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A fond farewell to one of television's greatest characters
Steve Carell's lead role as Michael Scott bids adieu

By STEVEN SNYDER - TimeOut Film Critic

April 20, 2011

 
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.