As we all get over the idea that Steve Carell will be gone from The Office in a year and accept that NBC intends to continue the show without him, it’s time to start realizing that Carell has gone out of his way to make sure the show is in good hands.
He’s worked his butt off round the clock for seven years churning out big movies while on hiatus from the show when he could have just tore his contract up, wiped his butt with it and said, “Eff off TV peons, I’m gone.” He’s open to the possibility of guest appearances after he leaves. He’s let NBC — and fans — know more than a year in advance that he won’t be coming back, giving us the time to savor every Michael Scott moment this year and giving his bosses more than ample time to find an acceptable replacement.
Carell has done everything he could to help the show and the fans through this transition — now it’s NBC’s turn to help the fans with a viable, funny replacement that will fit right in at Dunder Mifflin and even inject a new, consistent energy to the show that’s been lacking for about two years.
So far, NBC is on the right track. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a faster train out there.
Both Danny McBride and Rhys Darby are extremely acceptable choices, at least on the surface. I thought of Danny McBride previously, I just thought he was tied to Eastbound and Down (naughty language alert on that link, big time) and wouldn’t be able to swing The Office into his schedule. It’s a pretty good choice — he’s funny, he’s awkward and the Kenny Powers mullet plays in Scranton. Rhys Darby I hadn’t thought of, and now I’m kicking myself for not thinking about it. He’s perfect. He’s so perfect, I’m thinking about making a Facebook fan page to start a petition to get him on. If you’re not familiar with his work, it’s worth taking six minutes or so to watch this, the best of Murray Hewitt from Flight of the Conchords (only a small bit of naughty language):
There is one problem with either pick. I’m stealing shamelessly and blatantly from Bill Simmons here, but taking them kills the alpha dog. From the jump, Carell was the head honcho on the show andin real life, a fact accepted by the cast. As the stars of the rest of the cast started to rise, Carell’s still sparkled brightest. This was reinforced by the show, which has centered almost entirely on the trial and tribulations of Michael Scott. The Jim-Pam thing was just secondary window dressing to give the show the addicting love story that forced fans to the Internet to spew on whether Jim belonged with Pam or Karen. The one plot that should have belonged exclusively to Jim and Pam — their Niagara Falls wedding — was stolen by Michael when he bunked with Pam’s mom.
That hierarchy was fine when the show started, the show was built around Carell because he was the only recognizable face in the cast. But what now? Ed Helms has a $275 million hit under his belt with the sequel on the way next Memorial Day. Do you think he’s gonna sacrifice weekly screen time to an offbeat stand-up from New Zealand whose one TV show was unintelligible to most of the country? Craig Robinson has earned his way into the Apatow Players, guaranteeing he’ll have a steady movie paycheck for the next five years, at least. And if he had his Office lines reduced any further, people would think he’s a deaf-mute. That was all well and good when Carell had the rest of the lines, but what about when the man whose one major starring comedy role is an HBO show that has aired all of six episodes in 18 months gets all the attention?
The Simmons theory — and it’s completely true — is that every group needs an alpha dog. He’s the leader the rest of the dogs turn to in times of crisis, or go to for advice. If there isn’t a definitive alpha dog, the pack members to fight for the title, thereby creating tension and uneasy competition. The Office has managed to stay a successful show with a half-dozen people who probably think they’ve earned alpha dog status, but bowed to Carell. If John Krasinski is going to be passed over, you better believe he’s looking for someone with a longer, more credible career highlight than “Yes Man” or “UPS schill” to be the person stepping on his head.
This isn’t a role for an up-and-comer.
Not just because of the alpha dog theory, but because to be the lead on this show takes honest-to-goodness TV comedy talent. It’s not your average three-camera sitcom where you walk on stage, hit your mark, say your funny line and exit stage left. Not every one can do it, it takes actual comedic timing. You think Krasinski won the Jim Halpert job because of his good looks? I’m sure it didn’t hurt, but he won the job because he’s got impeccable timing and can make the funniest reactionary faces you’ll ever see in TV. He can read the complex dialogue and make it sound like he actually talks like that in real life. Can you really picture Kelsey Grammer pulling off “That’s what she said“? Or making a “My Humps” ringtone hysterical? Me neither.
So it’s not just get the most available person, it take careful examination and perfect timing. Presuming the search is outside the Dunder Mifflin cubicles — it certainly seems to be — here’s what NBC should be looking for in its next Dunder Mifflin Scranton branch manager:
--Available, funny sitcom veteran who previously led another successful show. It solves the alpha dog issue and brings instant credibility to the new position. THINK: Zach Braff, Ted Danson, maybe even Tim Allen
--Well-established, almost grizzled, comedy veteran with some acting chops who may not have had led a successful TV show, but would walk onto the set and command respect. THINK: Martin Short off of his run on Damages, Steve Martin
--A very funny “name” movie star whose had some TV experience and wants to lead a show. NBC has a year to get this done, so why not take some shots at the moon? Maybe there’s someone out there who isn’t terribly happy with the movie roles he’s being offered, so he’s looking for the perfect TV role to beef up his resume (a la Kiefer Sutherland when he signed up for 24). The worst they can do is say no, and then you go back to the perfectly acceptable choices of McBride or Darby. THINK: Paul Rudd (probably the best, most fitting choice out there right now, there’s just no way he does it), Jennifer Aniston, Michael Cera (when Scott Pilgrim bombs this weekend, Greg Daniels should be on the horn by lunchtime Monday assessing the possibilities), Zach Galifianakis.
--How come women sitcom vets are barely in the discussion? The Jim and Pam storybook romance hasn’t hit any bumps since they got together. Bringing in a woman boss to harmlessly flirt with Jim for a couple months, then make it more serious to the point where it becomes a legitimate threat would be interesting and a shot in the arm to the seriousness of the show. The Office always has worked best when the comedy intersects with real life. In a woman boss’s first season finale, I could see the cliffhanger being a Jim-new boss kiss, sort of an homage to the second-season finale when Jim kissed Pam for the first time. THINK: Christina Applegate, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Mila Kunis, Leah Remini, Jane Kaczmarek.
With all of those names, what if I told you there is a funny, available movie star and sitcom veteran out there who (we’ll fill in the blanks later so as not to give it away, try to guess who it is):
Has shown he’s not averse to getting back into TV, voicing a character in the short-lived animated sitcom (a)________ … hasn’t managed to really lead any major movie he’s been in since 2007, and the one he did lead, (b) ________ flopped … has a pretty open schedule … has been in seven movies since 2007 that have grossed an average of $92.25 million domestically and whose movies have grossed $2.5 billion worldwide since 2002 … is about to be the second lead in the romantic comedy (c)________ that has bomb written all over it, thereby hastening a return to the comforts of TV … has led one of the five funniest shows of the last decade, (d)__________, in an alpha dog role that wouldn’t be too far from the situation he’d be stepping into on The Office.
Jason Bateman is the perfect man for the job. The role would be a cake walk for him, he’s one of the few people who’s done this kind of comedy and pulled it off successfully. Very successfully, actually. He’s enough of a name that the current Office cast would have to fall in line behind him. He’s both young and a veteran, so older and younger viewers recognize him. His movie career has been more than solid both critically and commercially, even though he’s never pulled off the lead guy.
Now comes the hard part — getting him to sign on the dotted line. NBC has more than a year to find someone to grab the lead role in its signature sitcom, and probably it’s signature scripted show. The last time it had more than a year to pull off something like this, it blew the whole thing to smithereens and went down in TV disaster history. This is its mulligan.
For the sake of all Office fans, let’s hope Steve Carell’s replacement isn’t Jay Leno.