Out of all the things I’ll ever write, this is probably the most controversial: “Why The Office is better without Michael Scott.” That translates into “Why The Office is better without Steve Carell,” which of course means you all think I hate Steve Carell.
Not true. I love Steve Carell. In my mind, he’s just the male version of Tina Fey, and considering Tina Fey is my all-time-forever life hero and current soul twin, that should give you a decent idea about how I feel about Steve Carell.
I love the man. I don’t think he walks on water — he walks on air. I think it’s beyond ridiculous that he never won an Emmy for his performance as Michael Scott, and I still watch the clip where he steals Ricky Gervais’. I cried, actual real tears and threw what can only be described as an internet tantrum, worthy of the brattiest of two-year-olds when I found out he voluntarily chose to leave The Office.
During his tenure at Dunder Mifflin, Steve Carell shined. There’s no other word for it — he went from being somewhat recognizable, to being known for having his chest hair violently waxed off in a movie, to being a verifiable household name. Everyone knows Steve Carell. Everyone knows how talented and funny and all-around remarkable he is.
But that can cause trouble for an ensemble comedy. When you have someone like Steve Carell, there’s no need to worry about whether the joke is over-the-top funny or just mildly amusing, because Steve will make it amazing in whatever magical way Steve makes everything amazing. There’s no need to flesh out the backstories of the rest of the Dunder Mifflinites because Michael Scott is the all-consuming sun to their comparatively miniscule solar system. There simply wasn’t room for anyone else, save Jim and Pam and their everyday perfect love story, Dwight’s occasional antics and maybe an Andy-does-a-capella gag.
But now — now without Steve Carell and Michael Scott — the office has gotten a lot bigger. Andy — not the ever-so-insane Dwight, not the normal, everyman Jim, but Andy — is the boss, and that brings with it a whole new set of trials and tribulations, missteps and misgivings. Darryl got to something besides being the token black man, Angela has an over-arching storyline about more than her affair with Dwight four years ago, and Erin went from receptionist and minor background player to The Office’s hidden gem.
The trouble with having an ensemble comedy with a star as bright as Steve Carell is that there, quite literally, isn’t room for anyone else. It would be weird and unfitting for Michael Scott to step aside and let Dwight take center stage, but it’s not weird for Andy Bernard to do the same.
The Office still hasn’t lost its characteristic, “this is realistic in the kind of way that makes you believe it could happen, even if you know it’s too over the top to actually happen,” mentality. Could Michael Scott manage the Scranton branch for seven years without getting fired or moving on, and surviving as manager even when Dunder Mifflin’s was bought out? Probably not. But could Robert California get hired as manager and succeed to CEO within months, then just hang around Scranton, PA when the main offices are in Tallahassee, seemingly for no good reason other than to make his employees paranoid? Probably not. The hapless, fantastical disillusion isn’t gone — it’s even better now.
Without the Steve-sun shining and blinding everyone with its intensity, everyone’s stars have become that much brighter. Andy as manager and Robert California as CEO brought us Jim’s smug bedbug dance and Dwight’s subsequent extermination in “After Hours,” season 8, episode 16. Now my favorite Dwight-Jim interaction since “bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica.” It’s given us Robert California’s pool party, Angela and not-Dwight’s baby, and the misguided and somewhat naïve romance between Erin and Andy. It even gave us back the infamous Todd Packer and gifted us Catherine Tate (as Nellie) from across the pond.
Life without Michael Scott isn’t the barren and boundless television wasteland I imagined it would be. It’s even brighter, funnier. It has more sparkle. The Office had gotten stale, unoriginal and downright boring at times. Without the Steve Carell crutch, the show has picked itself up by its bootstraps, generating more creativity, and new storylines and new locations. The four episodes set in Tallahasse,, season 8, episodes 15-18, are the funniest, most jaw-droppingly hilarious Office episodes I’ve seen in recent years. It’s a different kind of humor, the kind that’s actually funny, the likes of which I haven’t seen from Scranton since the second or third season.
Michael Scott isn’t coming back, but a bright, beautiful phoenix has risen in his place, and it’s plumage has the preppy pastel of Andy Bernard, the classic mustard-yellow Dwight, and the bright pink Kelly Kapoor cannot live without.
Come on. Tell me that’s not something you want to see.