The Office: under new management, and sooner than expected

During a week rife with TV news stories due to the ongoing TCA press tour, one story creating significant online buzz revolves around something the world already knew: Steve Carell is leaving The Office. As the end of his tenure grows nearer, we're starting to glean a few more tidbits about his exit from the showrunners, which naturally leads to a new round of speculation from both devoted and casual fans. There are no hardcore spoilers here, but if you want to avoid scoop and be completely surprised, read this with your fingers over your eyes.

the office

The biggest reveal is that Carell's last episode will actually come before May sweeps, with four episodes remaining in the season.  In some ways this is disappointing news, as we now have even less time remaining than expected to enjoy The Office as we know it, with Michael Scott as its centerpiece. For the cliffjumping fans who are convinced the show will turn to garbage without Carell (not to mention the many who feel that it already has), this is just ushering in The End ahead of schedule. 

To me, that is not the case at all. While it will never reach the heights of Seasons Two and Three, I am still quite enjoying the show in its current form, and I think Michael Scott's departure could actually cause a change in dynamic that will give it enough of a spark to continue for a couple more years. While seeing him go before the end of the season will be sad, it allows the show to reset and find its new footing before the summer hiatus. I think there's a lot of comedic (and possibly dramatic) potential in the search for a new boss, and it will be fun to get a chance to see the characters scramble and interview for the job (perhaps reminiscent of the end of Season Three, when Jan's position became available).

So does Michael get a happy send-off, leaving triumphantly to pursue another dream and walking into the sunset with his soulmate Holly Flax (guest star Amy Ryan, who returned in December and will stick around for several episodes)? Or do the writers go back to the show's British roots and send Michael away sad, alone, and embarrassed? The producers are staying tight-lipped about this, as they should be, but I happen to think a somewhat sanguine ending is probably most likely given the tone of the show, which even in its darkest moments usually provides some hope. One relevant piece of news the producers revealed is that Amy Ryan's last episode will be before Carell's, but I don't think that rules out Michael-Holly as an endgame couple.  She could easily need to leave town a couple weeks before he finishes up as manager.  In fact, I think this would be preferable, as it would be nice for Michael's final episodes to provide closure with his longtime coworkers, rather than needing to spend time resolving his love story.

Whatever happens, it will be exciting to see Michael's final arc take shape, and given the abbreviated timeline they're working with now, that arc should be picking up steam fairly soon.  Which leaves us the major burning question:  Who becomes the new boss?

Showrunner Paul Leiberstein revealed to Alan Sepinwall at Hitfix that while new hires will be considered as well, the list of internal candidates is down to Dwight (Rainn Wilson), Andy (Ed Helms), and Darryl (Craig Robinson).  I'm glad they're not considering Jim; they've tried him out in leadership roles, and it really doesn't work for his character.  It's disappointing that there are no female contenders, but which of the women would really be good in the role? Certainly not Pam (Jenna Fischer), who would probably become rather unlikable (this was already a problem last season, though she's improved recently). Kelly (the fantastic Mindy Kaling) would be fun for a few episodes, but I think the "ditzy manager" concept might get old really quickly. 

Among the three choices, my pick would be Darryl, and I expect he is the frontrunner.  Dwight's autocratic leadership style has been used to good effect in the past (and we presently are getting a good dose of that with him as the building owner), but I have trouble imagining it sustaining in the long term without getting really tiring and frustrating.  Andy is a hilarious character, and I hope he continues to be featured highly, but I'm afraid that him as manager would be a bit too similar to Michael.  We got a small taste of this in "Sex Ed" earlier this season, when Andy led an inappropriate instructional meeting based on his own insecurities.  It's funny, but it's really nothing new.

Darryl's career path has been emphasized a lot this season, and really throughout the whole series. It would be quite something that a character who started off as little more than an extra, appearing only in occasional warehouse scenes, could potentially progress to the show's lead. I'm not entirely sure how it would play out comedically, as Darryl is generally portrayed as one of the more level-headed people in the office, but Craig Robinson is talented and I think the writers could make the dynamic work. 

We shouldn't rule out a new character (and it looks like there will be a couple of new cast members either way), but I think a lot of fans would be disappointed and hesitant to accept a stranger filling Michael's shoes. But we know that these writers aren't afraid to surprise us (see: Ryan getting the promotion in the closing moments of Season Three), so anything is possible.

The Office returns with new episodes this Thursday at 9/8 central, where it will anchor NBC's new three-hour (!) comedy block. Who is your pick for the new manager? How should Michael's exit play out? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

By Adam Wattenbarger

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