Most long-running series treat their final seasons as a kind of vic-
tory 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" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) 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 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. Both Pam and, I suspect, audience members seemed to recoil at the sight of Jim wearing a Bluetooth headset, a nerdy
affectation that Scranton Jim would have ridiculed but Philadelphia Jim embraces.
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.
---The six-part reality series "Funeral Boss" (10 p.m., Discovery Fit & Health, TV-14) follows the work and family life of funeral home operator Bill Harris. He's built his business on a reputation for being a perfectionist with an eye for detail. His children? Not so much.
---Chang's memory loss
becomes a subject of research on "Community" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
---Bon Jovi performs and the first finalist goes home on "American Idol" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---A new take on the slip on "Shark Tank" (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG).
---Leslie embraces video store preservation on "Parks and Rec reation" (8:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
---All cards on the table on "Person of Interest" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Singing sisters tangle on "Braxton Family Values" (9 p.m., WE).
---The gang pursues a truce
between Will and Finn on "Glee"
(9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
---Male undress on display on "Project Runway" (9 p.m., Lifetime, TV-PG).
---Poachers announce hostile intentions on "Battleground: Rhino Wars" (9 p.m., Animal Planet, TV-14).
---A surprise baptism on "Anger Management" (9:30 p.m., FX, TV-14).
---Breakups can be murder on "Elementary" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Nia Vardalos guest stars on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (10 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
---A stranger (Scott Foley)
catches Olivia's eye on "Scandal" (10 p.m., ABC, r, TV-14).
Bruce Willis stars in the 1991 heist comedy "Hudson Hawk" (9:45 p.m., Encore), a box-office bomb that Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called "unspeakably awful."
---Father issues on "The Big Bang Theory" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).
---Elena's attitude raises eyebrows on "The Vampire Diaries" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).
---Alan and Walden overdo it on "Two and a Half Men" (8:30 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Managerial chaos on "Grey's Anatomy" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
---Sendhil Ramamurthy ("Heroes") appears on "Beauty and the Beast" (9 p.m., CW, TV-14).
---Skip's big date on "1600 Penn" (9:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
---Alison Brie is scheduled on "The Daily Show With Jon Stew art" (11 p.m., Comedy Central, r).
---Steve Carell, Camilla Luddington and Luke Bryan appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS).
---Olivia Wilde, Brad Wollack, Annie Lederman and Ryan Stout are booked on "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m., E!).
---David Goldhill sits down on "The Colbert Report" (11:30 p.m., Comedy Central, r).
---Gerard Butler and Elizabeth Cook appear on "Late Show With David Letterman" (11:35 p.m., CBS).
---Jay Leno welcomes James Franco, Jay Mohr and Owl City with Yuna on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC).
---Jim Parsons, Gavin Newsom and Ziggy Marley appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC, r).
---Katie Couric, Freddie Highmore and Justin Timberlake visit "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (12:35 a.m., NBC).
---Craig Ferguson hosts Monica Potter and Jim Rome on "The Late Late Show" (12:35 a.m., CBS).
Kevin McDonough can be reached at email@example.com.