This week, Steve Carell announced that the coming season of “The Office” will be his last, which means Michael Scott will be in our lives for only one more season. This is kind of sad.
Of all the characters birthed into existence over the past decade, Michael Scott is one of the best. Future TV bosses will be unflatteringly compared to him. We'll consistently find him on arbitrary lists made by uninspired critics and bloggers who will tout the character as one of the great television creations in history.
However, this is not our concern right now. Carell is on his way out, leaving many a fan to wonder if his departure signals the end of “The Office.” It does not. The show will go on, even if you think it shouldn't, and the reason is simple: “The Office” is NBC’s most successful comedy since “Friends.”
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Though the network has yet to comment, even if everyone involved agrees that the show would suffer creatively without Carell, it all boils down to money. In the wake of Carell’s announcement, cast member Oscar Nunez summed it up by telling TV Guide, “Artistically, we should leave the show alone without Steve. But economically, if NBC can get someone else to come in, of course they're going to try.” The real question, then, is this: How should “The Office” proceed from here?
A big hole
No doubt Michael Scott's departure will create a Stanley Hudson-sized chasm. Whether or not Michael's your favorite aspect of the show, he is its engine. He creates the most incidents. He propels most every major plot. The other characters are defined through their interactions with him.
This is not an easy hole to fill, and interestingly enough, it's more a problem of practicality than anything else. There's more than enough funny to be found in the dynamic and deep supporting cast. It's simply a matter of puzzling out how to structure the show without Michael as the central figure.
The bright side for “The Office” is that it has one year to figure out how to do it. Unfortunately, the internal options for a Michael replacement are unappealing. Someone has to be the boss, and the boss must be a major part of the show. That's the hard truth of what creator Greg Daniels and his team have to cope with. If they decide against bringing in someone new and opt to promote from within, it's hard to say that any of the options are terribly exciting.
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We saw what Jim brought to the table as the boss last season, and it wasn't much. As regional manager, Dwight would immediately instigate an ugly reign of terror. Andy is too naïve, and would be taken advantage of by his underlings at every turn (which sounds appealing, except that Andy is a far more sympathetic character at his core than Michael ever was).
Who else is there? Pam? Not qualified. Ryan? Maybe, but he's too far down the totem pole now to make it believable. You could bring back Amy Ryan as Holly Flax or Rashida Jones as Karen Fillipelli, but I just don't see it. Holly is too similar to Michael, and Karen's resentment toward Jim is too palpable and potentially ugly in large doses.
You can see the issue here. It's easy to say, “ ‘The Office’ can thrive without Michael Scott — just look at all the hilarious potential replacements!” But it's far more difficult than that. Michael is the sun, and everyone else orbits around him. Once he's gone, there has to be another source of consternation among the Dunder Mifflin staff, another reason for them to be miserable together.
Which leads us to the answer: “The Office” is going to have to bring on a new actor or actress to fill Steve Carell's shoes. There's no point speculating who this person might be — there are names aplenty worthy of being thrown around. It's not going to be a matter of the actor fitting in. At this point, we should have enough faith in the show's brass to hire the right person — there's not a better cast show on television.
No, it's up to the writers. The blueprint likely will be this: The new boss is introduced around the middle of the season, is integrated slowly into the show, develops basic relationships with all of the characters and, in the season finale, ascends to the regional manager throne.
Success will depend completely on the writers, and it won't be a slam dunk. They have to create a character that will achieve the same plot flexibility that Michael did while at the same time making him or her completely dissimilar to Michael as a person. Making the new boss a Michael facsimile is a recipe for jumping the shark, an almost certain death blow. However, the new boss also has to be outrageous enough to keep “The Office” functional as a comedy.
It's a difficult balancing act, but there are ways to see how it could work. Maybe the new boss is a hippie-ish semigenius fresh out of the Stanford Business Program and unschooled in the ways of normal human interaction. Maybe the new boss is a disgraced Wall Street CEO, intolerably arrogant, yet forced to slum it in Scranton, Penn.
There are myriad possibilities for the writers to explore, and we can be cautiously optimistic that “The Office” will figure out the best course of action. Why not? Six years of great comedy should imbue at least some faith in its audience.
The best part is that “The Office” will have to take some risks. It’ll have to be bold. This is important for a series entering its seventh season — it'll shake things up, create new dynamics, force the writers to get as creative as possible and maybe even challenge the actors to explore new avenues within their own characters. Maybe the show will careen downhill after Carell leaves, but it's not a certainty. The fate of the post-Carell “Office” is definitively unsealed.
It's only appropriate to quote the man himself, Michael Scott: “What happens to a company if somebody takes a boss away? I will answer your question with a question. It’s like what happens to a chicken when you take its head away. It dies unless you find a new head.”
There you go. “The Office” needs a new chicken head. Let's just hope it fits.
Oscar Dahl is a writer who lives in Seattle.
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