Friday, April 05, 2013

What happened to "The Office"?

Once a critical darling for NBC and a cornerstone for their rebuilt Thursday night sitcom block entitled "Comedy Night Done Right", the workplace sitcom has overstayed its welcome by at least two years. I didn't always feel that way but the past few new episodes have shown me that it has overstayed its welcome.

It all began slipping even before lead actor Steve Carell left to pursue his film career but with the advance knowledge producers and NBC had about the star's departure, the show should have been allowed to wrap up its run and ride off into the sunset as one of the most groundbreaking comedies of my generation.

At least The Office did usher in (for better or worse depending on who you ask) an era laughtrack-free comedies on network television which allow viewers to decide whether or not something is funny. This was a smarter comedy due to that fact. It was uncomfortable at times and mirrored -- to a certain extent -- real life in that aspect.

But bringing up Ed Helms to the role of boss of Dunder Mifflin's Scranton, Pennsylvania branch was not the right choice. Or maybe it was but his role was poorly written. It's true that he is the anti-Michael Scott (played by Carell) and that a change in tone was necessary to set the show apart from its days with Carell starring but with no strong lead on the show after Carell's departure, it quickly went off the rails. Carell made things uncomfortable because he was a piss-poor boss but showed that he was also a strong salesman and could step up when he needed to. He was incompetent at his job and was manic which made the show uncomfortably funny.

Helms, though, was flaky and incompetent but showed no skill whatsoever at sales making his longevity at Dunder Mifflin and his new role as manager feel forced at best. Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) or Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) would have been expected but strong choices to be the new manager if the show needed to continue past Carell's departure. Even Creed Bratten would have been fun because it would have been an unexpected choice and his role as an odd and borderline crazy person whose employment anywhere outside of panhandling under a bridge seems entirely implausible. In short, producers of The Office played it too safe by choosing Helms and wasting the year with James Spader in the cast because just like in real life, it is very tough to promote from within.

At least The Office is being put out of its misery this year and while the show still has glimpses of brilliance in its episodes, they are becoming more rare. The finale airs this May on NBC and will be seen by and cared about by few.

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