There’s lot of pressure these days on the television comedy, at least from a critical standpoint. You’ve got sitcoms challenging the very notion of what a sitcom can be from Community to Louie, and for a show to really enter that upper echelon of lauded TV comedy, it has to be both funny and smart.
It’s been a while since The Office was considered part of that critical top tier, and it’s become increasingly fashionable to downplay its relevance or just ignore it altogether. There was a brief window — seasons two to four, perhaps — where The Office was looked at as a game-changer. Now its mockumentary conventions feel ordinary, if not worn-out, and each new season seems to come with the resignation that this is going to be another step down the ladder of quality.
But The Office has turned out to be quite an interesting show, if not the one that we may have expected early on. There was no question that this U.S. remake wouldn’t possess the same audacity as Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s British original, which refuses to blink in the face of extreme discomfort. The U.S. Office achieves this feeling occasionally, like in season four’s "Dinner Party," but it’s not the show’s bread-and-butter.
Rather, the U.S. Office is more on the opposite end of the spectrum — it’s TV comfort food, and I don’t mean that as a knock. It became increasingly clear to me while re-watching season seven, which recycles familiar storylines and doesn’t push many boundaries, that The Office may not be brilliant in a cerebral sense, but it’s still consistently funny. And unlike traditional sitcoms that depend on manufactured situations for comedy, The Office derives a large chunk of its humor from characterizations, which have been carefully cultivated over seven years. It may not be a game-changing approach, but it’s not an entirely ordinary one, and for that, The Office doesn’t really deserve all the shit its taken over much of its run.
So no, there aren’t many (or any) surprises in season seven. In fact, the showrunners seem determined to weed out surprises entirely, with announcements that spoiled cameos like Gervais’s appearance as David Brent and the star-studded finale before they even aired. This trend continues, as detailed casting announcements about James Spader’s role in the upcoming eighth season were released long ago.