Why I Stopped Watching “The Office”

On October 27, 2011, I stopped watching The Office.

For years, The Office routinely knocked out fantastic Halloween episodes. But after “Spooked,” this year’s Halloween episode, my heart became so heavy from pining for The Office of old that it finally broke and I left the world of Dunder Mifflin forever.

I loved The Office. I’ve watched the British series at least five times.  I ardently campaigned for the U.S. Office‘s renewal after season 1’s six-episode run.  I’ve seen every episode of the U.S. Office.  In full transparency, I teared up when Michael Scott gave his final, silent “That’s what she said.”  So I think I owe it to myself to explain “Why I Stopped Watching The Office.

As to not be a complete defeatist, I’ve also included thoughts on how the showrunners can fix some of the most glaring problems. Sadly, even if they do, I won’t be along for the ride.  There’s too much other great TV on and, sadly, it’s time for me to move along.


Here are the Six Reasons I Stopped Watching The Office.

1. The “Death” of Jim Halpert

Poor Jim Halpert.  Once the everyman, now the whatever man. A few years ago, Jim was gunning for top executive position, pouring his heart out to the love of his life, and routinely and hilariously disrupting the office.  Now, Jim is an overly somber, rarely humorous, and barely existent presence at Dunder Mifflin. Would Jim really be content letting Andy run the office? Nope. Wouldn’t Jim quit or run another office? I don’t know, but he would do something.

Last I checked, Jim’s biggest plot is that he and Pam are having a second baby.  If I wanted that plot point, I’d just throw a stone in the suburbs and talk to whoever it hit.

How to fix:   Jim is at his best when he has a life goal. Give him one so we can cheer for him again.

2. Lack of Compelling Story Arcs

Remember when…

  • Michael started his own company to compete with Dunder Mifflin?
  • Jan and Michael drunkenly hooked up and ended up living together?
  • Dwight quit?
  • Holly and Michael fell in love?
  • Jim transferred to Stamford and fell in love with another woman?

Those were just a few of the fantastic story arcs from The Office.

Now we’re supposed to care if Robert California likes Andy? #snooze

How to fix:  Establish overall story arcs and stick to them.  Have Saber transition Dunder Mifflin to selling completely new products in a new office, have Andy run the business into the ground, or even have Pam and Jim get a divorce.

3. Andy Bernard Is No Michael Scott

Disclaimer: I’m a huge fan of both Ed Helms and Steve Carrell.  The following qualm with The Office is focused on the characters they portray.

Michael Scott was misguided, clumsy, and naive. Week after week we watched him make a variety of mistakes; some racist, some homophobic, some just plain dumb. What kept it funny is we knew they were born out of his cluelessness and throughout it all we knew he was a good man. When he decided he had to kiss Oscar just to show his acceptance of gay men we knew he just didn’t know any better. Michael loved working at Dunder Mifflin, he wanted the best for his workers (perhaps excluding Toby), and at the end of the day he just wanted a loving wife and kids.

Andy Bernard is misguided, clumsy, and naive.  Week after week we watch him make a variety of mistakes; some racist, some homophobic, some just plain dumb. Sound familiar?  But here’s the fork in the road.  Andy is a spoiled kid. He’s a sheltered Ivy League graduate with daddy issues who likes to sing a cappella with a guy named Broccoli Rob. Beyond that backstory, we also know for about six seasons/years he acted like an asshole.  You can’t just slide that character development under the bed and forget about it just because the writers decided they were going to turn Andy Bernard into the new boss.  Unlike Michael, Andy has no inner goodness.  Has he really done anything to make us think he’s someone worth rooting for? He doesn’t even have clear goals and motivations. Does he want a relationship with Erin?  the respect of his peers? his dad’s love? well, it depends on what episode you’re watching.  Robert California knows Andy is a complete mess, so why don’t the writers?

How to fix:  Andy’s character is too fragmented to anchor the show.  Promote Jim to Andy’s manager.

4. Character Overload

In the first five seasons, The Office had clearly defined main characters: Michael, Jim, Dwight, and, in some seasons, Ryan, Pam, Jan, etc.  Now it’s a character potluck.  At last count, The Office currently has 18 regular characters: Dwight, Jim, Pam, Ryan, Stanley, Kevin, Angela, Phyllis, Meredith, Kelly, Creed, Oscar, Andy, Toby, Darryl, Erin, Gabe, and Robert California.  It’s fine to have a large ensemble cast, but could you even point out which of these characters is a main character?  You’d probably go with Andy, since he’s the boss, but if you removed him, who would you choose?  Dwight? Jim?  maybe, but just out of respect for how they used to be main characters.  Darryl? perhaps. Pam? lol.

Beyond having an excessive number of characters, the show is also misusing characters.  In Michael’s absence, the general fallback has been to distribute much of Michael Scott’s comedic load to the rest of the ensemble cast.  Pretty soon we’re going to see an episode that focuses on Creed’s backstory.  While that would be hilarious in its own right, it’s the kind of tactic that is great for the short term but damages the show in the long run.  Part of Creed’s hilarity is his one-dimensional oddness, and that works in limited quantities. Same goes for Kevin, Stanley, Meredith, and the rest of the supporting cast.

How to fix:  Redefine your main characters and give them the lion’s share of the story.

5. Completely Unnecessary Characters

Erin – Ellie Kemper does a great job with what the writers give her, but unfortunately that’s not much. Best described as “cute,” Erin is a sketch comedy character. She’s a broad stroke caricature of a a clueless but well-meaning young woman.  She is not a fleshed-out character ready for prime time TV.  She’s a character you might see a Second City performer create off the cuff.

Gabe – Bizarre, creepy, and lacking any redeeming characteristics, Gabe’s the actualization of the Toby Flenderson Michael created in his mind. Much like Michael hated Toby, I hate Gabe. My feelings about Gabe can best be summarized by something Michael Scott said to Toby: “Why are you the way that you are? Honestly, every time I try to do something fun or exciting, you make it not… that way. I hate so much about the things that you choose to be.”

How to fix: Do what True Blood does and literally kill off Gabe and Erin’s characters.  I think it’s time for the “Scranton Strangler” to make a real appearance.

6. NBC’s Desperation

Ricky Gervais ended the British Office after two seasons and a Christmas special, likewise for Extras.  For both series, Gervais stated that he kept the total episodes low because the stories were complete.  John Cleese’s decision to end Fawlty Towers after a similarly brief run was what inspired Gervais to make this decision.  So why was this not done with the U.S. Office?  Gervais is an executive producer, and I’d hope he’d apply the same standard for a show he produces.  I’m sure Gervais doesn’t dislike money, but I have more than a sneaking suspicion that NBC is keeping The Office alive because the rest of the network is dying around it. Along those lines, promoting Andy to manager reeked of a decision based on riding The Hangover‘s coattails, not based on what made the most sense for the narrative. NBC’s stink is all over all of this.

How to fix:  beyond rebuilding the TV network, the writers need to refocus the show on what’s best for the narrative.  Giving it a clear timeline until it’s over would also go a long way to helping them structure the final seasons (see: Lost and Breaking Bad).

Well, that was truly exhausting.  It was really, really hard for me, but I feel much better after doing it.

That’s what she said.


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