Posts Tagged ‘Steve Carell

28
Apr
11

An Office without Michael Scott

Tonight is going to see a pretty big change for one of my favorite TV shows, NBC’s The Office. After seven seasons, Steve Carell is leaving the show and taking his character with him. Michael Scott, of course, has been the star of The Office since its inception: the American analogue to Rickey Gervais’s David Brent, the boss of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company’s Scranton, PA office.

Carell wasn’t a big name seven years ago when the show launched. Since then, he’s gone on to make a slew of movies that include some real hits (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), some major flops (Evan Almighty) and some quirky indy flicks that got him acclaim for his acting chops (Little Miss Sunshine). So now the time has come, he decides, to set out and pursue films full-time. We all, of course, remember how brilliantly Shelly Long’s career took off when she left Cheers, and the rising star of a post-NYPD Blue David Caruso. (To be fair, though, I guess I should point out that George Clooney walked away from ER and has since done pretty well for himself.)

Once it was confirmed that Carell was leaving the show, the question immediately arose: Should NBC end The Office with Michael’s swan song? Frankly, this was never going to happen. While The Office has never been a ratings juggernaut, it’s still one of the most reliable sources of ratings for the struggling network, so as long as it’s outperforming such gems as The Paul Reiser Show, expect them to cling to it like grim death. And it’s not like the departure of a star is an automatic death-knell for a series. The aforementioned Cheers, NYPD Blue and ER all lasted many years after the loss of one of their signature stars. And to use another favorite of mine as an example, The CW’s Smallville lost both Kristen Kreuk (Lana Lang) and Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) — the primary love interest and the main villain — at the same time. And just between you and me, I think the show has been way, way better since they left.

So the question is not if The Office should continue, but rather how the show will have to evolve. Even when the storylines were not Michael-centric (such as the long-running Jim/Pam romance in the first few seasons) he was still the center of the storm, the axis around which everything else would turn. With him gone, I think the most important thing is to find the new center of the show, and quickly. And I don’t think that new center necessarily has to be the new boss. NBC is still tight-lipped about who, exactly, will be in charge after the departure of Carell and four-episode guest star Will Ferrel. We don’t even know if it’ll be a new character or if someone on the show will be promoted to Boss status. But that doesn’t mean the center of the show has to be the boss. None of the boss candidates from the current cast really has the right qualifies to center the show around, and any new character that they tried to put in that role would feel too much like Michael Scott Redux.

I submit to you that the right candidate to be the show’s core is still there, and in fact has been there since the first episode: Jenna Fisher’s character, Pam Beasley. Pam has undeniably showed the most growth, depth, and change out of any character in the series over the past seven years. When we first met her, she was a rather put-upon receptionist, ignored by her co-workers (when she wasn’t being actively taken advantage of) and trapped in an engagement with a creep who appreciated her even less than the co-workers who harangued her to get their copies made. Over the next few years she was jolted out of her comfort zone by the realization that her best friend Jim Halpert (played smartly by John Kraczynski) was in love with her. This started her on a journey that led her to break away from her unhappy relationship, pursue her own interest as an artist, and gain much-needed self-confidence. The change has been fairly realistic though — even now, with a fairly settled life, we see her have episodes where her confidence is shaken and she needs some sort of affirmation, either from Jim or someone else. But she perseveres. Pam has grown.

What’s more, she’s in a position to interact with everyone in the office that nobody else short of the boss himself could have. (Except maybe the new receptionist, Ellie Kemper’s character Erin, but she’s not the sort of character you can hang a series on.) Pam, in the last year, has managed to finagle a promotion to “office manager,” which includes the terribly boring tasks of seeing to maintenance, supplies, and what have you, but also puts her in a position where she can be involved with anybody in the cast easily and without having to resort to any convoluted or ridiculous circumstances. Plus, outside of Michael himself, she’s got the most heart and soul of anyone on the show.

It’d be a change, and very different from what has happened with those other shows when a star left, but the writers of The Office have proven themselves able to avoid the obvious. Again, I point to the Jim/Pam relationship. In most shows, when the characters with the sexual tension get together, the writers suddenly don’t know what to do with them anymore. This often leads to a contrived breakup, followed by a tedious “will they or won’t” they back-and-forth until the series ends. Even great shows (Friends and Newsradio immediately spring to mind) have suffered from this, and far more mediocre shows have done the same thing. Once Pam and Jim got together, though, they writers have kept them together, unquestionably, and allowed their relationship to grow and mature in a real way. It was gutsy, and for the most part, it has worked. They can apply that same courage to the new center of the show.

So consider this my open letter to the writers of The Office, Season Eight. Next year, no matter who is sitting in the boss’s office, make Pam the center of things. It’s your best bet.

As for the other show losing a star this season, sorry, writers of Two and a Half Men. You guys are screwed.




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