Most long-running series treat their final seasons as a kind of victory lap. They run toward the inevitable, often concluding at the altar. Even NBC’s quirky “30 Rock” ended there.
For the last several months — or last few years, even — “The Office” (8 p.m., NBC) has been spinning its narrative wheels. It was difficult to predict where the show might end up because, with the exception of a series of romances that went nowhere, it, too, was going nowhere.
Who would have predicted that the writers would end the series by showing its central couple, Jim and Pam, possibly growing apart and splitting up before the final credits roll? It’s as if they were saying, “‘The Office’ has always been painful to watch. Now we’re going to make it excruciating before we go.”
In many ways, this development reflects the logic of character development. Both the audience and Pam fell in love with Jim the slacker, the cynic who prided himself on practical joking. He treated his job and, to some extent, his life as a bit of a joke.
But the sight of Pam’s once apathetic ex, Roy (David Denman), as a wildly successful entrepreneur planted the seeds of ambition in Jim. He went to Philadelphia to work on a business startup and fell in love with a life and a job that could amount to something.
The fact that Pam feels left behind by Jim and at the same time is uninterested in following him presents a brutal, honest character development on a show about young people. The fact that she might have feelings for the recently revealed soundman, a technician on the documentary show-within-a-show, is a wonderfully innovative touch. We may not like where “The Office” is heading in its final episodes, but we’re now more likely to follow its memorable trajectory.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Chang’s memory loss becomes a subject of research on “Community” (7 p.m., NBC).
• Bon Jovi performs, and the first finalist goes home on “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Leslie embraces video store preservation on “Parks and Recreation” (7:30 p.m., NBC).
• All cards on the table on “Person of Interest” (8 p.m., CBS).
• The gang pursues a truce between Will and Finn on “Glee” (8 p.m., Fox).
• A surprise baptism on “Anger Management” (8:30 p.m., FX).
• Breakups can be murder on “Elementary” (9 p.m., CBS).
— Copyright 2013 United Feature Syndicate, distributed by Universal Uclick.