Michael Scott (Steve Carell) used to be an adorable, hideously awkward yet somehow believable boss of the Scranton branch of a small paper company called Dunder Mifflin. 6 Years on and The Office has finally gone into syndication and I think the writing has changed drastically because of it. The Office itself has become more of a fantasy. For three solid and two weaker years, The Office balanced the very careful tightrope between realism and the fantastical somehow very well. It showed realistic characters in unbelievable-yet-understandable situations. The critical praise came rolling in and the ratings have skyrocketed on the incredibly competitive Thursday night. The Office isn’t anymore that small ship that the old NBC head-honcho Kevin Reilly saved, its one of the most popular situation comedies on American television. And with that comes, of course, a dent on popular culture and what people have discovered they like. Just like everything else that garners critical praise, copy cats come along – some getting it right, others horribly wrong but I think, excluding The Office‘s side-show, Parks and Recreation, [created by The Office US adapter, Greg Daniels] the industry has finally hit the nail on the head with the perfect awkward comedy character: Phil Dunphy.
Phil Dunphy has yet to become a household name, and I doubt it will the same way Michael Scott is now with The Office. Phil, played by Ty Burnell, is a central character on ABC’s Modern Family. He might not the be most prominent character, nor the funniest, but that’s all for good reason. Phil is the perfect awkward ‘laugh-at-not-with’ archetype you want to see on TV. Michael Scott has become an incredibly sad unfulfilled old man now whereas Phil, whilst being perhaps a little more socially aware makes for more comfortable viewing but his surroundings is what truly brings the character to life. In The Office, there are several relationships dispersed throughout and the writers seemingly try to stick every two or three people together at one point and just hope for some fantastic improv or chemistry to make that partnership great. It sometimes becomes comic gold, but it mostly wears thin.
With Modern Family, however, Phil is supported by his loveable, hilarious and sometimes oddly realistic family. His wife, Claire (Julie Bowen), is the perfect remedy to Phil’s insanity. She grounds Phil in reality, and although only 10 episodes have past, I think will continually ground Phil for the rest of the shows life. Michael has had some romantic encounters with the opposite sex, prominently Jan Levinson: a higher up in Dunder Mifflin, embarrassed of Michael and all his endeavours yet was attracted to him in an unexplainable and sometimes fun manner. No matter how much Michael screwed up, Jan went on, knowing full well what he is like and what she gotten herself into. During a time when The Office was considered to be peaking, Michael ended this relationship. The idea that Michael was never socialized properly could be dismissed for a while because Michael’s reasons for letting go of Jan were legitimate, which is something strange in the world of TV comedy. It wasn’t till she is long out of the picture do I realise how much Michael needed a character like her. Michael’s possible endgame girl, his exact female opposite turned up a lot later and made Michael’s weirdness disappear because we were seeing different sides of the same coin. It was nice for Michael to play around with a version of himself, considering for the majority of his life he’s tried to fit into a place where he didn’t belong. At this stage, we weren’t really seeing Michael Scott: The Awkward Boss as Ricky Gervais conceived the character in his version of The Office, but a more genuinely likeable guy who’s enjoying life to its fullest with his friend, Holly. This isn’t to say they weren’t weird, they were, and that was pointed out as much as possible. Due to a contrived plot-device, Holly is transferred from the Scranton branch and gets a boyfriend elsewhere.
I think now, in season 6, its more evident than ever that Michael needed one of these characters to stay around. A character that accepted Michael for who he was, or; a character that is a version of himself. The last metaphorical straw I drew and the fact that prompted this post was the fact he got together and tried to have a relationship with Pam’s mother. This in turn created one of the worse episodes of The Office. I don’t particularly enjoy the quietly funny Pam shouting at the top of her lungs to Michael about how wrong it is to get together with her mother and even worse, I don’t enjoy when the events that occurred aren’t brought up again the following week. This isn’t How I Met Your Mother: events carry onto the next episode. Pam having a baby in one episode: Check. Pam is still having the baby the following week: Check. So why did this bombshell essentially disappear. What made this entire plot-thread even more unbearable was the fact that Michael broke things off again once it was pointed out to him that Pam’s mother is indeed Pam’s mother, and that means she is old[er than him].
In a conclusion I’m not pleased to utter, The Office apparently needs Michael to be with someone to sustain himself. He isn’t an independent character as much as we like to think he is. Creed is an funny, lonesome and underused character and even characters like Angela and Meredith work perfectly fine without anyone. This, for some reason, isn’t the case with our over-the-top protagonist. Long term, he needs someone. He can pull off hilarity in single episodes, but for entire seasons it becomes a struggle to see no real light at the end of the tunnel. The Office needs to bring back that element that Modern Family has stolen – Family.
Things are looking up, though, is Andy and the new office receptionist, Erin going to become this shows heart? Gods above, does it need it.