Dear The Office:
I am really sorry that it has come to this. But please stop being terrible.
Once upon a time, you were “must see TV.” After a rocky start in adapting a British program with a small but cultish American following, you found your voice and made the concept your own. You captured what it was like to work in an office: the often motley crew of coworkers that you are forced to interact with and with whom you spend more time with than your family; the hilarity in the monotony of everyday office life and the little pleasures that can be found in trying to make it through the day; the incompetent bosses. You developed characters that we cared about and were invested in: Michael Scott – the ineffective, yet lovable boss who views his staff as the family he so desperately wants; Dwight Schrute – the odd and geeky coworker who loves rules and discipline (and beets); Creed – the creepy guy in the office who no one really knows what he does (including Creed); Ryan – the office temp, trying to survive the madness and Michael’s odd obsession with him to move on to bigger and better things; and of course Jim and Pam.
In Jim Halpert, the slacker salesman who is more interested in pranking Dwight than making a big sale, and Pam Beasley, the office receptionist stuck in a relationship with a lug that didn’t appreciate her, the show found its true heart. Amongst all the office hijinks, their budding relationship was what a lot of people tuned in for, myself included. You handled this relationship masterfully –the “will they or won’t they” was dragged out just long enough that it was believable and the obstacles in their way felt natural and not just a forced way to prolong the drama. You showed that getting a couple together would not ruin the show and that there was in fact comedy in a couple happily dating and working together.
But this was not just a show about office romance. Some of the greatest humor from the show had nothing to do with Jim and Pam directly, but instead derived the interactions of the staff and how they goofed off around the office. The pranks between Jim and Dwight were a particular source of comic gold:
A delicate balance was found where the show was both laugh out loud funny and sweet.
And really, how can you not love a show that introduced “that’s what she said” into the general lexicon.
And then something happened.
At first, it seemed like a few missteps. You went to the well too many times with interoffice relationships – the love triangle of Dwight, Angela and Andy was a poor man’s Jim, Pam and Roy. There was an occasional episode that just wasn’t funny. But then the ship would be righted with a string of amazing episodes, like the “Michael Scott Paper Company” story line or the introduction of Amy Ryan as Michael’s love interest Holly.
However, the problem became more than just momentary lapses. You didn’t know what to do with Jim – first he was promoted, which could have been funny, but the status quo was quickly restored before there was time to mine the comedic potential. Instead of awkward being funny, the show was just awkward. The prank wars seemed more mean spirited. Michael and Dwight became too cartoonish, to the point where you wondered how either one of them was still employed. You wasted appearances by great guest stars like Idris Elba and Timothy Olyphant. Jim and Pam started to seem kind of like smug jerks. And why were these documentary filmmakers still following these people around? There will still moments of the former show – Jim and Pam’s wedding was particularly outstanding – but great episodes were becoming few and far between.
When Steve Carell announced he was leaving The Office, it seemed like a golden opportunity to wrap the show up on an upswing. The final episodes with Carell were among the best that had been done in a while. Some of the original spirit returned. However, as one of the more popular shows on a struggling network, there was no way that The Office was going to end. Despite your track record, I was still hopeful that the introduction of a new boss would get your creative juices flowing, that it would provide the opportunity to reinvent and invigorate the show and get it out of its lackluster rut.
That didn’t happen.
The introduction of James Spader had real promise based on his brief appearance at the end of last season. But the character that returned was just bizarre and lacked the zen master qualities you originally gave him. Promoting Andy to be the new branch manager was inevitable – with the success of his film career, giving Ed Helms a bigger role was probably necessary – but instead of exploring a new dynamic, the personality of Andy was rebooted to basically become Michael 2.0. We once again have an office romance triangle. And it just doesn’t work. It just all seems lazy and rehashed.
And then the news broke yesterday that you are thinking of spinning off the Dwight character to his own show.
No. No. A thousand times no.
You need to fix the original – improve the writing, allow your characters to speak in their authentic voices and figure out how you want to use the cast before you take on new challenges. It shouldn’t look like you are figuring it out as you go along. There is far too much talent on this show for it to be continually wasted.
You used to a show I recommended. Now you are a show that I need to justify. And I can’t even really do that anymore.
In short, get your s&*t together.