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Is this the Long, Slow Death of ‘The Office’?

Picking an apt exit point always seems like a challenge as the end draws near for a TV show. Some jump too soon, some get pushed, and some linger long after their expiration, reeking like a forgotten Easter egg.

The Office is not there yet, but after a disappointing 8th season (in terms of execution and numbers), it is getting a little ripe, and today’s news of a possible “reboot” certainly doesn’t bode well for a rebound.

From Nellie Andreeva over at Deadline.com:

Word is that The Office executive producer Greg Daniels, who originally developed the American version of the cult British comedy, is mulling a reboot of the series, now in its eighth season. Daniels is expected to meet with NBC brass to lay out his idea for The Office 2.0, which I hear would feature existing characters as well as new ones.

Is it me, or does that sound, well, a bit benign? Daniels isn’t exactly an interloper, he knows what can make the show great, and maybe the show could use a slight shakeup, the key word being slight.

The trouble is, Andreeva goes on to report that contract negotiations with stars and busy film actors John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and (less so) B.J. Novak are at a stand-still and the shows biggest star, Ed Helms‘ deal is in question too. Add that to the fact that Rainn Wilson is gearing up to leave along with current show-runner Paul Lieberstein (Toby) for the planned Dwight-centric spin-off The Farm, and Mindy Kaling may leave for her own, non-Office related show, and one has to wonder which existing cast members will remain? Not James Spader, he’s leaving too, and that means we could be talking about a whole lot of empty desks next season and a show that revolves around the reliably un-encumbered accounting department.

Now, The Office has always been an ensemble show and that’s why it didn’t entirely implode when Steve Carell left, because of Helms, Krasinski, Wilson, Craig Robinson, and secondary cast members like Angela Kinsey, and Brian Baumgartner. It’s their presence and talent, but more than that, it’s their chemistry that has kept the show afloat through the last few years and the horribly bungled introduction of Spader‘s “Robert California”. You remember Robert California right? All misplaced confidence, creepy pseudo-eroticism and bravado, a beast that walked above everyone he encountered? That was a character that could have elevated the show, but instead he only provided cover for producers as they clumsily tried to plug Helms into Carell‘s evacuated space, disappeared (not the fault of the writers, most likely) and then returned to loose all potential as Catherine Tate‘s “Nellie” began to rise in prominence and he wilted in her presence.

Speaking of Tate, she’s been the best part of this down season because, unlike Helms, she actually reminds us of the moronic weasel that Michael Scott was at his finest, and not the sappy putz that he morphed into during later years (a part of the character that Helms seems to be channeling on a weekly basis).

A reboot with her at the center around most of the existing cast could actually work because (SPOILER), before last night, she was universally hated and unpredictable enough for them to fear (END SPOILER). And that is, let’s be honest, why a show about an office works and it’s also what made the UK original pure genius and early seasons of this version so damn good — everyday in our lives we are under the thumb of a person who under the best circumstances merely makes our lives annoying, and under the worst of circumstances can make them hell. Sure, there are exceptions to that, but we can relate to a jerk of a boss and the contrasting camaraderie that we feel with our co-workers in response, we can relate, we can laugh, we can care, or at least we can care more about that then we can care about a cuddly office space filled with bumpers, safety nets, and G rated hi-jinks. Or at least, I can.

Going forward, my concern is that a ninth season will continue to de-fang the role of “the boss” and also see the loss of half the cast or their return on a strictly and severely part time basis, gutting the show of its chemistry, star power, and buzz. At that point I think it’s fair to ask, why bother? The last thing any Office fan likely wants is their own version of a soulless Scrubs 2.0 or After-Mash. If reboot means “tear down and replace”, throwing in a bunch of similar character types embodied by strangers that occupy Jim’s desk while giving knowing glances to a sweet receptionist, I say put the show and us out of our misery. As I said before, finding an apt exit point is a challenge, but when all of your stars are walking out the door, well, that is a big damn neon sign.

Category: TV

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