For any serious fan of "The
Office" - the American version of the "The
Office," that is, which has been airing on NBC ever since
2005 - this marks something of a bittersweet week.
Next week, Steve Carell - the show's dominant face and
personality - will be leaving the show that he helped to
define, just as his fictional alter ego Michael Scott gets
married and moves away from the Scranton branch of the
make-believe paper company Dunder Mifflin.
With a cheerful bow, Carell will move on with a career that
has now quickly veered into the realm of blockbuster movies.
And yet I think I'm not the only "Office" fan to
think that now's the time to either reinvent the show or put
it to rest. Michael Scott has had a glorious run, but the
series was starting to grow a bit stale and predictable. By
giving the lead character a dignified sendoff gives the show a
chance of changing course and growing into something smarter.
In tonight's episode, the precursor to Carell's finale,
Michael Scott hosts his final Dundie Awards ceremony, reviving
one of the show's most ingenious devices. Each and every year,
it would seem, Dunder Mifflin hosts an internal awards gala.
And Michael Scott devises bizarre awards that can be handed
out to each and every employee, praising everything from
ethnicity to the color of one's sneakers.
Beyond the chuckles, the Dundies are a microcosm of
everything that's hilarious, yet heartfelt about Michael
Scott. Yes, he seems to have invented these awards as an
excuse to cast himself as host and emcee, relishing the chance
to the grab the mic and toss out one-liners.
True, some of his awards are offensive and ridiculous, and
we are laughing at the self-centered Michael Scott every bit
as much as we are smiling along with his colleagues.
But as we saw in the original Dundies episode when Pam and
her colleagues rushed to Michael's defense as her boss was
being mocked, Michael Scott is a blend of the lovable loser
and the blundering best friend. He makes mistakes but he means
well, just as the Dundies are awkward yet absolute
affirmations of a person's place in his world.
In the silly little statute that is revived this evening,
we see a metaphor for both the man and the show. Unlike the
British "Office," the American version has not torn
down office culture as diminishing or patronizing, but has
presented the workplace as something of a second family - an
incubator of individuality where camaraderie is valued above
all else. In the British version, the office was brought down
to size; in the American adaptation, we seen an idealized
version of how supportive and empathetic an office - and a
boss - can be.
This is why Michael Scott is one of television's greatest
characters. Yes, we mock him and laugh at his foibles. But we
see what he's doing, and we love him for it.
Scott's more paternal figure than a superior, more
dim-witted best friend than patronizing authority. He's the
kind of guy that we'd want to work for, who we'd want to work
with. And here's betting that a whole lot of
"Office" fans who haven't tuned in to the show for
quite some time come strolling back for Michael's goodbye.
He's risen to the ranks of a Seinfeld or a Chandler, and
Carell has walked the fine line of buffoon and brother
straight into television history.