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TV Faceoff

Will Neal | Thursday, November 1, 2012

“The Office”
How many of you are still watching “The Office” on NBC?
From what I’m usually told, most of you stopped following the show a couple of seasons back when Steve Carell left the cast, or maybe long before that.
Fans of the show would argue the series has become monotonous (What documentary crew needs nine years of footage on a paper company?), or say the quality of the show has drastically declined in quality since it’s earlier years. There were even plans for a Dwight spin-off called “The Farm” (which NBC recently passed on). The real issue isn’t that the series hasn’t been delivering some quality episodes the past couple of years, but that “The Office” hasn’t felt like the same show fans have come to love.
For any of you who have lost faith in the show over these past few years, I’m here to tell you that your worries can be put to rest for their final season. “The Office” is good again.
There are several reasons for this turnaround. First, the original series show-runner Greg Daniels is back to take control of the final season. Not only was he behind the wheel when “The Office” was at its comical peak, but he left the show to help turn NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” into the hilarious sitcom it’s become.
While Daniels deserves most of the credit, it’s possible that giving producer credits to John Krasinski (Jim), Jenna Fisher (Pam), Rainn Wilson (Dwight), and Ed Helms (Andy), has brought some positive changes behind the scenes as it allows the key actors to become more invested.
The story lines have not just been funny; they seem far more genuine than they have in recent years. I wasn’t happy with how the show handled the Andy/Erin relationship because they broke one of the most important rules of visual storytelling: show and don’t tell.
We loved those moments with Pam and Jim because we just knew from their awkward interactions that they had feelings for each other.
Andy and Erin just kept saying in interviews that they liked one another, then story lines were created to pair the two together. Thankfully, this season we’re seeing a new romance between Erin and a newcomer named Pete (Jake Lacy), which works because as we are seeing a romance blossom that has yet to be acknowledged.
On the note of relationships, the writers have finally made Jim and Pam’s marriage interesting again. With Jim planning to move the family out of Scranton and invest their savings into a start-up business, there’s plenty of tension building between the two.
Even better is how other long time characters, like Andy and Dwight, are continuing to reveal more about their character through interesting story lines.
While I’m not trying to suggest that this season is perfect, it is the final installment of a comedy series that is greatly adored. “The Office” will never be as clever and fresh as it was in the early years (especially without Michael Scott) but it’s refreshing to see the show returning to familiar roots of humor and storytelling.
“The Office” has improved, so why not see how it all ends?


“How I Met Your Mother”
Before I begin with the criticisms, let me just say that I love “How I Met Your Mother.”
It’s a show that’s always thrived on well-developed characters, heart and of course strong humor. There are days where I’ll find myself humming the tune of “Let’s Go to the Mall” or altering my behavior to abide by the Bro Code.
That being said, from what I’ve seen thus far in their (potentially) final season, HIMYM is having a major case of the yips (references!).
The episodes of this eighth season have been short on laughs and even shorter on storytelling. We are expected to make it through an entire episode by relying on cheap and repetitious gags only to finish with a predictable or unsatisfying ending (the conclusion of season premiere “Farhampton” being an exception). While there have only been four episodes this season, this is becoming an all-too-familiar flaw.
Whether a ninth season happens or not, show-runners Craig Thomas and Carter Bays have stated they’re moving forward as if this is the show’s final run.
The central problem behind HIMYM this year is the storytelling. Fans have always recognized that the show is building up answer the “Who’s the Mother?” question, and they’ve stuck with it for eight years because the road to answering that question has been both hilarious and heart-warming.
They’ve even managed to throw in a few twists and turns along the way.
The issue this season is the foundation for the ending has been established, and until those final few episodes, the upcoming storylines leave little to be desired. We know Barney and Robin will ultimately have a wedding and Ted will meet the girl of his dreams at the end of the season.
Until then, we have to sit through the “fall of break-ups” and follow story lines to events we know will already happen in unsatisfying ways (just look at Barney and Quinn’s break-up).
This would be perfectly fine if these filler episodes would actually reveal more to the story or at least deliver on the humor, but they don’t.
Take the episode “Who Wants to Be a Godparent?” as an example.
Here we have Marshall and Lilly deciding on their son’s back-up caretakers and in order to make the choice between Ted, Barney and Robin, they create an over-elaborate (and mostly unfunny) game show.
In the end they decide on (wait for it…) all three of them to be the godparents. If that was an option in the first place, why is there an entire episode surrounding this sole plot?
Even with these lackluster episodes, we can stay faithful the cast will continue giving strong performances (even with weak material) and the show will bounce back.
It is certainly not a strong start to their last season, but when the time comes to move the story forward, I can only hope the cast and those behind the scenes will give it their all.
I point out these recent flaws because I love this show and I hope that the final season of HIMYM will eventually deliver in a way all of the fans can be happy with.

Contact Will Neal at wneal@nd.edu
The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.