Why Steve Carell Leaving The Office Doesn't Matter

Steve Carell is a national treasure. OK, sure, perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit when I write that. The point is, no one is attempting to say that Carell isn't talented or that Michael Scott won't be missed when he leaves The Office after this season. I'm just trying to make the point, amid all the doom and gloom being spread online about the future of The Office, that Carell's departure doesn't matter as far as the success of the show is concerned.

Every successful comedy television series, even an ensemble show like The Office, has a moral center that the general audience relates with. What separates The Office from other comedies is that the lead isn't the moral center. The general audience does not relate with Michael Scott. Now, that's not to say that nobody relates to Michael -- I'm sure there's a socially awkward, improv loving, middle manager out there, somewhere, who tunes in every week because he and Scott are soul mates. (Just like there are people out there -- yes, I've met a couple -- who think that the character that Stephen Colbert plays on TV actually makes a lot of sense.) Watch the first season again: Scott had to be toned down because he bordered on unlikable -- season one (fake) hair plugs and all.

No, the only character that The Office could not afford to lose is John Krasinski's Jim Halpert. Being a weirdo isn't necessarily funny; the normal human reaction to a weirdo is what's funny. Without Jim, the entire Scranton branch becomes a weirdo factory.

It's simple really: How can one identify what is absurd when everyone is absurd? With Scott out of the picture, that's just one less weirdo to deal with. Halpert, like it or not, is the character that most viewers relate with (which isn't to say he's our favorite character, just the most relatable) -- it's now even scientific fact, apparently.

Don't think I'm onto something here? Well there's always history to back me up. Many comedy series have lost a main character and continued on with little to no effect on quality and ratings. Look at Cheers: Shelly Long left the show after its fifth season and Cheers chugged along for six more with Kirstie Alley as the female lead. After the eleventh season, most of the cast agreed to return, but Ted Danson did not. The producers made the right choice to pull the plug because without Sam Malone, the character everyone related with, the show was doomed.

Oh, you might say, "Look at Frasier, he continued on with great success." This is true, but try watching an episode of Cheers back-to-back with an episode of Frasier. It's almost not even the same character. The character of Frasier Crane was reigned in to make him the relatable center of the show. Frasier didn't even pair its lead with a sleezeball brother -- something which may have only enhanced Frasier's quirkiness -- but, instead, a brother that's more uppity than Frasier. Basically, Niles Crane on Frasier was Frasier Crane on Cheers.

"But what about Phil Hartman on News Radio? He wasn't the relatable character on the show and the show nosedived after his death!" This is true. But shows like News Radio and _Arrested Development _were the kind of oddball shows that didn't have a clear-cut moral center -- hence the unfortunate ratings for each. (It might also explain why Community hasn't struck a chord with audiences.) No matter how brilliant each show was, leads like Dave Nelson and Michael Bluth weren't exactly characters that were easy to latch on to.

(Now, as far as Hartman, I think there are two other reasons why News Radio tanked: Hartman was (A) the likable antagonist on the show, much like Dwight Schrute, which is rare, and (B) his murder left a really bad taste in people's mouths -- even though Hartman was replaced by his good friend Jon Lovitz. The audience rejected it because New Radio became too sad to watch; it reminded them of Hartman.)

When you get right down to it, Michael Scott leaving The Office would be on par with Kramer leaving Seinfeld. Yes, we will miss both of them, but we will get over their loss. I mean, put it this way, if Michael Scott were getting his own show where it centered on him, his improv career and the women he was interested in, the show would fail miserably. How do I know? Because I just described the premise of Joey. You scoff, but Tribbiani was absolutely loved before Friends ended -- not so much after. Do you know who could carry a spinoff show? Jim Halpert. I mean, he pretty much did just that at the beginning of season three when he moved to Stanford, CT. Halpert's presence made the other characters (Ed Helms' Andy, Rashida Jones' Karen) interesting right from their first appearances.

Look, I will miss Michael Scott. We all will. But The Office will be just fine without him. His loss will not kill the show; his replacement could kill the show -- a Scott clone would be a disaster; a change of pace, like Idris Elba's Charles Miner, would be ideal -- but that's a topic for another day. For now, though, let's all just be happy that Jim Halpert isn't taking his victory lap around the cubicles of Dunder-Mifflin.



Comments

  • Sinbad says:

    Disagree.
    Individually you make correct points, but in this case it won't add up. It can work, but the replacement has to be a home run, not in name or celebrity, but in writing.
    Steve Carell is not Matt LeBlanc. Just look at the roles outside of Joey Tribbiani, and tell me which has worked.

  • Scraps says:

    When I read the title, I assumed you meant that it was because the show is going down in flames anyway. I've loved this show since season one, but it really hasn't been funny, consistently, since Jim and Pam got together. And so far this season, it seems like the writers have no idea what they are going to do when Carell leaves, so they're just writing crazy, implausible storylines that take the characters outside of their zone thinking "go ahead and cancel us, we have no real idea for the future anyway." Watch an episode from season 2 or 3 on a TBS rerun. It's a different show from what we see on Thursday nights now.

  • Mike Ryan says:

    Are you forgetting his role in Lost in Space or Ed?
    But, seriously, "Steve Carell is not Matt LeBlanc. Just look at the roles outside of Joey Tribbiani, and tell me which has worked. "
    Yeah, but that would be the same thing as saying, "Frasier can't succeed because Kelsey Grammer hasn't done a lot outside of one character just like LeBlanc." (I know Frasier was before Joey, I'm just making a point.) I don't think it's the actor's ability that matters in this case -- and Carell is terrific, of course -- I think it's the character. I mean, George Clooney is an Oscar winning actor but his leaving ER didn't kill the show.

  • Meg says:

    The Office has been a slowly deflating balloon of quality since season 4. The loss of Carell isn't what will kill the show...it's the loss of funny. There are only a handful of shows that continued to thrive after a major character left, and those shows were not already into season 8. Unless they try some sort of total reboot, replacing most of the cast and restructering the office format, viewers will lose interest. Not because Carell's no longer there, but because the environment and characters have become stale.

  • Daniel says:

    I have been thinking about Michael's replacement a lot as well. I actually just did a pretty in depth post about the topic on my blog; you should check it out!
    http://bit.ly/98awyZ

  • Shane says:

    I disagree with you about Dave Nelson. I think he is the textbook definition of a grounded audience-surrogate character surrounded by eccentrics. I don't think NewsRadio could have made it if Dave Foley had left.

  • Kristen says:

    Whether Carrell is there or not, the show isn't as amusing as it used to be.

  • adamlovestv says:

    I think The Office's waning quality will affect the demise of the show as much as Carrell's leaving, but I digress.
    I think Jim's "moral center/relatability" in almost entirely contingent on the Michael Scott character's actions to prompt that within the show. Therefore, for the show to work, they do need (in some sense) a Michael Scott clone either in the boss' chair, or hire on a new loony salesperson and promote Jim to be the sane manager of an insane asylum. I'm not even watching the current season, but I saw a promo in which Michael Scott has weaseled his way into Jim and Pam's baby's christening. The show hinges on Michael's antics toward the otherwise uninteresting Halpert.
    That said, in reference to your Seinfeld comparison I would assert that Carrell's departure is more akin to George leaving the show. Michael Scott isn't just wacky, he's a relentless meddler like George (albeit from a more naive place than Jason Alexander's character). And a Seinfeld without George isn't a Seinfeld I'd want to watch.

  • Mike Ryan says:

    Well said.

  • tom1985 says:

    "Watch the first season again: Scott had to be toned down because he bordered on unlikable — season one (fake) hair plugs and all."
    You got this upside down; He got the hair plugs AFTER season one, which is why he went from slightly balding to a full head of hair (increasingly full head of hair actually, as the seasons have progressed)
    So the "bordered on unlikable" look from season 1 is actually the natural look.

  • Charles says:

    Somebody needs to persuade Ricky Gervais to expand his involvement in the show and replace Carell. I mean, Gervais' career isn't exactly on fire right now, is it?

  • Charles says:

    Somebody needs to persuade Ricky Gervais to expand his involvement in the show and replace Carell. I mean, Gervais' career isn't exactly on fire at the moment, is it?

  • Mike says:

    I gotta agree about Jim being the vital character to The Office. Another exampleis That 70's Show. It could do without Kelso, Fez, or any of the other goofy characters but there was no way it could survive without Foreman.

  • Derek says:

    I do agree with everything you have to say about Jim. The show would not do very well without him. However I do not feel that the show will be fine without Micheal Scott. He is a key role and can not be replaced. Yes the show will go on, but for how long without Steve? It will only be a matter of time after he leaves before the ratings arent cutting it and they pull the plug. Unless they find a GREAT replacement which I dont know who besides Ricky Gervais can pull off that role.

  • Jeff Fritz says:

    Without Micheal Scott,I as a fan from the very beginning ,won't even be a show I want to watch anymore.They have run out of ideas and the show isn't even that funny anymore,except for him.He is the only thing that is keeping the show afloat.When he is gone I won't be watching it anymore.The only way I might still watch it is if Ricky Gervais is his replacement.If not it is time to cancell the show.

  • Andrew says:

    I disagree with people saying the show has been getting worse. I think this season has been hilarious.
    I also completely disagree with the whole Jim thing. Jim pales in comparison to Steve Carrell in importance to the show. The show is nothing without Michael Scott.

  • andi S. says:

    Michael Scott is my moral center in this show.

  • Storm says:

    Michael Scott is a beloved character who I will personally miss incredibly. I mean, he may not be relate-able in his quirkier aspects, but he is generally trying to do the right thing for his team and I honestly think the character never wants to do harm to anyone. In season one they had to change his character from being too much like the British office because American audiences don't want a dick boss. We want the buddy boss who we think we're smarter than!
    As for the moral center of the show, that award is best split between Jim, Pam, and Michael. Even Oscar and maybe early temp Ryan (Not later douche-bag Ryan).
    The show could go on without Michael Scott but I agree, hopefully the show doesn't do some cheesy celebrity stand-in or a Michael clone. The new character is going to have to come into their own at a pace. Jim will have to be the center for a while until this new character is fully entwined in the show. It's how Andy came in, Gabe, Erin, etc. Hard to replace Michael:Yes. Impossible:No. Tricky: Most likely...
    I just hope it works out, I love the Office, I would hate to see it end on a bad note.

  • Storm says:

    It didn't survive without Foreman. He left and they tried to replace him with that weird attractive guy, I can't even remember his name.

  • Storm says:

    I agree. So many people say The Office has been getting less funny but it definitely still makes me laugh.

  • FatHalpert says:

    Go to hell, The show is Nothing without Michael. It will be a lifeless shell, he IS the star.

  • Andrew says:

    Mike, I think you're wrong about people not being able to relate to Michael Scott. When you watch a TV show or a movie, you don't have to necessarily like the character. You definitely don't need to actually be the character either. All that matters is if you care about that character, and the show really gives Michael a lot for people to care about.
    Besides, everyone can relate to Michael because everyone knows what it's like to be afraid of being alone.Get what I'm saying?

  • Koowie says:

    I agree with you. Office might be "successful" for another year or two but it will die out if they don't have a great pick.

  • Rod says:

    I think what we relate to about Michael is the fact that all of us either are currently or have at some time in our life, worked for a Michael Scott as a boss and it gets us through it by being able to laugh about it. I hope he can be replaced but I have my doubts.

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