‘The Office’: What Scene From ‘The Office’ Did Critics Compare to ‘The Graduate?’

The ending of the 1967 movie The Graduate is one of the most memorable (and oft-parodied) in film history.

Recent college grad Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, and Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) – the daughter of his former married, older lover, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) – escape from her wedding together on the back of a bus. Their dream realized and their naysayers thwarted, they both celebrate wildly at first, before their expressions shift to more sober, ambivalent ones.

The ending of one episode of NBC’s The Office – “Two Weeks,” the 21st episode in season 5 – features a similarly ambivalent moment between Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer). After Michael decides to leave Dunder Mifflin and start the Michael Scott Paper Company, Pam impulsively jumps ship, too. Critics noted the nod to The Graduate right away.

Katharine Ross and Dustin Hoffman in 'The Graduate'
Katharine Ross and Dustin Hoffman in ‘The Graduate’ | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Michael quits his job after a new Vice President takes over

In the fifth season of The Office, Idris Elba joined the cast for a recurring role as Charles Miner, the no-nonsense, sometimes condescending new Vice President of Northeast Sales.

Needless to say, Michael doesn’t take well to Charles’s newfound role in a position of authority. He hands in his two weeks’ notice at Dunder Mifflin as a result in Elba’s first episode on the series, “New Boss.”

The following episode, “Two Weeks,” shows Michael struggling to figure out what to do in the wake of his impulsive decision to quit after 15 years with Dunder Mifflin. He discovers that, especially in a recession, he doesn’t have many options or prospects.

Idris Elba on 'The Office'
Idris Elba on ‘The Office’ | Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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Pam and Michael share an ambivalent moment after deciding to start their own paper company

Finally, Michael decides to go his own way and launch his own paper company. To his chagrin, none of his former employees agree to join him, at least at first. Finally, Charles has Michael escorted out of the building when he finds his plans to poach Dunder Mifflin clients.

Meanwhile, Pam feels conflicted about her own role as a receptionist at the company. She puts together a new copy machine, but no one seems to appreciate her efforts. When Michael is escorted out of the Scranton branch by security, Pam impulsively runs to join him – on the condition that she can become a salesperson at his new firm. Naturally, Michael is thrilled to have support in his new venture and enthusiastically agrees.

As Pam and Michael walk away from the parking lot together, however, their exuberant expressions shift to palpable uncertainty. They seem to realize that what lies ahead of them in starting their own business won’t be easy, to say the least.

Steve Carell and Jenna Fischer
Steve Carell and Jenna Fischer | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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The scene was meant to depict Pam’s desire to star in her own life

Fischer’s character was often portrayed as feeling “stuck” in her life. From her lengthy, ill-advised engagement to Roy Anderson (David Denman) to her fears about attending the Pratt Institute to study graphic design, Pam was frequently lacking in confidence and assertiveness.

She was also often afraid to take risks, preferring to remain complacent and not rock the boat. Aaron Shure, who wrote “Two Weeks,” revealed that the writers hotly debated Pam’s decision to leave Dunder Mifflin and get on board with Michael’s new project. Ultimately, they decided that Pam should finally set out on her own and wrestle with what she really wants.

“It’s about trying to figure out what she wants in life,” Shure told OfficeTally of the writers’ ultimate decision.

Steve Carell and Jenna Fischer
Steve Carell and Jenna Fischer | Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

Critics immediately noticed the similarities between the scenes  

Some reviewers noticed parallels between the ending scene in “Two Weeks” – which was conceived by the episode’s director, Paul Lieberstein – and the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire. After Jerry (Tom Cruise) is fired and decides to launch his own sports agency, Dorothy Boyd – a single mother played by Renée Zellwegger – is the only employee who agrees to take on the risk, much like Pam.

“Pam goes with him, the Renée Zellweger to his Tom Cruise,” Andy Shaw wrote in TV Fodder in a review of the episode, adding: “They walk out of the parking lot side by side, although Pam’s face goes from upbeat to ‘Hmm, what did I just do?’”

Naturally, other critics couldn’t help but notice the nod to The Graduate at the end of the episode.

“What elevated the episode into something really special was the Pam and Michael stuff at the end,” Alan Sepinwall wrote in The Star-Ledger of the way the scenes mirrored each other. “Michael and Pam’s pure joy at telling Jim they’re in the middle of a company meeting, followed by [the] end-of-The Graduate shot of them walking away, as you see their giddiness replaced by the realization that they’ve both walked away from secure jobs in a bad economy to start up a business that has very little chance of succeeding.”

Sepinwall, like other critics, praised Fischer and Carell for their performances in “Two Weeks.” Their quick shift from a sense of triumph to confusion and fear about their future was seamless – and it made for a much stronger arc as the story of the Michael Scott Paper Company unfolded.