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Spader's Exit: 5 Ways to Fix 'The Office'

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Feb 28, 2012 | 12:48pm EST

The OfficeThe Office isn’t quite the show it used to be. Steve Carell leaving the series certainly didn’t help—although, admittedly, Michael Scott’s farewell episode offered some of the most moving incidents in the show’s history. But The Office wasn’t ready to call it quits, as many fans had hoped. Instead, the show brought on a new character to keep things fresh: Robert California, played with a strange flare by James Spader. The Scranton newcomer definitely brings his own brand of comedy to the episodes on which he is featured, keeping things lively when he shows up. But now, the show will have a new hole to fill: Spader is also leaving The Office.

So without these commanding head honchos, The Office is forced to divert its full attention back to the office workers—and right about now, these characters and their stories have a fair amount of problems that need fixing. So what exactly can The Office do to keep us watching and invested? Here are a few ideas to start with…

Change Angela Back to Her Old Self

Sometime over the course of the past two years, Angela Martin, formerly a rigidly repressed, uptight and socially inept weirdo, changed completely. Now, she’s much looser, more sociable, and only marginally negative—a character whose primary humor seems to now come from the fact that she is completely oblivious to her husband’s homosexuality. You can make the argument that this is “character development,” but it just doesn’t quite work. Angela was much funnier when she was a stern oddball who took issue with anything and everything, and the office environment would fare better with that version of the character again.

Tone Down the Darryl/Val Relationship Story

On last week’s episode, Darryl’s pursuit of coworker Val, who is in a relationship with a hotheaded jerk, was compared pretty heavily to the Jim/Pam romance that drove the show for the first three years. Perhaps The Office was trying to drill it into viewers’ heads that we are supposed to care about Darryl and Val the way we cared about Jim and Pam. Unfortunately, we don’t. We were invested in Jim and Pam from the start, latching onto this world via the hope that maybe these two sweet and charming young people might get together. But we aren’t latching onto Darryl and Val. The Office’s world is already yards beyond established, and this new romance just seems tossed on top without much substance. Darryl works best in scenes with Andy, and vice versa—their friendship needs a jumpstart.

Start Andy Down his Rightful Path

When Andy was put in charge of the Scranton branch, there seemed to be a great opportunity for the character. Not comically—in fact, a lot of the humor involved in Andy’s running of the branch seems to be rehashed Michael Scott bits—but in terms of character development. Andy is a pretty strong, three-dimensional character (the current manifestation of Andy, that is—he is another one who has changed dramatically since his incarnation, with no apparent rationale), and one who is definitely on a quest to figure out where he belongs. Clearly, Andy is not there yet. But this new position as the branch manager is a great vehicle to help him find it. Maybe he’ll grow up and become more self-assured. Maybe he’ll realize that he’s meant to move on from Dunder Mifflin, as Michael did. Maybe he’ll succumb to his love for Erin and live on happily with her. Whatever it is that the show aims to do with Andy, they need to start doing it. As of now, the dynamic Ed Helms is not being used to full potential.

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Get Pam Out of Dunder Mifflin

One of the reasons that we latched onto Jim and Pam in the first place is because we related to them as “outsiders.” We understood that neither of them belonged at Dundler Mufflin, and the promise of them moving on to bigger and better things was always floating around in the background. Yet, somehow, they’re both still there. Jim’s case is excusable: he never expressed a particular desire for anything other path in particular as much as he did a sense of dissatisfaction with his job and his lot in life. But then came Pam, and Jim realized that all he really needed was something, someone to care about. It’s fine, it’s sweet, it’s acceptable.

But what happened to Pam becoming an artist? She gave it a shot a few seasons back, but gave up on it because she missed Jim—and you can’t make the same argument that she’s happy enough with where she is, because not that long ago, Pam admitted that she “keeps getting bored,” which fueled her decision to quit her job and join the Michael Scott Paper Company. Pam is unhappy with her job, and bored with the professional and creative aspects of her life. Perhaps she, Jim and the kids should move down to the city so that she can pursue her passion appropriately. We haven’t given up on you, Office. Don’t give up on Pam.

More Warmth, Less Wackiness
In its prime, The Office wasn’t a particularly wacky show. It was dry, quiet, and based more around building characters than delivering jokes. This sort of mentality is what the show needs to adopt once again. The greatest moments in all the years of The Office haven’t been the over-the-top gags. Jim professing his love for Pam. Jim helping Dwight through his breakup with Angela. Michael proposing to Holly. Michael taking Dwight up on the indebted paintball game. Jim telling Michael that he was the best boss he ever had. All these, and several more, are what Office fans remember fondly. Although they’re not easy to come by organically, these are what The Office should work toward, rather than the nutty shtick it now seems to favor.

The Office may never reclaim its former glory, but it still has potential for some quality stories. If the show remembers where it comes from and embraces what once made it great, we might see a ninth season we can all enjoy.
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