On the season premiere of "The Office," Michael Scott, with his usual tongue-tied bluster, tries to out-folksy his southern-fried-aphorism-spewing boss while defending his new assistant: his screw-up nephew, Luke.
The office, an exasperated Michael explained on Thursday's episode, is “my pool” and his nephew is always welcome to “work in my pool” (even, apparently, if he’s floundering).
As Steve Carell begins his final season on the long-running NBC comedy, we won't try to extend Michael's tortured analogy (Will "The Office" drown without Carell? Will his departure leave the show all wet?).
We’ll simply savor the moment as classic Michael Scott – and as a reminder of the irreplaceable character we'll soon be losing.
Ricky Gervais, creator of the brilliant original UK version of "The Office," played David Brent, another hopelessly clueless boss too caught up in his own delusional vision of himself as benevolent father-figure/comedian to realize he was wreaking havoc with people's lives. Gervais' cringe-inducing adventure into the comedy of the awkward stretched over 7½ of the best hours in TV history.
Carell's take on the character – he somehow makes us like or at least feel a protective embarrassment for the often infuriating but ultimately pathetic shlub – has us wanting more of Michael, even beyond his seventh and final season.
Other shows – M*A*S*H" and "Cheers" – have forged on successfully after losing major characters, but never quite this late in the game. We probably have a limited imagination, but we’re having a hard time seeing “The Office” without Carell.
Carell, in a promotional video interview on "The Office" website, suggests this season will be energized by his impending departure. "We all know at least where this plotline is headed in sort of a general sense," he said, noting that his plan to leave, in a way, is "doing a service" to the show.
His humility aside, Carell might have a point. "The Office" has been a tad uneven since Jim and Pam's wedding, though it’s been buoyed by the introduction of Kathy Bates as Jo Bennett, the new owner of Dunder Mifflin (now Dunder Mifflin Sabre).
Any story arc leading up to Michael’s departure will give new focus and stakes to the goofy battles between Jim and Dwight (especially now that Dwight owns the office – or at least the building), and other intra-office absurdity. There's also the hope – hinted at in last season’s finale – that Michael might be reunited with Holly, his soulmate in silliness.
But that doesn't give us much of an idea – at least not yet – of what will happen in Season 8. We'll note, with a chuckle, that the season premiere of "The Office" came a day after the announcement of the new judges on "American Idol," almost as if clearing the way for the next big off-camera replacement drama (Harvey Keitel’s name has been floated – more almost certainly will follow).
New York magazine offered a clever take on the speculation by asking various TV drama writers to come up with scenarios for Carell's last episode. Damon Lindelof of "Lost" fame suggested turning Michael's office into a shrine. "I would love to continue to feel his presence on this show," Lindelof said. "You can't just pretend he wasn't there."
While we're not sure about the shrine idea, we agree with the sentiment: Michael Scott/Steve Carell will loom large long after this season. So we’re going to sit back and enjoy Carell's final-season victory lap, knowing no matter who takes over as manager of Dunder Mifflin Sabre's Scranton branch, he or she will be diving into Michael Scott's pool – er, office.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.