Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Steve Carell and The Office

Most fans of The Office know that Steve Carell, who plays Michael Scott, the regional manager of Dunder Mifflin, Scranton, is going to be leaving the show after next season. Today The Atlantic aggregates various perspectives on what NBC should do next. Opinions range from celebration - his exit will save the show - to shutting it down while they're ahead.

The Office is tied with Fringe as my favorite show right now, and The Office provides the comedy, so this is serious business. I'm really getting into The Good Guys, with Colin Hanks and Bradley Whitford, so I may have an out - but it's still not quite up to The Office's level.
OK, so my take is that I kind of agree that the show could be better without Michael. Michael Scott is great, but his appeal is based on the comedy of oblivious offensiveness. Whenever offensiveness is the basis of laughs, you have to one up yourself (or at least get more creative about it) every season. For satirical shows, like South Park, you can get quite a bit of mileage out of that because there are always new inputs. But there's not really a new input for The Office because it's sit-com humor, not topical humor. So Michael gets more and more outrageous and forced over the years. They've done a fine job with it - I'm not complaining. I liked the sixth season a lot, unlike many critics. They've managed Michael well, but at the same time I think his character type is inevitably going to peak before others on the show.

Because of his character type, Michael also overshadows a lot of the other funny characters. That's largely the point. The guy is like a five year old - he has to be the center of attention. But Dwight is easily as funny as Michael, and in a more sustainable way. Some of the funniest moments on the show are one-liners from Creed, Ryan, Jim, Kelly, or Oscar. Some of the best story-lines are (obviously) Jim/Pam, but also Dwight/Andy, Dwight/Jim, or Dwight/Angela. What ongoing storyline was Michael essential to? Pam's mom was pretty funny. But Jan? Holly? Who really cared about that? So there's a ton of great material that would go on fine without Michael. The show has also been very successful at incorporating solid new characters like Jo Bennett (or for that matter Andy, who's stayed for four seasons now!).

So although I don't want to see it die a slow, agonizing death, I'm definitely in the "keep the show" camp. The trick is extracting Michael successfully. The Office is founded on relationships between co-workers. That's what makes it tick. So the writers need to pull Michael back a little in his final season, let viewers get used to less Michael, and develop story lines without him. If they can do that, the cast and the plot can definitely handle it (and I'm sure he'd come back for guest appearances). The Office is good at prolonged absences - Pam in art school, Jim and Pam on the honeymoon, Phyllis on her honeymoon, Andy in anger management, etc. They can figure out a way to ease Michael out.

So I have hope - we shall see.
Oh, and for idiots out there like Evan, the British Office doesn't hold a candle to The Office. You can tell because everyone calls it "the British Office", and not "The Office". Deal with it.


  1. For once I am in agreement with Evan; "The Office" is far more entertaining than its bland American version.

  2. I like the American Office a lot... did I say that the British Office was better? That might have been before I saw too much of the American version. I don't know if I'd call either one better. The British version has some simply cringe-worthy, painful moments- and not in a bad way- this is sort of the style of its comedy. I think the American version can be a bit more upbeat.

    All that said, I have a hard time taking seriously your thoughts on television shows until you watch Arrested Development from start to finish. Tricia and I were talking about your lack of familiarity with that show the other day. I think we may have to get you the full dvd set or something. Arrested Development is the gold standard, as far as I'm concerned.

  3. I forgot if you said that or not - I thought you did. Figured it would be funny to mention regardless of "the state of facts and evidence".

    "All that said, I have a hard time taking seriously your thoughts on television shows until you watch Arrested Development from start to finish."

    I've seen several episodes and don't see what the fuss is. Apparently I'm not alone since it was canceled. Michael Cera has grown on me, so maybe I'd like it better if I watch it now - but even of his cohort of young comedians I think there is definitely better talent.

  4. You need to watch them in sequence, I think. I caught an episode randomly and thought it was pretty stupid, but once I was able to watch from the beginning, I think it was a lot better. The character histories and development are probably half of what makes any given episode so funny, and it opens up a lot of the (often quick, subtle, and easy to miss) jokes.

  5. So, Daniel, have you seen all five seasons of "The Wire?" Oh, and are you up to date on "True Blood?"

    And, since we're on the subject of television, what do you think of "The Prisoner?"

  6. Huh?

    Never seen any of them. Kate and I like vampire and zombie movies, so True Blood has looked interesting but I haven't seen it yet.

  7. Really? You talk about libertarians and you've never seen "The Prisoner" or "The Wire?" If you really want to understand our tribe those are prerequisites.

  8. I don't really know The Prisoner (just read up a little on it), but am familiar with The Wire.

    What is the libertarian theme? Dysfuntional government, dysfunctional schools, and the drug war? You won't find that much disagreement from me with libertarians on those issues, Xenophon.

  9. You'll just have to watch them.


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