wedding episode....) I started to dislike their characters....



Honestly, I thought the show would be cancelled when Steve Carrel left.

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That robert california guy pissed me off,... i hope he s not in season 9
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Possibly my favorite season in a few years. Darryl and Andy are awesome!!
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I gave up four episodes into this season. It was just too painful watching Ed Helms trying to step into Steve Carell's shoes.
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this was season 8 not 7 next season is season 9
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Staff
We've fixed the error! Sorry about that.
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This was season 8...oops. Anyhow, I did watch this season and enjoyed most of it. I was really disappointed with Robert California's character. He just never picked up steam. He had a few funny moments, but in the end the character just flopped for me. On the other hand, Nellie came out of no where and I ended up liking her much better than California. She was like a female Scott. No one will ever replace him, but she was the closest to doing it. I will be tuning in next season, but as much as I love the show, I really hope they wrap it up and drop all of the spin off talk. Dwight is really funny, but giving him his own show makes as much sense as Jack & Karen getting their own show.
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The problem with the show is that it was build around Michael Scott. And it worked so well because the "other stuff" (f.e. Jim/Dwight stuff) came as an extra. Now that the star of the show left they sort of lost their main story line, making the "other stuff" the main story. Because whoever is the new boss, whoever they will try to take over the main story line, he/she CANNOT be better than Michael.



I agree that the show is not "bad". But it is bad compared to previous seasons. And I think that when we look back on this later we will talk about "The Office" and the "post-Michael The Office". And honestly the first few seasons of this series were too good to be remembered like that.



P.S. Was anyone else surprised that Michael didn't make a single guest appearance this season? I would have expected him to atleast call once or something. I can't even remember him being mentioned by the others. He spent so much time trying to be friends with some of the characters that I just can't imagine he wouldn't care anymore.
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Perfect description of why this season didn't work.
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hey price, you're great and i like your stuff, and no offense but you got this all wrong. not really your opinions & content but this latest season that ended last thursday was season 8 & steve car ell's last season was 7. next season in september will be 9.. its a big thing to get wrong when writing about a show that has been around a long time. get your facts right buddy.
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Thanks for the catch, we've fixed the error!
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no problem
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i am ready for it to end. it had a decent run. i like it best when Jim is pulling pranks on dwight. it added a lot to the last few eps which i thought were great.



there were more misses than hits this season for me.
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