I’ve been known to show clips of “Diversity Training” to my students. On multiple occasions, I’ve delayed or even forgone Thursday night plans in favor of thirty minutes with my favorite dysfunctional paper salesmen. I even have a small statuette – a Dundie – that sits proudly and prominently in the upper right corner of my desk, just in case anyone entering my office wonders who won the ‘Whitest Sneaker Award’ in 2008. It was me.
Clearly, The Office has been an important part of my life, and many TV watchers’ lives, for quite some time. And sadly, this past Thursday night I came to terms with two hard facts I’ve been reluctant to admit for the last few months:First, The Office just isn’t as good as it used to be. On Thursday night, two of my current and strongest TV loves collided as Sabre Gabe hosted the Dunder Mifflin crew for a Glee-watching party. It was funny – the NardDog rarely disappoints, and it is still The Office after all – but it wasn’t the epically ridiculous experience of Office past: instead of Kelly squeezing into a Cheerios uniform or Kevin and Scrantonicity (2) throwing together a Schu-inspired mash-up for the occasion, we got Pam and Jim dealing with a cranky baby, and an inexplicable – and dull in its successfully surreptitious execution – cable outage (since when does Michael get away with one of his crazy schemes?).
Dunder Mifflin Scranton, do I even know you anymore? As the characters’ plots have continued to evolve, their lives have become more realistic, and in this case I think, more mundane and unwatchable. Take Angela for example – her storyline right now is that of an aging, lonely woman who has suddenly been struck with baby fever and cannot get her intended to commit. It’s difficult to laugh at the germophobic, Jesus-freak hypocrite when you’re busy feeling bad for her.
Second, the time has come to finally deal with the tragic and the inevitable: Steve Carell is really leaving The Office and the show will never be the same.When Mindy Kaling confirmed that Michael Scott would indeed be leaving the show altogether, she noted the excitement around the set as the cast and crew brainstormed ideas for the future regional manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton. Apparently, the producers are looking for a character who will react to simple situations in an exaggerated way in order to create comedic storylines, just like Michael.
While it would be a denial of Kaling’s and B.J. Novak’s copious talents to assume that losing Michael makes the show unsalvageable, the idea to look for someone just like Michael spells disaster to me, because I just don’t think Carell is replaceable in The Office set-up. Michael’s role is so unique in that his ridiculousness allows the hugely varied personalities within Dunder Mifflin to somehow come together: Would Jim, the most relate-able, normal character on the show, have any reason or motivation to discuss Texas Hold’Em with Kevin, if not for Michael’s Casino Night? Would Stanley and Pam have anything at all to discuss if not for Michael’s annual pretzel day? And how would any of them find an excuse to interact without events like Crime Aid or Michael Scott’s 5K Fun Run for the Cure?
It’s hard to believe that another character would be able to fill those huge shoes that Michael Scott has been placing his Foreman-grilled feet into for the last five and a half years, but I’m anxious to see Kaling and Novak try: the possibilities for Michael Scott’s departure are endless and sure to return the show, albeit briefly, to its brilliant and hysterical roots. Will Michael be carted off to jail (ironically, finally earning the nickname Prison Mike) after driving his Sebring to Nashua and holding A.J. ransom in exchange for Holly’s love? Will he finally make it big, starring as agent Michael Scarn in an adaptation of the Michael Scott original screenplay, Threat Level: Midnight? However the rest of Michael Scott’s story is written, it almost has to be first class entertainment, a fitting end for the character who made The Office a hit.
As for Kaling, Novak and the rest of The Office writers, I’m ready to see what they can line up for Dunder Mifflin’s future – despite my skepticism – since as a loyal fan, it’s only the right thing to do. Yes, like Derek Jeter, The Office’s best years may now be, sadly enough, in the past. But as the Yankees (hopefully) know, you don’t toss your star shortstop out on the street the minute he turns 36, and you don’t dump your primetime gem as soon as its uber-successful lead decides to move on. As veterans, they’ve earned another season or two. And after coming to terms with the fact that the end is in sight, I look forward to seeing how exactly Dunder Mifflin’s story will finish. Scranton, let’s see what you’ve got.