Will The Office Survive the Exodus of Michael Scott?

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There’s news this week that once his seven year contract for The Office is up at the end of this season, Steve Carell will be leaving the show, presumably to pursue his better paying career as a movie star.

But curiously enough, Carell goes out of his way to say that he believe the show can, and should carry on without him, though I suppose that’s the nice thing to say, when you’re possibly singlehandedly ending something that dozens of people get paid full-time to work on. But no, it’s not over, he claims.

“It doesn’t certainly mean the end of the show. I think it’s just a dynamic change to the show, which could be a good thing, actually. Add some new life and some new energy…I see it as a positive in general for the show.”

And he’s right, it will not mean the end for the show, as NBC will not dare risk immediately axing one of their only franchises that people still are loyal to for something as trivial as the lead leaving. No, they’ll keep it going, like a brainless zombie still lumbering around aimlessly post-mortem.

Will Carell gone, The Office will not be The Office, though to be fair, the show that currently airs between Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock hasn’t really been The Office for awhile now.

The last solid season of the show was three, after that touching finale where Jim finally gets with the program and asks out Pam, and Michael realizes he’s at the Scranton branch to stay. In the three years since then (has it really been that long?), there have been some good moments, and even a decent number of good episodes, but there never really has been the same magic.

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This show used to be about the little moments like this.

A lot of this, like it or not, does have to do with the Jim and Pam dynamic on the show, which went from the most compelling part of the series to its worst aspect almost immediately. The dramatic tension created between the two never quite getting together up was the most riveting aspect of the show, and season two especially is full of some amazing, subtle moments between the two, culminating in my favorite episode of the series, Casino Night.

But after they got together, our interest level dropped off the cliff for the two characters. They only exist to look cute and tag-team torture Michael and Dwight. The show could have spiced things up with a break-up or something similar, but once they got engaged (which was insanely quickly), that went out the window. And now married with a kid, Jim and Pam are officially oatmeal, and they’ll never get their mojo back as characters, as the show simply does not know what to do with them, hence Pam’s awkward promotion to salesman, and Jim’s short-lived spin as a manager.

And now with Michael gone, the pair will be forced to take center stage because well, who is going to replace him? You could say Dwight, which would make for a few interesting scenarios, but he would take the show even more past the point of sanity than it already is. Jim would be a calming presence, but would completely ruin the main point of show, having a boss who is a clueless buffoon. They could go with an outside hire I suppose, but that would be a ballsy move for a show that routinely kills off all new characters introduces.

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He’s a fine supporting character, but as the man in charge? Ehh…

Michael has been a fascinating character to watch over the years, and I think it’s almost impossible to replace him and keep the show going on life-support. Many of my friends hate his character, the way we were supposed to hate David Brent in the BBC Office, but I actually find him to be the most sympathetic character on the show. Well, at least most of the time.

When Michael is at his best, he’s a tragic hero. A lonely man with a simple dream of finding a wife and having kids, hindered only by his own social ineptitude and idiocy. Outside of Jim and Pam, the show’s best dramatic moments involve Michael’s sad life, where he proposes to his girlfriend of six weeks who says no, when another girlfriend says she doesn’t want his child, instead receiving a sperm donation to get pregnant, and most memorably for me, when we see a video of him as a kid saying his greatest dream is to have lots of kids so he never will be alone and without friends.

But in later seasons, the show stretched his character’s idiotic tendencies to the breaking point, so much so that at one point I wrote a top ten list of the most over the top moments in the show, the vast majority of them featuring Michael. There’s a difference between being oblivious to the fact that no one thinks you’re funny, and being oblivious to the fact that you’re about to drive into a lake because GPS told you to.

Michael became Homer Simpson, a cartoon character who acted in a manner in which no human being ever would. All of these over the top moments came post-season two, as before that, the show took lessons from its British predecessor in the art of subtle humor.

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It’s a ensemble cast to be sure, but Michael is certainly the heart.

So in a way I guess Michael leaving the show is a mixed bag. He’s been a great character and a great leader, but his increasingly absurd antics have hindered the show, but that’s the fault of the writers, certainly not the character or the actor.

But I can’t imagine a show without him, even in his current manic state, and I am of the firm opinion that when Carrel leaves, the show should call it a day. Seven years is a long time to keep a show about people selling paper in an office alive. To pump out 20 episodes a season requires some serious stretches and compromise, and the show has already tainted its legacy with dozens of mediocre episodes. This is a shame, as years ago every single week I would tune in and eagerly await the show’s brilliance, which back then was quite consistent.

But that was a long time ago, and The Office has since dumbed itself down so that it’s almost unrecognizable. Its bunkmates Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock have far surpassed it in terms of quality, and this late in the game, there’s only one place to go from here, even further down.

What should happen? The show should go out with a bang, and finally give Michael Scott the ending he deserves. I’d say bring Holly Flax back, have them married by mid-season, and for the series (yes, series) finale, have Michael finally hold his long-awaited kid in his arms. Yeah, it’s a bit rushed perhaps, but the show’s been cranking out arcs like that left and right lately. It wouldn’t be unheard of and it would give the character the finale he’s earned after seven years.

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Just let him win one for a change. 

If you asked me four years ago what my favorite comedy of all time was, I would have said Arrested Development with The Office as a close second, but years later the show has been marred by laziness and a lack of ideas, with only a handful of truly worthwhile episodes managing to slip through. Carrel is right to want to call it a day, I would suggest the rest of the cast follow suit.