'The Office' Makes It Work

This Steve Carell-free season of The Office started off wobbly, but is finding its footing.

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Obviously when the show's main manic engine Steve Carell departed The Office after last season, we were worried. Really, we thought, why not just put the whole thing out of its inevitable misery? It had had a great run, but even the episodes with Carell in them had started to sag a bit, so any kind of show without him would just be entirely not worth it. And, when the Carell-less season started in September, it seemed we were right.

The show seemed so spare, so lopsided. And the cast, a bunch of moons without a planet, seemed overly desperate to entertain; they too were conscious of the great, sucking black hole Carell's absence created. We couldn't decide if we pitied or were annoyed by the show and its increasingly manic cast. "Oh give it a rest, guys. Aw, those poor guys." The show seemed doomed, worse it seemed boring, and we wrote the season off, proven right in our Carell mourning.

But then, lo and behold, what started happening? After a few weeks the actors seemed to relax a little bit, to find some of the old easy cadences they had when Michael Scott was still around and just tweak up the energy ever so slightly. They all needed to find the right levels, because without the show's anchor, all the supporting players had a lot more time to do stuff. And once they got over their initial eager-to-please jazz-handsing, it really became nice to have them saying a little more. And it's not just Carell's departure that's allowed for this, they've also done away with a lot of the Jim/Pam dominance that weighed the show down in past seasons. Really, the show is starting to feel buoyant again, which comes as quite a surprise.

Not that it's near its peak genius Carell days, but it's still an amiable half hour of television, more so than many other comedies airing right now. Ed Helms is a decent, hardworking Carell stand-in, and the addition of James Spader's Robert California isn't quite a perfect fit, but he works well enough, infuses a new bit of tension into the scene and gives everyone a chance to redefine themselves in a new person's eyes. The show feels more balanced than it did at the beginning of the season. Sure it's sunk a little, but what show hasn't by its eighth season?

This isn't to say the show should continue on for much longer. We'd like to think that this season is the supporting cast's victory lap, their extended curtain call after Carell has ceded the stage to them, the unheralded performers. But then in May let's maybe still end the thing. Pam will have a second baby, Angela will have her first. In theory Andy will have found love, Darryl too. It just feels like it could be a logical stopping place. Everyone is doing a good job this season, really, we stand corrected. But still, it's late, everyone's tired, don't you think it's time to end on a decent note and clock out?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.