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"Big Bang," "The Office": Love Night

By Rich Heldenfels Published: May 17, 2013

"Big Bang Theory" ended its latest season on Thursday night, while "The Office" ended its series run. But both came around to the same message, that love ... actually ... is all around.

Couldn't resist. Spoilers ensue.

On "Big Bang Theory," the major moment for many fans came at the end, when Leonard and Penny said "I love you" to each other. The show could have gone in a lot of other directions from the premise, that Leonard was heading off to work for Stephen Hawking for four months; it could have given Penny second thoughts about their ever-improving relationship, or prompted Sheldon to a breakdown over living alone. But the relative calm that greeted Leonard's news was underscored by the secondary story in the episode, where Raj wanted his new girlfriend to meet the group. She bailed on Raj before doing so, but not before she had a moment with Amy, who was able to make the case for the group being both kind and welcoming. And that was why Leonard could go away: he, Sheldon and Penny all knew that they had the others for a support system. And that was made clear again when Raj had a shoulder to lean on after getting dumped.

Of course, such support is not without consequences. Raj, suddenly able to talk to women, cannot shut up. And Sheldon, with Penny now to help him through Leonard's absence, will undoubtedly be a burden, as the red-zone parking dialogue showed. But it was still a sweet episode and a note about how far the show has come from the days when it was about some nerdy guys and Penny was The Unattainable Girl.

"The Office" was more blatant with its message about love and friendship among co-workers, as it took place a year after the showing of the documentary, as PBS is making a follow-up special. This, along with Dwight's wedding, gave characters a reason to reunite -- and viewers a chance to see that, in most cases, things turned out OK for them.Meredith is mostly sober, Stanley happy in retirement. Toby at episode's end finally gets to be treated as part of the gang. Phyllis and Stanley re-bond, Kelly and Ryan go off on one more mad romantic adventure (and do so in a way that is perfectly selfish yet somehow the means to bring Nellie happiness).

And Michael Scott is a family man -- the thing he always wanted to be, whether by creating an artificial family in his office or, finally, finding a real one. With children.

We knew Michael would turn out OK when we saw his farewell episode, but it was nice to have it reinforced even as Jim and Pam go forward. One of the things had me drifting from the show was the difficulties in the couple, part of the larger sourness inflicting recent seasons, and the show didn't shy away from that; during a reunion panel about the documentary, Pam was grilled about her treatment of Jim. But they, too, worked it out and Pam got to make a Jim-like gesture.

There was much I liked, including the restrained use of Michael's return, and Jim pranking Dwight in a way that was not only kind but in one case healing. On the other hand, I didn't think Dwight and Kevin would ever need healing, and Pam taking the Dunder Mifflin picture off the wall was pretty forced, as was Andy's rebound from disaster. But, on the whole, the finale did what those of us who once loved the show needed the most; it made the return visit worthwhile. The characters had gotten through the trials so deftly presented in old clips, and found some joy in life and in their friends. Even Creed, after all, might be headed to happier climes; he probably knows a way to make jail enjoyable.

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