I mentioned this in my review-blurb of last night’s The Office episode, “Body Language,” but it probably deserves its own post. According to deadline.com, Steve Carell has said that he will likely leave the sitcom after its next season. Now, that isn’t actually cast in cement. Carell has an active movie career and he may just be done with TV; or he may just be opening negotiations.
But considering the creative problems the show has had this season (as I and some other fans see it, anyway), it’s worth considering. It may just be better for everyone—The Office included—if Michael Scott were to leave, and, maybe, for the show to set an end date.
I don’t relish writing something like this about a show that I’ve loved since it debuted in 2005, and it’s certainly possible that the show could have a creative turnaround and have several more good seasons ahead of it. But I can’t help thinking that the problems with this season—as I see them, and some fans may want the show to go in an entirely different direction than I do—are the kind that directly result from trying to keep a show on the air endlessly, and running out of things to do with the lead characters.
There are a lot of things that have made The Office great, but chief among them has been that the series has been willing to change, instead of constantly reverting to the status quo. Jim and Pam didn’t keep teasing us forever: they got married, as people do, and had a baby. Michael fell in love with Holly, and got his heart broken. Even when the show has gone back to the status quo, it’s taken risks with storylines that shook up the show’s format for extended periods, like The Michael Scott Paper Company.
But this season, after Jim and Pam’s wedding and Dunder-Mifflin’s near-death experience, the show seemed to lose its nerve for taking risks. It got a new owner and then—nothing really changed, other than adding printers to the product line. Jim took a management position and Michael went back to sales—a potentially very rich storyline, with Jim having to face the reality that the job he never took seriously is now a career—but the show immediately reversed course. And now where are we: Jim back in sales (with Pam, a slight change) and Michael awkwardly looking for romance again.
I’d love for The Office to continue to be great endlessly, but I’m starting to wonder if it, like Lost, doesn’t need an end date—if not for the show as a whole, at least for its lead character. Knowing that it had one season to finish Michael Scott’s run on the show might free The Office to start taking risks again, to be a show with real stakes where things really change, and it would give Carell the sendoff he deserves.
It’s not necessarily what I want to happen. But it may be what needs to happen. Of course, that need may be trumped anyway by NBC’s need, with a still-foundering schedule, to keep The Office going at all costs. As we should know from watching this show, the demands of business trump everything.