Friday, April 22, 2011

When Things Go Too Long: Why The Office Should End

By Thomas Hokum

We’ve all heard the joke that goes too long, seen the couple past its prime, or stretched a winning streak until it breaks.  We know the idiom, “Quit while you’re ahead,” but there is some deep human instinct to go a little bit further; to stretch our luck a bit too thin as we stare out over the precipice of imminent failure. It can apply to anything, but everywhere you look people are opting out of dignified endings and “letting it ride” until the wheels fall off of whatever project is being strangled for that last drop of juice.

Now, that was a lot of metaphors so I’ll bring it back down to earth for you. The Office should end when Michael Scott leaves.

After viewing the first two episodes of The Office, in which, Will Ferrell plays a new interim manager named Deangelo, I got a glimpse into what The Office could become and it wasn’t pretty. Will Ferrell’s performance has been lackluster as he tries to downplay his own zany antics while trying to fill the shoes of the world’s zaniest boss, Michael Scott. Given a blank canvas Ferrell chooses to play down to the role rather than really run with it. I’m not sure there is another actor who can play the boss of Dunder-Mifflin Scranton believably. If they leave the spot vacant and use one of the existing cast as the new “boss,” the show loses Steve Carrell while gaining nothing and the less for it.

My real question is why replace him at all? Why not quit while you’re ahead and go out on a high note? The show is essentially about him, Jim, and Pam. Jim and Pam have gotten together, gotten married, had a baby, and are now raising it. They’re done and they were done well. Michael Scott has finally become engaged to a woman who loves him after a marriage proposal that I think is one of the best and most heartfelt scenes in all of modern television.

So why not end it? The tertiary characters don’t have anything going on. Dwight, the original draw to the show for many, has done absolutely nothing about his massive snub in the placement of manager. For some one who is constantly scheming, simple temper tantrums do no suffice to show his character’s level of hurt and outrage. With Michael leaving and his shroud of infallibility finally torn down, The Office writers finally had a chance to turn Dwight’s antics at Michael, who has never been on the receiving end and wouldn’t have the thick skin or cleverness to counter attack like Jim. The relationship between Michael and Dwight is the only loose end. (Spoiler) Erin even dumped Gabe and seems to be already heading in Andy’s direction. The cast of characters is tapped out. Their stories have been told. Except for Creed and that’s a story probably best left untold. So without “jumping the shark” and without Michael Scott, where does the show go?

The phrase “jumping the shark” comes from the Happy Days episode where Fonzi jumps over a shark pen on water skis. The episode has long been attributed to being a ratings grab in the show’s struggling final years and the phrase has come to mean just that. However, in actuality the show enjoyed good ratings in its final years. Many viewers thought Cheers should end when Shelley Long left, only to see the show soar with Kirstie Alley. My point being that I could be wrong. The Office could come up with a winner of an idea and usher in a new golden age. But NBC execs don’t have that idea yet, and it is very much so the Eleventh Hour. There is nothing wrong with ending a show while people are still watching. In fact, I would think that should be the goal.

The show Lost benefitted from a clearly set end date and used it to make sure all the loose ends were wrapped up and all the questions answered. Well, that was a lie but the last season was really good because they knew they didn’t have to hold back. All the good ideas they had saved away for a rainy day were unleashed in a Pandora’s Box-like rush of good television. The Sopranos ran a paltry six seasons but is considered by some to be the best in television history. It’s ending was a simple blank screen but the body of work in those episodes was good enough to allow the viewer to put his own ending or interpretation to it.

Television isn’t the only medium effected by our lust for continuation. I read both the True Blood / Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris and the Dexter books by Jeff Lindsay and both series seem to have past they’re prime. The latest Dexter book introduces cannibalism in its own jumping of the shark segment and Sookie Stackhouse has become formulaic in her paranormal adventures. Both could benefit from a fixed end point to build towards. Movies also suffer from this disease in the form of sequels, but the bigger franchises have found a modern answer to this blatant offense: the reboot. James Bond, Batman, and really Rocky even did it once with the last film, have all used the reboot as a chance to re-imagine popular characters and unearth new storylines.

A great ending can change your impression of a movie. (See The Usual Suspects) A bad ending can ruin an otherwise good film. (See No Country for Old Men… although that’s debatable because no one understands the ending) And television is just as vulnerable.

The Office without Michael Scott will just seem like a spin-off of The Office. Even more so if they bring in an outside actor. Those episodes will be forever tagged with addendum of The Office with Guy Who Isn’t Steve Carrell’s Name Here. NBC needs to consider the show’s legacy instead of just it’s profitability.


  1. Yes, you could be wrong, and I hope you are wrong. But I agree that the two episodes so far with Will Ferrell have not been encouraging. While they had some good moments, the shows were disapponting. The writers are going to have to do better than this if The Office is going to maintain its excellence post-Carrell.

  2. I totally agree. Actually, I think the show started going down hill during season 4.