The Office – Season Eight
The national debate about what makes The Office such a universally adored show is typically centered around whether the show’s success was primarily in the hands of the awkward and oblivious Michael Scott (Steve Carell), or the show’s ensemble cast of amazing characters – from the creepy Creed (Creed Bratton) to the lethargic Stanley (Leslie David Baker). With the departure of Michael Scott at the end of the last season, this new season found all cast members stepping up to the plate to prove that the show wasn’t really just "The Michael Scott Show."
The big question was who was going to take Steve Carell’s place and The writers did the smart thing by not having anybody try. They did bring in the new character of Robert California (James Spader), but certainly not as a replacement. It would be impossible to replace Carell who pulled off the loveable screw-up to a tee. Somehow, Carell managed to offend every one of the characters who worked for him and along with it every race, religion, sexual orientation, you name it, and everybody still adored him as a character. He became a modern-day Archie Bunker who somehow managed to become endearing despite his overwhelming short-comings.
Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) takes over as Regional Manager. Seeing Andy in that corner office surrounded by all of his Cornell memorabilia, he does seem to be the logical choice. After all, Andy is awkward, socially-inept, and somehow still loveable. It didn’t provide a new dynamic to the office, though, as it wasn’t clear how this power shift affected anyone. Past episodes focused heavily on Scott. The typical plot line saw Michael Scott coming up with some crazy idea or reacting in an off-color way to a random set of circumstances and in the meantime offending everyone in the vicinity. By the end of the episode, though, order was usually restored and everything is forgiven. After six seasons though, this formula did get a little tiring as viewers were often left to wonder how this office could possibly function while being constantly interrupted by inane meetings, parties, and tasks.
The meat of the show, though, has always been that secondary storyline. Most people got hooked to the show purely based on the love story of Jim and Pam. Everyone was shocked to find out that Angela was still sleeping with Dwight even though she was engaged to Andy. When Dunder Mifflin was going under due to economic pressures and every one of our beloved characters feared for their livelihoods, our country could understand that feeling as it was something we were all experiencing. These are the storylines that drove the show and that can continue to drive the show despite Carell’s departure.
However, this year’s season premiere didn’t provide any punch. It felt like a reunion special. Oh look, Pam’s pregnant again. Angela is, too, and she’s snooty. Dwight still does crazy things in his free time. Ryan is still self-absorbed. All of these characters are just carrying on. There really was no plotline to drive viewers to tune in next week. The show still has the humor of popular culture, i.e. watching various characters “planking” around the office. The premiere also tugged at our heartstrings as we watched Andy defend his co-workers to the heartless Richard California. As everyone leaves work and wishes Andy a good night, we are reminded of the family feel of this group of misfits, even without Carell.
To be fair, every show faces this problem when entering into their later seasons. Plotlines run dry. Pam and Jim are married and have already had a baby, so that isn’t new anymore. The writers have matched up every possible love situation and most of the characters on the show are successfully paired off. What will be the next big thing to pull viewers in? It seems that the writers themselves are trying to figure that out. But it is good to see those old familiar faces and to still get some good laughs.