The Sad Decline of The Office

21 Nov

I’ve been reading some Onion AVClub episode recaps about Seinfeld, one of the best comedies of all time, and I’m getting to the last couple of seasons, and while Seinfeld’s last seasons had great moments and some very good episodes, they clearly weren’t as consistent as Seinfeld at its peak, and there’s some very interesting reasons for it, that tv writers would be wise to study.

There’s a lot more to say about the general ends and declines of shows, but that’s for another article.  Today, this had me thinking more specifically of the sad decline of The Office.  I’ve been a consistent defender of later seasons of The Office, but there’s no defending it anymore.   The show is mediocre at absolute best and I’m probably only watching this season because it’s the last, and because I’ve watched the whole show and I still have very fond feeling towards it, which makes its struggles all the more frustrating.  The Office is that baseball or football player who starts struggling as they age, and you convince yourself, that it’s just a matter of time til they start at least resembling a shadow of their former self, and then eventually come the conclusion that they’re probably done (think Jason Bay on the Mets).

What has particularly surprised and disappointed me was how rudderless the show has seemed since Steve Carell and his iconic Michael Scott character left at the end of Season 7.  I had thought of the idea of replacing Michael Scott a couple of seasons early as a way to keep the show fresh and forestall decline, because his character had a lot of inherent limitations (which just makes it more impressive that Carell kept him consistently tolerable enough) but the way the writers handled the post-Carell era make me glad they held on to Carell as long as they could have.  It’s just disheartening that given Carell’s growing film career and the fact that he could have left at any time, the writers couldn’t have cobbled together a better succession plan.

Last season was a total mess, as the writers threw a bunch of ideas at the wall with a frustratingly low percentage of success, like a lousy shoot-first guard in the NBA (Nick Young?).  James Spader’s Robert California was an amusing one-joke character that got less and less funny in every episode he appeared in.

New boss Andy has become an entirely different character that sometimes isn’t even a character, changing his personality to serve the needs of a particular episode, and has been portrayed too often a poor man’s Michael Scott, rather than as his own character.  New character Nellie was just terrible, and increasingly irritating as the season went on.  The subplot involving a random new female character (Jordan?) hitting on Jim completely missed the mark.  The plot involving Darryl trying to get with random warehouse worker Val?  Swing and a miss.  The show said goodbye to Gabe at the end of the season, one of the few highlights of the last couple of seasons.

I, for some reason, had hope for this last season, because knowing exactly how many episodes there are left can often be liberating for a show, even a largely non-serial comedy, just in the ability to put everything out there.  However, if anything, this season has been even worse.  The two replacements for Kelly have done nothing for me and the strange plot of the non-Clark Duke employee slowly establishing a rapport with Erin while Andy acts increasingly erratic I don’t really understand and don’t have any interest inn.  Andy has evolved further into Michael Scott territory, and as much as I’ve always liked Ed Helms, it both makes me appreciate Carell, and wonder why they can’t create a consistent character for Andy.  Jim and Pam just have nothing left; the major plot this year involves Jim wanting to leave work to start a new company with his friends in Philly, but it’s really hard to care.  The show has tried, for some reason, I don’t understand at all (non-refundable contract?) to redeem Nellie, deciding to simply forget completely how irritating and terrible a character she was for her first few episodes.

There’s not to say there aren’t occasional laughs to be found; it’s just that they’re fewer and farther between than ever before.  Erin is possibly the best part of watching the last few seasons of The Office, and Dwight’s ridiculousness holds up better over time than the antics of Jim, Pam, and Andy.  I laugh at these occasional moments when I watch now; but if this was the show I was watching new from the beginning, I have a hard time thinking I’d keep watching.  Anyway, I still hope against hope that the second half of the last season will leave us on a better note, but they haven’t provided much reason to keep watching.

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One Response to “The Sad Decline of The Office”

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