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Help Wanted: Now James Spader Leaving The Office

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NBC

Looks like there may be a good few positions open at Dunder-Mifflin come the ninth season of The Office next year. James Spader, brought in as a kinda-but-not-really replacement for Steve Carell at the beginning of this season, will not be back with the show next year.

Which raises the question: just who is staying with the show? Mindy Kaling has a sitcom deal that may sweep her away. Whether John Krasinski is staying around remains an open issue. Rainn Wilson is staying on, but NBC is planning a spinoff for his character Dwight as soon as next midseason.

And yet, given that even a diminished Office gets better ratings than any comedy on NBC right now, a ninth season seems a foregone conclusion. (The only other possibility being that the Dwight spinoff replaces and essentially becomes The Office.) Whether that’s creatively the best decision, business considerations at struggling NBC will take precedence. The question is what kind of show The Office can and should become—a question The Office is already ostensibly dealing with, but not very effectively or decisively.

Spader’s character Robert California was never really the solution, although I think he worked well insofar as the show used him. Rather than become a new Michael Scott figure, the eccentric, weirdly charismatic California was employed as a kind of catalyst to unsettle and shake up the characters around him. Spader brought a creepy energy to him, and I’ve been mostly happy with how it turned out, though episodes like the recent “Pool Party”—which brought us to his Eyes Wide Shut mansion—took his odd sexual mystique a little over the top.

But The Office’s main choice this season has been to take Ed Helms’ Andy Bernard, a strong character in the ensemble, and make him an almost direct Michael Scott analog, a situation in which he doesn’t work nearly as well. (Rather than show how Andy’s own neuroses shape the job, it feels like they’ve shaped his character to the role, having him perform with the same kind of clueless overenthusiasm as Michael did.)

I’ve said, and I still believe, that The Office has a deep enough bench of characters to work as a true ensemble show, with no particular focal character—the most recent Tallahassee episode was evidence of that. But first, I’m not sure that the producers are willing to try that, and second, it’s less and less certain what kind of ensemble will be around next year. Given that we’re stuck with the show, what would you like to see? Should they just rename it Hello, Stanley! and write a new theme song?

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