Can Will Ferrell’s cruelty save “The Office?”

Last night's episode is a reminder that Dunder Mifflin has been sorely lacking in one quality: Malice

Topics: The Office, NBC, Ricky Gervais, Television,

Can Will Ferrell's cruelty save "The Office?"Painfully funny: Will Ferrell on "The Office"

Last week, Steve Carell began his three-week departure from NBC’s “The Office,” a move that has many critics (and cast members) wondering if the show can survive. Despite good ratings, the past two seasons of “The Office” have been limping along without a clear focus. With Jim and Pam together (with a kid, no less), the driving motivation of the original British series has ended, and “The Office” has begun to meander, looking for its next interoffice romance to become the crux of an aimless show. Watching “The Office” has become almost as monotonous as going to one. Why? Because just like a real office, everyone on the show has stopped being real and started being polite.

While season one of the American “Office” tried to mimic the storylines from its BBC namesake program, the ratings had tumbled by the time of its season finale. Turns out, our audiences only like painfully awkward confrontations during prime time news or on shows about hoarding. Scripted comedies? Not so much. (Though Larry David and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” may beg to differ.)

The second season of the American “Office” barely resembled the first. In season two the characters were — if not nicer, necessarily — not as blatantly cruel. They also became more nuanced: Michael was something of a savant as a salesman and began an affair with his disapproving boss, Jan. (Something his British alter ego David Brent could have never pulled off, which was sort of the point of the original series.) Two side characters originally meant to be unlikable, Dwight and Angela, fell for each other and became more well-rounded. Jim finally stood up for himself and kissed Pam. “The Office” became the thing it originally opposed: A romantic portrait of desk job drudgery.

You Might Also Like

Now in season seven, we know these characters as if they were our own family, and when they are mean to each other, we know they will make up by the episode’s end. Why? Because they are a family, with the goofy but loving Michael Scott as the bumbling patriarch. How could the show go on without him, especially when we don’t even know who his replacement will be? (Will Ferrell has come on for a four-episode transitional period, and Jim Carrey will “cameo” in the season finale, but neither actor has been announced as the new boss in Scranton.)

Here’s how “The Office” could succeed, even flourish after Carell’s departure: It could go all the way back to its Schadenfreude roots and get mean. Despite mixed criticism for Ferrell’s role last week as temp boss Deangelo Vickers, I thought parts of his performance shined with something we hadn’t seen on the show since Andy first showed up as Dwight’s nemesis: actual cruelty. Deangelo, while encouraging to some (Michael in particular), also showed a malicious side, turning Andy into the office “clown” and making him drink soap.

Deangelo also took an instant dislike to Pam and Jim, when they tried to brown-nose their way into his good graces by using their child as bait. Which, come on, is exactly what this entire show has been lacking for a while now: someone to see these two eye-rolling protagonists for who they really are. Jim and Pam aren’t just irrelevant to “The Office,” they’ve become almost unlikable. The show is stuck between treating them as the main characters and recognizing that most of America thinks they’re dull at best, pathetic at worst.

Last night’s episode introduced some of the most cringe-inducing moments since the show’s inception: that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when Jim leaves the car for Pam to talk to Erin, because he found her love problems “totally boring”; Pam losing the Best Mom award at the Dundies while Jim gloated over his Best Dad award; Michael’s digs at Angela’s boyfriend being a state senator (an uglier moment than the times Oscar has pointed out this same fact, if only because Michael was saying it to an audience of spectators). And the coup de grâce of public humiliation: Erin breaking up with Gabe during her “thank you” speech. It was the first time in a while that Jim’s trademark “Can you believe this?” mug to the camera actually made sense. It was an awkward, unpleasant moment to watch. It was also brutally funny.

If “The Office” can continue down this path – after the inevitable “Goodbye Michael!” singalongs – and reveal a darker side to characters who have been defanged over too many episodes, it may have a chance of surviving post-Carell. Or maybe the employees of Dunder Mifflin/Sabre will continue to hold hands and play nice. If so, “The Office” will lose its pop culture relevance faster than jokes about “The King’s Speech.”

Drew Grant is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @videodrew.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>