odds and ends: i waste an entire post writing about the office

Believe it or not, I want to write about The Office again.

Two weeks ago, I pretty much buried the show, pointing out what a misfire this eighth season has been. I was once a HUGE booster for The Office. Nowadays, the show is so bad it feels like the writers and producers constructed it specifically to torture loyal viewers. Characterization has been inconsistent. Plot lines have been introduced and quickly abandoned. The tone of the show has gone from being painfully realistic to over-the-top painful to watch.

Like I said, all that is well-trod ground both by myself and thousands of other people complaining anonymously on the Internet. I don’t need to get into much more detail than I already have. Instead I’d like to engage in a thought exercise: What could The Office do in Season Nine to pull itself out of this quagmire it finds itself in? I believe I have the answer!

The Office should do a time jump. In September, Season Nine should begin three to five years in the future. Here’s my pitch:

The Office is already set to shed a whole bunch of cast members next season. Mindy Kaling has just signed for a new sitcom on FOX. Rainn Wilson is developing a Dwight Schrute spin-off with Paul Liberstein, who has just stepped down as executive producer of the series. James Spader’s character has already been announced as leaving the series (and good riddance). With Kelly, Toby, and Dwight also potentially unavailable (or available in a limited fashion due to new commitments), a time jump could more than adequately explain their absences. Further, it could allow those actors to pop back into the show’s narrative, when their schedule allows. I assume even if the development of The Dwight Show (or whatever it’s being called) is fast-paced, we won’t see it until 2013, so there’s time to construct an exit for that character. I can’t imagine the show won’t give Kelly Kapoor some kind of quick goodbye next season.

Of the characters who remain, giving them a cushion of time where the audience is unsure of what they’ve been up to might offer some new possibilities. Here’s an example: I’ve always thought the show made a huge mistake in their use of Ryan Howard. Although I gather some of the choices made for the character were no doubt predicated around BJ Novak’s busy schedule and dual role as a writer and actor on the show, I thought going for the cheap joke of Ryan being a hipster douche was a mistake. While those jokes could often be funny and the show has gotten one excellent episode out of Ryan’s stupidity (WUPHF.com), he hasn’t really been a fully formed character since the show’s fifth season. A time jump could potentially give the show a chance to grow the character up a bit and use Novak’s talents more in front of the camera. Although he’s a good writer, The Office probably needs Novak as an actor a little more right now, if only for the consistency.

Consistency is an important idea because the next hurdle The Office. The show has to do one of two things: they need to either make the decision to proceed as a true ensemble comedy or they need to find a new main character and continue from there. I don’t particularly have a problem with turning the show into an ensemble- I don’t know that the background actors who are so funny in concentrated doses can handle more screen time, but I’m certainly interested in seeing if that’s the case. Certainly one of the best post-Michael Scott episodes in Season Seven was the solitary episode where no big guest stars were employed. Let this cast stand on its’ own!

However… personally, I’m far more interested in the show moving toward a “new” main character. That choice definitely didn’t work out this year. Ed Helms’ wasn’t handed a lot of truly great material for Andy but even given that, I don’t think making Andy the new regional manager was a bad move on the show’s part. Helms’ has comedic chops and could do some interesting things if given the opportunity. I do not, however, think that Helms is going to be able to become the emotional center of the show. Again, the writers seem to have attempted this in S.8 by playing up Andy’s romance with secretary Erin. I like aspects of that relationship, but again… it’s too cartoony to have any gravitas. Neither Andy nor Erin are grounded enough to get me invested in their “real” romance.

I’m going to suggest the show should use the time jump to shift the emotional focus of the show to Jim. I’ve got several reasons for thinking this. Jim is not a very funny character anymore… which is a shame, because he was really the heart of the show in its’ early years. A time jump could allow for a new focus on Jim by stirring up a plot point the writers have often played with but never truly committed to, namely that Jim is bored with his life in the office and wants something more than selling paper.

Admittedly, the writers have given Jim good reasons to stick around by carrying his relationship with Pam out happily… but Jim’s contentedness have left the character rootless. Imagine giving Jim a mild midlife crisis of some kind; I think that might play out rather interestingly. Give Jim something to want again and see where that takes the story.

I will say however, the success of this story would depend on who the writers surround John Krasinski, as his strengths as an actor lie more reaction than action. With Dwight potentially out of the running for the back half of Season 9, this is going to be something producers need to consider.

…and I guess therein lies my point: with the characters being so scattershot and goofy, timejumping the series could put some distance between the uninspired wackiness of S.8 and allow things to simmer back to… well, I don’t want to say “normal,” but at least Dunder Mifflin wouldn’t be so fucking cartoon crazy anymore. One of the nice things about the original run of episodes was how dull this office environment was. Most of the funny situations that arose were constructed precisely BECAUSE the office was so boring. Let Dunder Mifflin get boring again and root observations in that dullness! Inarguably, the best part of this season have been the cold opens to the show, where small ideas of daily routine were allowed to blossom. There were many, but I would point to the one where no one can remember if Stanley has a mustache… or the one where the office is betting whether Phyllis will say EVERY trite “it’s raining outside” cliche. These are far more relatable ideas than some of the shenanigans happening in the core story lines.

One final thought- if the show is going to skip ahead a few years, the potential is there for the US Office to follow in the footsteps of the UK version of thes eires and finally allow this unending documentary that’s supposedly being shot to have aired somewhere. The US Office has grown completely uninterested in the idea of this documentary being filmed… and by and large, I think it’s good producers/writers made that move. De-emphasizing the documentary has allowed for some more traditional stories to be told on the show, and many of them have been quite good. However, at this point in The Office‘s run, it’s probably time for a “back to basics” approach to the narrative, and allowing the style to move toward the Scranton branch’s reactions to the documentary would provide some interesting opportunities. It would have to be well-considered though, as once that bell is rung, it can never been un-rung. I’ve always thought “revealing the fallout from this documentary” would be a good final season of The Office. It’s how the UK version ended its’ run. Perhaps it’s time from the US version to follow suit.

Woo. There. You’ve got my thoughts on how to fix The Office… or at least, tee the show up for some new avenues to explore. I don’t expect these predictions to come true, although if they do, it wouldn’t be the first time I prognosticated about the future of the series correctly.

Despite my ideas here, I expect it will be business as usual come September. As a longtime fan, I would find disappointing.


2 Responses to “odds and ends: i waste an entire post writing about the office”

  1. Wow, a lot of good thoughts here. My Hub and I have had “the Office” discussion many times and thoroughly agree that season 8 was the worst so far. It’s become cartoony and clownish and lost its quirky, awkward charm.

    You’ve given me a lot to think about. And a lot to discuss tomorrow morning over coffee with the Hub.

    • Christopher Pearce Says:

      I was recently thinking of revisiting this topic AGAIN in a few weeks, considering NBC has made a couple of announcements about the future of the series. It looks like I was right on a couple of counts (an increased focus on Jim, this season will feature the revelation as to the identity of the documentary series’ filmmakers) I was wildly off base with other thoughts. BJ Novak has pretty much left the show at this point, for instance.

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