The Office has had a stupidity problem for some time now. If you were going to pinpoint the exact moment when the problem began, you would have to go back to season four: Michael — led by his GPS — drove his car into a lake. That was a WTF moment to end WTF moments. It was one thing for Michael to be portrayed as a buffoon; it was another for him to be portrayed as Homer Simpson. I've discussed the problems with that version of Michael ad nauseam on the blog, but it bears mentioning again: The Office only works best when it remains tethered to reality. Since Michael Scott flew to Boulder, that tether has snapped.
First there was Deangelo Vickers, who started out as a possibly-believable replacement for Michael (a passive aggressive moron with rage issues), but turned into Will Ferrell. It didn't work beyond its obvious stunt-casting, and Ferrell was shipped off with a massive brain injury — a development that shows just how little respect the writers of The Office had for that character. Deangelo was basically Poochie'd off the show.
During the last episode, Dwight replaced Deangelo, and did predictably Dwight-y things. That being: things that no one would ever do. As funny as "Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager" was as an episode — and it was funny — it never reached vintage Office status because it was so fake. Would even Dwight be able to get a replica of Uday Hussein's desk for his office? Would even Dwight think it would be good to wave a gun around? These are ideas that probably worked in the writers' room, but failed upon reflection following the episode. Wouldn't it have been funnier to make Dwight actually capable at his job?
Which brings us to the season finale: "Search Committee." Where to begin with what was wrong? For starters: why would Jim be included in the search to find his own boss? On what planet does that happen? "Hey Jim, you didn't want the boss job, so you're still just a regular ol' salesman; wanna find your new boss?" Next time you're at work, think of how cuckoo-bananas that concept would be. It's one thing for Toby and Gabe to look for the new branch manager — human resources and whatever it is that Gabe does are corporate positions — but Jim sells paper. That's it. The decision to have him on the committee simply doesn't pass the smell test.
(Neither does the decision to have Kelly replace Gabe, though I guess we're supposed to assume Jo is crazy like that. Whateves.)
Beyond that nitpick, there were the numerous character flaws displayed during the episode. A few episodes back, Darryl was bragging about how he's taking managerial classes and learning to speak Chinese; now he's unsure of how to write a proper resume and cashing in on his minority status? It's insulting to not only the audience, but to Darryl. If The Office had presented Darryl as anything other than the smartest guy in the room throughout the last two seasons, this joke would have worked; since they didn't, it failed miserably. What a great disservice to a wonderfully built-up character. Question: if Darryl gets the job next season, will The Office continue to paint him the fool? Can Darryl come back from such a silly character turn?
A similar critique can be levied at the handling of Andy. As played by Ed Helms, Andy is a wonderful weakling — a mush who will do anything to make anyone happy. Yet the way he melted down during "Search Committee" felt flawed. Andy has proven time and again to be capable of great surprises when you least expect them. He's like Michael in that way — just when you think all hope is lost for him, Andy pulls it out at the end. That he didn't do that in the finale was a bit disappointing. That he's over Erin all of a sudden was a bit foolish. Attention writers of The Office: try harder to make an increasingly bland will-they-won't-they plot feel less relevant.
The guest stars weren't safe either. Judging from reports, the producers want Catherine Tate to replace Steve Carrell on the show next season. That's a good idea in theory — having a woman lead The Office would not only fit better with the rest of the NBC funnylady-heavy line-up, but also give the show a new dynamic — but not in practice, based on the introduction of Nelly. Not only was Tate doing a variation on David Brent as Nelly, but her character seemed far too unqualified to lead the office. Pro tip: you can't introduce a potential boss to the world by having her flip-flop on ideas three times in the span of two minutes. It was funny, but it was also stupid. Besides being friends with Jo, what qualifications could Nelly possibly have to land that job? Shouldn't some basic level of competence have been displayed by someone?
Which, in turn, begs another question: just who should replace Steve Carell on the show next season? Well, judging from the last two weeks, it seems obvious: John Krasinski. Not only did he kill these final episodes — Krasinski hasn't been this funny since season three — but it's really the only way the show could work going forward, as Jim is the only capable person left standing at Dunder-Mifflin.
When The Office started it was about a crazy boss and how his normal employees tried to deal with him. As the seasons progressed — and as the supporting bench grew longer — the show became about a crazy group of employees dealing with their crazier boss. It worked because we were tied to Michael/Carrell (and because the Michael-crazy was tempered throughout the last two seasons), but you can't just put another crazy boss in the mix; you need to put an everyman/woman in that spot. The audience surrogate should be the boss, if only because the inmates are officially running the asylum.
Put another way: by reversing the conceit of the show, the show can survive. The only way to reverse the conceit is with Jim/Krasinski in charge.
Unfortunately, that probably won't happen. Heck, who knows if Krasinski even wants the role now that he's trying to be a movie star. But for the show to last another two seasons, Jim needs to take over. He probably won't though, and that probably means the end of the show is near, Rapture-style.
As Gervais wrote about The Office, "We've had a [few] good innings." Judging from the season finale, the possibility of a few more remains highly doubtful.