October 25, 2010

Promote from Within The Office

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Since Steve Carell’s announcement that he would be leaving The Office at the end of this season, I’ve been hoping he comes to the same realization that Gob often made on Arrested Development: “I’ve made a huge mistake.”

In the event that Steve doesn’t come to his senses, this season’s stellar first batch of episodes proves that the show can still be a reliable source of must-see-television in his absence. Contrary to popular belief, The Office can survive without Michael Scott.  And, no I don’t mean the way Scrubs survived its last season during Zach Braff’s quasi-departure.  Michael’s absence could be a catalyst that ultimately saves this show. It would give us time to develop characters that don’t often get enough screen time.  And maybe the search for his replacement will introduce some higher-stakes to the series that have been missing since Jim and Pam got together.

The reason The Office worked so well in its glory days was not simply a result of how funny the individual characters were or why they made us laugh. More importantly, it was due to the great build-up and storytelling that carried the plots.  The Jim and Pam storyline didn’t feel like it was drawn out too long (disclosure: I watched the series over the course of one month several years ago on DVD, so I didn’t actually wait the full four years for them to get together).

It played out a little like this: Jim pined for Pam while she was engaged. Then Pam pined for Jim while he was dating Karen.  Then they simply got together, married, had a baby and haven’t looked back since.  Friends, this show was not. And we are all the more grateful for that. It was a natural evolution for these characters in a long-running sitcom.

But last season was arguably the show’s worst (which was still high-quality television, nonetheless). Despite the notable exception of the wedding episode, there was no overarching story driving the season.  Yes, Dunder Mifflin was bought out by Sabre (not Sah-bray), and Kathy Bates and her two dogs came along.  But did we really need Kathy Bates?  Or her two dogs? Her character simply doesn’t fit in well with The Office characters — a show that seldom relies on stunt casting  (why should they when they have Kelly Kapoor — star of Subtle Sexuality?).

For the most part, the series has lost many of the aspects that made it an interesting commentary on the American workplace. The inclusion of superiors for Michael that were typical CEOs or corporate managers — Jan Levinson and David Wallace — injected a sense of realism into the show and highlighted how eccentric Michael Scott truly was.  The new CEO is just as eccentric herself and too much of a “character” without any back-story. When Michael would text David “911 EMERGENCY” in order to ensure that he would answer his calls, David’s exasperation was pure comic relief in the same way that Jim’s faces to the camera are.

Kathy Bates’ Jo Bennett is too distracting and her performance is not subtle enough for us to appreciate The Office’s finer moments. They might as well have hired Meryl Streep to play the new receptionist.  (There’s a show I would watch!)

Speaking of reception, Ellie Kemper as Pam’s replacement, Erin, comes in a long line of fresh additions to an already great cast (after Andy Bernard and Karen of course).  I’ve never laughed so hard watching Erin drop a disposable camera into the trash — grossly misunderstanding the definition of “disposable.”  Says Erin, “Disposable cameras are fun, although it does seem wasteful and you don’t ever get to see your pictures.  If it’s an important event that you want to remember, I recommend you use a real camera.

How can the producers really fix The Office?  Promote Kelly Kapoor (played by genius writer and executive producer Mindy Kaling) to regional manager when Michael leaves. With the exception of Creed Bratton, Kelly Kapoor is the most underused character on the show relative to her potential talent. The best we’ve seen of Kelly is her amazing performance as a diva in a Webisode music video, titled, Subtle Sexuality. Her personality is quirky, insecure and pop-cultured obsessed.  In other words, completely real, in the same vein as Michael.  Her recent completion of minority executive training at Yale for the company makes her, on the surface, “qualified” to lead an office.  That could lead to some interesting commentary on corporate America.  She says, “You guys I’m like really smart now, you don’t even know. You could ask me what’s the largest corporation in America and I’d be all, blah, blah, blah, giving you the exact correct answer.”  The answer: The girl version of Michael Scott.

It’s not to say that Michael leaving The Office is something to be desired.  He is one of the most iconic characters in television history. But all good things must come to an end; the ensemble cast of The Office is the best in the business and the supporting characters are the most fleshed out and well written of any sitcom.  It’s time now to catapult Mindy Kaling to Steve Carell levels of stardom.

Original Author: Scott Eidler