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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Steve Carell leaves The Office: Saying goodbye to TV's biggest doofus

28

April

the-office-steve-carell-michael-scott.jpgHow to say goodbye to TV’s biggest doofus?

Answer: With a flood of celebrity guests, judging by the way NBC is handling the departure of its biggest star from its highest rated comedy.

But even as Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Ray Romano and Jim Carrey line up for the last few episodes this season of The Office, we can’t forget the supreme doofus at the heart of all this pageantry:

Steve Carell’s awesomely dysfunctional Michael Gary Scott.

To be fair, this is a departure which should have happened years ago. But even as Carell’s movie career grew white hot with hits like the 40 Year Old Virgin, he kept punching the clock at TV’s most subversive comedy.

Tonight, he leaves the show in a 50-minute episode which promises to remind us how supremely annoying Scott’s middle manager could be (doing bad E.T. impressions until you want to shove his head in a microwave) while also being a bit endearing and appealingly needy.

theoffice-gervais.jpgCredit Carell for that addictive comedy blend; the best decision made when American producers adapted Ricky Gervais’ British TV hit The Office to stateside network television.

Perhaps because the Brits value in-your-face humor, Gervais’ character David Brent was meaner and a bit less likeable. Brent could call an office meeting, announce that layoffs would be coming and then cap it off with the “good news”: he got a promotion.

Spot on satire of the corporate cubicle culture. But a tough sell for U.S. television audiences, who have a hard time watching characters they don’t like.

Enter Carell, hot off an attention-getting turn as a correspondent on the Daily Show and expert at playing the lovable schnook.

 

In his hands, Michael Scott transformed. Once the kind of clueless jerk who could inadvertently insult every racial or ethnic minority in a company diversity seminar, he became a fatherless attention sponge, whose missteps mostly centered on failed efforts to turn his dysfunctional staffers into a surrogate family.

There’s the time he kissed a gay colleague on the lips, then later accused him of transmitting herpes (it was just a cold sore).

And who could forget when Scott barreled into an office Halloween party in an afro wig, dressed as the company's black warehouse manager, spouting comically awful street slang? (I loved office manager Pam’s response to his costume: “When has that ever worked for you?”)

Because Carell is such a low key genius, it’s easy to overlook the trends sparked by The Office, like the recent glut of series imported from British television.

The show’s central set up – that an unseen documentary crew is filming the hijinks at Dunder Mifflin paper company in Scranton, Pa. – has inspired the vibe of later mockumentaries like ABC’s Modern Family and NBC’s Parks and Recreation.

And now, just as CBS hit Two and Half Men contemplates replacing its troubled star on the fly, The Office has to find a new man to fill worn loafers and too-tight office of its signature character.

Some have suggested Rainn Wilson’s excellently twisted salesman Dwight Schrute – another spot-on upgrade from the British version. But Schrute is like the perfect dash of pepper juice; a little goes a long way and too much can sour everything.

Personally, I’d like to see The Office take a victory lap next season, casting big name pals like Carrey, Ferrell and Romano for stretches as differently dysfunctional bosses who never seem to last.

Because the truth is, there may not be another character who can fill the same space Carell did, so ably for so long.

And that might just be the best tribute of all.
   

[Last modified: Thursday, April 28, 2011 3:20pm]

    

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