Saturday, July 16, 2011

Leaving the Office

With seven seasons, 23 awards and countless laughs under its belt, NBC's "The Office" has had a great run. I jumped in during the second season, when the show was at the peak of its powers and every episode was an absolute riot, and there's no doubt in my mind that "The Office" has been the funniest show on television for the past five-plus years. So when Michael Scott (Steve Carell) blew town at the conclusion of the consistently hilarious seventh season, his departure seemed like a cue for the show to call it quits, to go out on top along with its star. Instead, it has decided to hang around for at least one more season with oddball James Spader (strange decision, by the way, considering candidates Will Arnett, Ray Romano and Jim Carrey have more experience in comedy and seemed like better fits for the show) stepping in for Carell, and I fully expect the show to decline. Will it be as bad as "That 70's Show" after Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher left only to be replaced by Seth Meyers' idiot brother? Not a chance, but you can bet it won't be the same, either, and it's always a little disappointing to see something past its prime, i.e. watching a hobbled Shaquille O'Neal in Celtic green while LeBron James and Dwyane Wade ran circles around him during the playoffs.

Never mind the fact that Steve Carell shouldn't have left in the first place. He made the show popular by attracting viewers with his fame, and then the show returned the favor by keeping him relevant when his movie career failed to take off after "The 40 Year-Old Virgin." Sure, he's had some decent movies like "Dinner for Schmucks" and "Get Smart," but he's also endured his fair share of bombs with "Dan in Real Life" and "Date Night." But no matter how his movies were doing, he always had "The Office" as a security blanket, an outlet to remind viewers just how funny he really is. In that way he was unique, since none of his fellow Hollywood funnymen (Sandler, Rock, Ferrell, etc.) starred on an established network TV comedy after they were already famous. I'm convinced "The Office" kept his up-and-down career afloat.

Carell was the heart and soul of the show, and you could just tell he'd created a special on-screen chemistry with his co-workers. So when he chose not to renew his contract for the eighth season I was hoping NBC would pull the plug before letting the show's quality slide. I could picture a season without him, Jim and Pam and Dwight and the gang sitting around the office in silence, looking at each other, all thinking to themselves "so...what do we do now?" The supporting cast is hilarious and everyone has their moments, but most of their contributions stemmed from their characters' reactions to Carell's behavior. I'm not sure they can take over and succeed in his absence, like how Pippen couldn't win a title when Jordan left to play basesball. The show will miss his presence, talent, charisma, whatever you want to call it. And don't forget, eight seasons is a long time in the television world, so the show also runs the risk of getting stale. After all, how many funny situations can you possibly create with a mid-level paper company located in Scranton, PA? The show's writing is usually top-notch, but it has to run out of steam sometime soon.

I'll still watch when the new season premieres in September, of course, because I'm a loyal follower of the show and am obligated as such, but I'm guessing the show will feel emptier and duller without Carell because no one (especially Spader, who can be as flat as an Iowa farm) can match his energy and eccentricity. With his intangibles and ability to breathe life into the seemingly mundane, Carell really was perfect for the show. It's hard to imagine an entire season, and maybe more, without Dwight sucking up to him, without his timely "that's what she said"s and without his fierce hatred of Toby Flenderson. This season will be like the new "Pirate of the Caribbean" movie; it still had the same old Captain Jack Sparrow and was a solid effort, but sorely missed the youthful Knightley/Bloom duo and suffered from the loss of their energy and passion.

So long, Steve, and thanks for the laughs. If only you could have turned off the lights and locked the door on your way out.

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