Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Losing My Heart On: Looking Back at “The Office” Season 7

       There was a time when “The Office” was my favorite show on television. I would defend it to the very end due to its expert mix of laugh out loud comedy and pathos. However, the show has been on a downward spiral for a while and season seven of “The Office” made me realize that I am no longer emotionally invested in the show. After Jim and Pam got their happy ending, the heart of the show became Michael Scott and his relationship with lovable HR rep Holly Flax. While his departure was very satisfying, despite the pointless and infuriating Will Ferrell appearances, the show now lacks the emotional core that it needs. Going forward I think that one of the show’s biggest challenges is to do what it did so well in the early years, finding the balance between heart and comedy. 

      I think Steve Carell made the right decision not to renew his contract after season seven. The show could only go so far with its status quo and it was clear in the 6th season that the writers were struggling to come up with new story ideas. Having Michael Scott leave gave the show’s 7th season a sense of direction that was absent in season six. However, as a whole, season seven had lots of ups and downs. Leading up to Carell’s departure, there were episodes that I loved but there were more that I either hated or found completely forgettable. An episode based around everyone watching an episode of “Glee”? Really? The season’s fourth episode, “Christening,” is perhaps the worst episode “The Office” ever did while Carell was still around. “Threat Level Midnight” featured Michael’s attempt to bring his screenplay to life on film. The screenplay was originally featured in a hilarious season two episode, but the actual filmed version in the season seven episode proves that less is more. The film was technically very well done, but that was the problem. Even though Michael had been working on this film for six years, it still did not feel as “home made” as it should have. The stylistic cinematography of this episode was quite jarring and I found it to be too over-the-top for the series. And while it was great to have Amy Ryan back as Holly Flax, the writers didn’t seem to know what to do with her and she was sadly underused except for her return in “Classy Christmas” and her exit in “Garage Sale.”

        The season didn’t really take off until episode 19, “Garage Sale” in which Michael contemplates how to propose to Holly and learns that in order to be with her, he will have to move to Colorado so that she can take care of her ailing father. At the end of the episode, Michael lines the office with candles after getting help from his coworkers on how to execute the perfect proposal. The proposal is sweet and manages to get some laughs as the sprinklers are set off from the excessive amount of candles. Then, soaked and newly engaged, Michael announces to the entire office that he will be moving to Colorado. I really loved this episode because it pulled off what “The Office” had done best in previous seasons, mixing humor with heartfelt emotion. This episode wasn’t just about the proposal; it was about the office finally coming together as a family. It what was what Michael had wanted for so long, and now he was leaving.

      “Goodbye, Michael” was Carell’s final episode and did a great job of featuring callbacks to the show’s golden era and saying goodbye to Michael Scott. The simple structure of the episode was well executed and featured tons of emotional moments including Michael’s goodbyes to Dwight, Jim, and Pam. As Pam stood hugging Michael in the airport before his departure, I couldn’t help but remember the pilot episode in which Michael “fake fires” Pam. In that scene, he is a monstrous villain and leaves Pam in tears. But seven years later, their final, heartfelt embrace feels earned. The character of Michael Scott came in many different forms, but he went out in the best possible way.
      Then there was Will Ferrell. While I don’t dislike Ferrell, I knew that he would mean trouble for the show. The writers of the show have not had the best track record of using big name guest stars (does anyone else remember the unnecessary Jack Black and Cloris Leachman appearances?). The problem with Ferrell’s character, named Deangelo Vickers, is that the writers didn’t even bother to develop the character. It’s clear that their mentality was “Will Ferrell will make it funny.” But they were wrong. Vickers came off as a strange, annoying presence. He was glaringly inconsistent, in one episode he has stage fright and in a later episode he does a juggling act in front of the entire office. At first, I thought his character would be revealed to be the Scranton Strangler, thus validating all of the craziness. Instead, the character suffers a coma after attempting to dunk a basketball in the worst episode the series has ever done, “The Inner Circle,” which also happened to be the first post-Carell episode.

      However, the next episode “Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager” shows how the series still has life in it. Yes, it was a bit unbelievable to have Dwight shoot a gun off in the office and not get fired, but I’ve learned to ignore the need for realism in the series ever since Michael drove his car into a lake. Overall, this episode was one of the funniest season seven episodes, and the only post-Carell episode not to feature a “very special guest star.”
     The season finale was based around the question “who will be the new manager?” Just like “The Killing,” the show chose to not answer the question that the audience had been asking from the beginning of the season. At this point, I really don’t care who the new boss is. The writers seem to think that I do, as evident by the parade of useless guest stars who really served no purpose since most were unavailable to fill the position. That’s not to say I think “The Office” can’t be successful without Carell, I think it can. But at the same time, the writers seemed to be stumbling on how to go forward. They had all season to plan for bringing in a new manager, and I was expecting something more carefully executed.

       I may have lost my emotional investment in the show now that Michael Scott has gone, but I will continue to watch “The Office” to the very end even if it goes to season 17 and the only characters left are Creed and Hank the security guard. My loyalty to this show cannot be shaken, but I really hope it will end sooner rather than later. Rainn Wilson, Jenna Fischer, and John Krasinski’s contracts are all up at the end of season eight, and they still have not renewed them (I think Fischer is the most likely to renew while Krasinski is least likely, with Wilson somewhere in the middle). Without the three leads, I think NBC will make the smart decision to finally put the show out of its misery...or we could be heading toward a ninth season starring Jenna Fischer as the office manager. Hey, I’d actually watch that. 

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