Here’s the thing about television in the summer – if you take a week off, there’s really not that much you’re missing. Yes, I do wish I could’ve posted last week, and yes, I would’ve found something to write about, but nothing too pressing, you know? The little TV I’ve watched has been almost entirely in airports and on airplanes, and a good half of that small amount has been the World Cup, which I enjoy but also barely know what “off-sides” means. I also watched several episodes of Say Yes to the Dress on a plane from New York to San Francisco (topical for me), selected clips of The Real Housewives of New Jersey and Bethenney Getting Married? with my mother (who found them nauseating), and the first two episodes of Top Chef, which suffered from the usual crowd-of-contestants problem of most early season reality shows.
One of the few things I’ve seen that has peaked my interest on the TV front is the news (long-rumored, but seemingly now confirmed) that Steve Carrell will be leaving The Office after his contract runs out at the end of this upcoming season. It’s hard to blame him. He’s been doing that character extraordinarily well for a very long time, and brought far more new to Michael Scott than I would have thought possible at the show’s opening. But the show has seemed to lack inspiration this last season, especially after Pam and Jim’s wedding, and is obviously in need of either retirement or an overhaul. I’d prefer retirement, and keep my fingers crossed that the resulting hole in NBC’s Thursday night schedule wouldn’t lead to a ratings collapse that would sink Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock. The ratings plummet seems to be highly likely, though, so my guess is that The Office will be headed for a makeover rather than a finale.
Some shows survive when the cast starts being swapped out. Law and Order, is the classic example, but even shows as disparate as Cheers, ER, and Friday Night Lights have been reasonably successful at moving from one main cast to another. It’s a flip side to the problem of television longevity that we don’t talk about as much, because so few shows make it long enough to encounter this obstacle. Generally, it has better odds of succeeding on shows like Law and Order or ER, where the procedural or the soap opera formats provide enough regular, repetitive plot structure that characters become at least somewhat replaceable. The Office’s problem is that its plots have always been mere excuses to showcase the Dunder Mifflin nutjobs, and are actually painfully boring without the additional twist of Michael, Jim, Dwight or Andy Bernard to screw things up. It’s sensitivity training day. We sell printers now. It’s Angela’s birthday. Michael wants a girlfriend. Replacing Michael Scott not only upsets the character make-up of the show, it endangers everything that has made the show work.
I don’t think it’s impossible, and despite my reservations, I think The Office with a new manager of the Scranton branch could be really great. It just seems really, really unlikely for that to be so. Plus, I worry that the final result will be eight season of the Steve Carrell The Office, followed by one tragic final season starring David Caruso. It’s just going to look so unfortunate in your The Office: The Complete Series box set, don’t you think?