Michael Scott might not be one for a graceful exit, but it appears that Steve Carell is.
Carell, the star of NBC’s workplace comedy The Office, announced that he would depart the Universal Media Studios-produced sitcom after the seventh season, which launches this fall. While other high-profile stars might engage in lip service when it comes to contract negotiations, there’s no sign that Carell is playing hardball.
"I just think it's time," Carell told E! News during a red-carpet appearance for his upcoming film Despicable Me. "I want to fulfill my contract. When I first signed on, I had a contract for seven seasons, and this coming year is my seventh. I just thought it was time for my character to go."
These comments echo his words earlier this year during a BBC Radio 2 interview. Not only does Carell appear to be speaking the truth, a rarity in Hollywood for sure, but his departure would also give the writers the perfect opportunity to tie up both the story of Michael Scott and that of The Office as well.
The show could go on, said Carell, who believes that it should in fact continue sans Michael Scott and that his departure could “add some new life and… energy to the show.”
The show has become almost unwatchable of late, amid storylines that seemed more and more irrational, over the top, or just plain odd.
While the ensemble cast has grown over the years to include colorful members of the accounting, human resources, warehouse, and sales teams at Dunder Mifflin, Michael Scott remains the show’s flawed (and slightly creepy) heart. The honest truth is that it’s impossible to separate The Office from Michael Scott, just as it was with David Brent and its original British incarnation.
BBC’s The Office, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, ran for only 12 episodes and a Christmas special, a total of 13 installments that are, by critical and audience standards, absolute perfection. It’s impossible to imagine that the cameras would have continued rolling at Slough’s Wernham Hogg long enough for Tim (Martin Freeman) and Dawn (Lucy Davis), Jim and Pam’s U.K. counterparts, to marry and have a baby.
Yet that’s just what happened on NBC’s version, developed by Greg Daniels, this year. During the sixth season, co-workers and insufferable lovebirds Jim and Pam finally tied the knot in a Niagara Falls wedding, gave birth to a baby girl, and continued working at the same paper company, which itself this season was taken over by a printer company run out of Florida.
Pam and Jim get married, viral video-style.
The show, once a critical darling that snagged multiple Emmy Awards for its nuanced portrait of the American workplace and the corporate drones that shuffled into a non-descript office each day, has become almost unwatchable of late, amid storylines that seemed more and more irrational, over the top, or just plain odd. (This past season, for example, Michael became convinced an insurance agent was actually a member of the Mafia; in a separate instance, he fell into an ornamental koi pond.)
The Office was once a place where viewers could relate to the central characters. We’ve all had bosses like Michael Scott, a buffoon with a penchant for off-color remarks, hackneyed catchphrases (“that’s what she said”), and a complete inability to empathize or understand basic social mores. But while Michael was delusional and obtuse, in recent seasons, the writers have often made him shockingly stupid, forcing him to indulge in behavior that’s literally unbelievable. (A story arc during Season 5 involving Amy Ryan’s Holly Flax added some much needed humanity to Michael Scott, but their romance proved short-lived.)
The Office’s original showrunner, Greg Daniels, has moved on to another NBC mockumentary, Parks and Recreation, which he oversees with Mike Schur, also an Office alum. Daniels’ attention is now focused on Parks, starring Amy Poehler, which in its sophomore season garnered critics’ praise and a small, loyal audience. Daniels handed over the showrunner reins to Paul Lieberstein, who also appears on screen as sad sack human-resources executive Toby Flenderson.
The Office’s sixth season, despite its milestone moments for central couple Jim and Pam, came in as the second-lowest-rated season yet, luring 7.8 million average viewers, a decrease of 1.4 million from Season 5, the show’s highest-rated. It is still, however, the most-watched offering in NBC’s Thursday night comedy bloc, drawing significantly more eyeballs than 30 Rock, Parks, and Community.
Which might be why NBC wants to see The Office continue. After all, the writers have created a large ensemble of characters, one of whom could replace Carell as the manager of the Scranton branch. Or the producers could bring in another A-lister to take over as the boss from hell.
But it would be nearly impossible for anyone to fill the considerable shoes worn by Carell. Producers this year attempted to promote John Krasinski’s Jim into the role of co-regional manager, a misguided storyline that saw Jim and Michael engage in tired power games before the balance of power was once again restored and Jim returned to the sales team. While Jim and his star-crossed romance with former receptionist Pam (Jenna Fischer) was once a major ratings-grabber, their influence has waned considerably as their cutesy courtship has descended into yet another clichéd television marriage. Actually, it’s worse: The partners work together—next to one another, in fact—and yet never have any real issues that develop as a result.
Elsewhere, Rainn Wilson’s beets-bears-and- Battlestar Galactica-loving salesman Dwight Schrute slowly transformed from a quirky oddball to something resembling a sociopath, removing all credibility from his character in the process. An attempt to rekindle an office romance—this time between Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) and new receptionist Erin (Ellie Kemper)—failed to match the sparks of the early days of Jim & Pam. And then the printers, manufactured by new Dunder Mifflin parent company Sabre, began to catch on fire.
Even amid the flames, the florescent lights seemed a little dimmer than ever at The Office.
The easy thing to do would be to make The Office into The Jim and Pam Show in the wake of Carell’s departure at the end of next season. That would be a major mistake—they lack the spark and verve of Carell to function as the show’s center, moral or otherwise.
But really, as the 150th episode approaches in the next year, it seems to be the perfect time to say goodbye, not just to Michael Scott, but to The Office—before it goes completely limp. As Michael himself might mutter, that’s what she said.
Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a website devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment websites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.