AN 'OFFICE' FAREWELL PARTY

The good folks at the BBC have performed twin acts of kindness for U.S. viewers over the last two years. First, via BBC America, they exported their marvelous faux documentary series "The Office." And now--the second act--they've killed it off. Whereas quality shows here go on and on until they inevitably nose-dive, "The Office" will bow out with a two-hour finale on Oct. 21, having clocked just 10 hours in its entire life span. And thanks to a finale that is, by turns, hysterical, excruciating and even poignant, this series--about a blowhard branch manager (Ricky Gervais) who gets sacked from his job at a struggling paper company--gets to quit while it's way, way ahead.

As the finale opens, we are told that three years have passed. The "documentary" has aired in England and Gervais's David Brent is now a national joke. David, of course, assures us that he's been unfairly cast as "the biggest plonker of the year." He pauses. "I am not a plonker." (The slang is new to me, but nothing with "plonk" in it can be complimentary.) If Gervais, who co-wrote the series with Stephen Merchant, had played the line obliviously, it would've been mean. But as David pleads his case, his worried eyes dart away, alerting us that deep down, it's dawning on him that he is, in fact, a plonker. It makes the guy not just funny, but also tragic.

Beneath all the masterly writing and acting, the finale is cleverly conventional. It's a reunion episode, culminating in a fate-altering Christmas party. Our first glimpse of the current office is a riot: it looks exactly the same. Gareth (Mackenzie Crook), Brent's beanstalk lackey, is now in charge, but his old deskmate Tim (Martin Freeman), the everyman soul of the show, still torments him with pranks. And David, now a traveling salesman, keeps popping by for unwanted visits. There's a surprise or two in store, but to reveal more would be criminal. Suffice it to say it ends perfectly--and how often, in television, do we get to say that?

AN 'OFFICE' FAREWELL PARTY | News