For anyone who has stuck by the American version of The Office since the very beginning – or maybe I should specify the beginning of the far superior second season – the anticlimactic news that broke Monday about Steve Carell leaving the show was a bittersweet development. He’s been talking for months about stepping away from the series, and Jim has already spilled some digital ink as to how the show could use Carell’s departure in freeing itself from its creative funk.
For half a season now, Carrell’s amiably awkward Michael Scott has been forced to flounder in increasingly uncomfortable ways – as if he’s learned nothing from the mistakes of the last several years. In the very beginning of the series, we had other plot lines to distract us – Ryan’s big promotion to corporate, Jim and Dwight’s ongoing office pranks, Jim and Pam’s courting, romance, engagement and pregnancy – but all of those creative threads have more or less tied themselves up nicely. Which has left us with half a season of limp, uninspired storytelling, soaked in familiar punch lines and repetitive conflicts.
Jim speculated via Tuned In back in April that a Carell departure might actually be inspiring for the show’s writers. Just like Lost, maybe having a fixed point on the horizon would lead the creators to make new decisions, plotting an exit strategy with a greater sense of purpose. Carell will now apparently be leaving after the 2010-2011 season, giving the writers one year to figure out the basics: How will Michael Scott exit, how will that departure affect our other regulars, and who will step in as a replacement.
Of course, that’s assuming that the show will go on. I think it should, I bet Jim thinks it should, and when Carell talked to E!, even he said it should: “It doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the show.” A new boss could certainly shake up Dunder Mifflin; or perhaps the branch could close, leaving our favorite characters dispersed to other office environs and daily routines.
Or hell, maybe the show could radically alter the context. A few times in the past, The Office has proven willing to touch upon darker themes, never more so than the episode where the workers feared that their branch may be closing, leaving them jobless in the middle of a recession. It was timely, tragic, affecting TV. So maybe Dunder Mifflin could close and we could see the various efforts of these familiar friends in moving forward with their lives: The job hunt, Pam’s preschool adventures with her child, Dwight’s attempt to make his B&B a profitable enterprise, Andy’s pursuit of his singing career, Creed’s…well, whatever Creed does.
Sound far-fetched? Sure. But it’s all about how the writers execute – how you build out the personalities and allow them some degree of growth beyond the cubicle. At the very least, I’d rather see The Office take a few big home run swings and miss, than to simply wait it out for a couple more seasons of reliable bunts and singles, watching Andy flirt with Kelly, Jim smirk in Pam’s direction, and Michael make a fool out of himself with one boss and woman after another.
Michael Scott is one of the great television characters, but one who has gone from being a pillar to an anchor. So let him leave with dignity, and then you can set about the task of figuring out what to do with this handful of other great TV characters. There are so many characters that work beautifully in The Office, but I have to agree with Carell: Michael Scott is no longer one of them.