Transitions: Covering The Office for The A.V. Club
September 21st, 2010
As a freelance critic with an emphasis on the “free,” my goal is to write about what interests me: while I am, admittedly, in the midst of transitioning back into the world of academia, criticism is simply part of how I watch television, and so my goal is to find those series which compel me to write about them despite my lack of free time in which to do so. This includes complex serialized dramas like Mad Men, unsung comedies like Cougar Town, intriguing new drama series like Lone Star, or complete – if pleasurable – messes like Glee.
It also includes The Office, although it might not under different circumstances. Last season was a disaster for the show creatively: while Jim and Pam’s wedding was a highlight, the rest of the season was a meandering affair which tried to find comedy in corporate turnover and came up empty-handed. The problem with the Sabre arc was that it presented itself as an insurrection but was in fact wholly ineffectual: in fact, the office actually devolved under Sabre’s leadership, with Michael and Jim returning to their original positions and Andy and Erin offering a rewind to the days of Jim and Pam. While things appeared to change on the surface, the structures of the show were more stale than ever before, and this discrepancy forced myself and many others to reflect on why we were still watching the series.
If the result of this reflection was “Michael Scott” or “Steve Carell” (it was neither for me), then the seventh season promises to be testing: with Carell officially departing at the end of the year to move onto other opportunities (and to spend more time with his family), the show is in a period of transition unseen in television comedy since Spin City (where Michael J. Fox left the series in 2000, replaced by Charlie Sheen). The question becomes whether the show can survive without Carell, both in terms of how Michael’s departure will affect the office ensemble and in terms of how viewers will respond to the unquestionable star of the show departing.
While many may find this concerning, I’ll admit to finding it pretty fascinating: the show is in the unique position of being able to plan an entire season around an impending change in the series’ structure, which makes the seventh season an exercise in transition and preparation that is not often seen in television comedy. Suddenly the show has a purpose again, balancing the end of Michael Scott’s arc on the series with the process of preparing to introduce someone entirely new next year. I may not have complete faith that they’ll be able to pull this off, but instead of watching one of my favourite shows slowly melt away in front of my eyes I get to see the show scramble to ensure it can continue on without its star. While creatively I am a bit apprehensive, I am more critically intrigued than I’ve ever been with the show, and that’s really what matters.
And it’s what led me to accept an offer to cover the show for The A.V. Club, as my title gave away long before you got to this particular sentence – with A.V. Club staffer Amelie Gillette writing for the show, they needed someone from outside of the inner circle to cover the series, and so I have the ominous task of filling Nathan Rabin’s shoes in the season ahead. It’s a tremendous opportunity to engage in a more public form of critical discourse, as I am looking forward to seeing how the commenters respond to the changes and how the critical community at large responds to the (hopefully) creative behind-the-scenes efforts to pull off this transition. I too, of course, will need to transition to a different environment writing for TV Club, but that will simply be part of the journey: I’ll avoid listing names so as to avoid turning this into a laundry list, but I’ve got a huge amount of respect for the collective team writing reviews for the site, and to be in their company is truly an honour.
Whether or not the show will live up to this honour is yet to be seen, but frankly I’m just glad that The Office feels like a journey again: after a season without direction, the show has a clear purpose heading forward, and for better or worse I’m along for the ride.
So, look for my first review on Thursday night – I’ll likely post a notice here as well as include a link in the sidebar.