May 11, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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The thing to remember, when charting the collapse of THE OFFICE, is that the producers weren’t taken by surprise.  Steve Carell made it clear early last season that he wouldn’t be returning, and the show had months to plan for his departure and The Office 2.0.  The abject failure that resulted is a remarkable example of how smart people can shoot themselves not just in the foot, but in the head.  (Or, if you prefer, the idea that if you spend enough time writing about bumblers, eventually you’ll start bungling things yourself.)

Basically, over the course of a season and a half, The Office made 4 decisions for the post-Michael Scott era:

The short-term move was to bring in Will Ferrell as Deangelo Vickers, Michael’s temporary replacement in the episodes following Carell’s departure.  This wasn’t handled very well–Deangelo’s exit from Dunder-Mifflin was particularly crude–but from a ratings point of view it made sense, since Ferrell is a movie star who attracts eyeballs.  He was followed by an elaborate “job interview” episode, in which Jim Carrey, Ricky Gervais and Warren Buffett were among those playing applicants.

One of those applicants was Robert California (James Spader), which led to the show’s first fatal error:  bringing him on the show as a regular–not in Michael’s old job, but more or less replacing Kathy Bates (now busy on her own low-rated NBC series) as the corporate boss.  Spader, from the start, was a  horrible fit for the show.  His reptilian charm can be very effective and even funny, but it’s far too stylized for the basically naturalistic world of The Office, and his character’s manipulative, Machiavellian efforts to increase productivity just played as sadism.

That tendency was made many times worse by the next decision, which was to give Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) Michael’s old job.  Andy was an example of a fine supporting character who should never have been put in charge–his desperate insecurity and constant pleas for affection, without Michael Scott’s manic obliviousness, made him painful to watch, as he was humiliated time and time again by Spader’s character or his colleagues (even though every episode would conclude with a token gesture to show they all really liked him underneath).

With the show (and its ratings, down 45% from last season) flailing, the producers sent a group of the characters to Florida for some mildly funny storylines that were the set up for the show’s final big move:  bringing back Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate), who had been one of the rejected applicants in the previous season’s job interview episode.  Tate is a funny performer, but Nellie as a character makes zero sense on The Office.  She’s as clueless as Michael Scott but much more mean-spirited (she, too, got her chance to repeatedly humiliate Andy), and unlike Michael, who was always carefully shown to be at least a first-rate paper salesman, she seems like someone who wouldn’t last 2 weeks in a job in any real world.

All of which exhaustively leads us to last night’s exhausting series finale, written and directed by Executive Producer B.J. Novak (who also plays Ryan).  In sheer desperation, the producers resorted to a twist on the Michael Scott Paper Company storyline, carting back David Wallace (Andy Buckley) as a tycoon to buy Dunder-Mifflin and restore Andy to his Manager job–as though that had been a successful creative idea.  Andy’s first ridiculous act as Manager was to be instantly talked into keeping Nellie on (she quoted 2 lines from The Merchant of Venice), so she’ll be back too.  An example of how dreadfully off-tone this whole season has been came when the office staged an intervention for Andy (who’d been pretending to be an alcoholic janitor, just to be on the spot when David announced the news of his rehiring), and Ellie Kemper’s Erin had no idea that it might not help for her to make people think Andy was physically or verbally abusing her.

It all fills a viewer with dread, because it’s actually possible that The Office could get even worse than it’s been this season.  The only bright spot in the half-hour was the B story, which had Dwight (Rainn Wilson) running a free family portrait studio that turned out to be a scam for him to get the DNA of Angela (Angela Martin)’s baby, who presumably is Dwight’s, since (as Oscar finally seemed to confirm in the episode’s tag) Angela’s husband is gay.

Dwight and Angela had a romantic moment at the end of the episode, and that was just about the only fun to be had by any of the characters or the viewers of this sad season finale.  The Office will grind on–NBC can’t afford to let it die–and it will have a new showrunner next season (also, except perhaps for some guest spots, it will be minus Mindy Kaling’s Kelly, since Kaling has her own new show on FOX–not to mention the rumors that Rainn Wilson will get his own Dwight spinoff). Maybe it’ll somehow recapture its essence.  Right now, though, it belongs in the shredder.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."