Saturday, September 24, 2011

Catching up on premiere week: The boss situation on "The Office"

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The Office
My main problem with the new season (as gleamed from the first episode) is that James Spader's new boss isn't too different than D'Angelo Vickers or Michael Scott: Uniquely weird and unorthodox. In the first season and a half, Michael Scott being the boss of the branch was an "informed ability" (thanks TV tropes!): The viewer was told that he was worthy of being a boss but there was little evidence of him being a good leader. In fact, the story arcs of many episodes (Diversity Day or
The Fire
) were reliant on a 3rd act that culminated in Michael Scott screwing everything else.

Spader's character, Robert California, is being played this way. His skills are being talked up heavily: He apparently talked the CEO of the company into an early retirement and he talked himself up in his own interview. At the same time, he only seems good in a so-offbeat-it-just-might-work kind of way. His idea of making a list of who's a winner or a loser is something that I would give 90/10 odds on failing horrifically if a boss tried it in the real world. I theorize it's that 10% room for doubt that has historically made the Michael Scott era work: The Office relies heavily on realism and while we thought the shenanigans of Michael Scott were most likely unrealistic, they were very plausible schemes that didn't require that much suspension of disbelief.

Getting back to the problem at hand, my beef with this season is that James Spader is seeming to play out the same way. Why remind the audience that Steve Carrell is gone by putting in someone even remotely comparable to him? Also, if the show's main asset is realism, I think it's kind of stretching it that the employees of Dunder-Mifflin-Sabre have suffered three of the weirdest bosses ever.

The Office had a great tonal change for the better when authority figures like Charles (Idis Ebra) and Jan (before she became a bit nutty in the 4th season) were there to contrast Michael Scott's antics. I understand that if you have a straight-laced boss and no crazy Michael-Scott-like element, you don't have anything remotely resembling what the show was in the first seven seasons.

However, I'd like to suggest that Michael Scott rubbed off on some of the characters: Oscar's a little less uptight, Pam's let loose a little more and has more confidence, Jim embraced wildness and fun (stemming from the "Murder" episode), and Ryan went from being a straight-laced business student to being supremely lazy and having an inflated ego. The new show could've work with a relatively straight-laced boss and the Dunder-Mifflin crew (in the form of Andy or Jim) wanting to preserve the don't-let-work-get-in-the-way-of-goofiness attitude that Michael Scott pioneered in the face of that nemesis.

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