Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Is The Office Lost Without Michael Scott?

These final episodes of the seventh season of The Office gave us a long goodbye to Steve Carell's character Michael Scott. If you still keep up with the show regularly you may have felt as if you were being "let down easy." If you're a bit lost on why Steve Carell's character left the offices of Dunder Mifflin then stay with me, it will only take a second to catch you up. Then we'll talk about what this all means for the show.

Basically, Scott still loved his ex-girlfriend Holly. After some classic The Office emotional ping-pong (she's engaged, she's not engaged, he likes her, he's scared) he finally proposes to her and she says yes, so he's off to Colorado to live with her and take care of her elderly parents. It's a nice, realistic reason for him to leave and it shows growth of character while still implementing a bit of tension. He didn't just resign for no reason, but it's not as exciting as Michael Scott dying. So what does this mean for the future of The Office? Will the show be able to survive without its hapless leader?

As Craig mentioned earlier this year, the show is officially signed on for an eighth season, but there's no guarantee beyond that. Season eight will have to hit hard and fast for the audience to remain engaged. It would be no surprise if, due to season eight's failings, that was the end of it. So everything is riding on the show's ability to exist without its main character.

Michael Scott has, as of late, been toned down anyway. There was a stretch between the third and fifth seasons (give or take) where the character wasn't just hopeless at his job. He was also a terrible person. He was acting bratty and childish, prone to suspicion and power struggles. The audience began to wonder if they really should have been rooting for this regional manager at all. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but it made his character harder to like and far more unreal.

I think it can be argued that the past two seasons brought everyone down to reality. Pam and Jim no longer play star-crossed lovers; they bought a house, had a wedding and a baby. Dwight, the true oddball of the office, is still strange but far less stupid these days. The Andy/Erin relationship (which was kind of like the Jim/Pam courtship on acid) bubbled, burst, and is now being dealt with amicably. Even the characters on the periphery seem more realistic these days. This is troublesome. If we wanted to watch normal people in an office setting we'd just, you know, look up from our desks.

So the question is: has The Office jumped the shark? Not yet, in my humble opinion. The post-Michael episodes have already showed promise. Dwight got the job but they only gave it to him for a week. To me that was savvy screenwriting. Everyone wanted to see what it would be like if Dwight was boss, but no one really wants a whole series with him as malevolent ruler. Will Farrell's appearance as Deangelo Vickers, a possible replacement for Michael Scott, was probably necessary to keep viewers watching the show and draw in those who had lost interest a few seasons back. And the final two-part episode left the question of Michael's replacement unanswered; which is a classically Office cliffhanger. It's not "who's the father" or "who shot J.R." it's "who will replace regional manager Michael Scott." This cliffhanger is important to the viewers but no one else.

In the end, the show runners have to treat season eight like a new show. Or at least like a spin-off. They need to impress and impress quickly, or they won't have much of a show left. I still enjoy the show, but I suspect that for much of the population the main draw was Carell. He was, afterall, a major movie star stuck in a crummy office job.