Steve Carell leaves "Office' in low-key farewell

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The self-anointed "world's best boss" has clocked out of "The Office" for the last time.

Michael Scott, the poster boy for inept middle managers everywhere, bade a sneaky farewell to his underlings at the Dunder Mifflin paper company during a maudlin one-hour episode surprisingly low on laughs.

Actor Steve Carell, who has played the celebrated role for seven seasons, announced last July that he would leave the workplace satire at the end of the season to focus on his movie career. His alter ego flew to Colorado to join his equally nerdy fiancee Holly, played by Amy Ryan.

In his last scene, Michael was at the airport after sneaking out of the office to avoid a big party. He turned to the unseen camera crew that has been monitoring the company goings-on for a documentary, and asked, "Hey, will you guys let me know if this ever airs?"

Then he took off his microphone, relievedly explaining, "This is going to feel so good getting this thing off my chest."

As he walked to his plane, office hottie Pam (played by Jenna Fischer) somehow got through security without a boarding pass to hug him and say goodbye. But their exchange, of course, was not heard.

"The best boss I ever had"

Much of the episode was devoted to Michael's individual goodbyes to his staff. He asked the puritanical Angela (Angela Kinsey), "Was it me or we were going to have sex at some point?" He played paintball with office fascist Dwight (Rainn Wilson), still resentful that he was passed over for the top job.

His farewell to camera-mugging salesman Jim (John Krasinski) was a rare moment of poignancy, the latter tearfully telling Michael he was "the best boss I ever had."

At one point, Michael appeared to have second thoughts about leaving when he realized he did not know where in Colorado he would be living. But a call to Holly put him at ease, and underscored the tenderness of their relationship.

Inevitably, Michael called one of his time-wasting staff meetings in the conference room, but nothing inappropriately funny happened. Another scene in the warehouse where his antics were ignored by the blue-collar guys, was also light on laughs.

Two of the funniest scenes involved silent glimpses of Creed, the weird old eccentric played by Creed Bratton. First, he was seen exiting the stall in the ladies' bathroom, and later he was drinking from the "world's best boss" coffee cup that Michael had tossed in the trash.

For months, the cast and fans of the cult show have been speculating how it would fare without its fearless leader. If a preview of the final three episodes of the season is any guide, the show is about to get a lot darker.

Hollywood actor Will Ferrell has joined the cast in a guest role as Michael's putative replacement, but the character appears to have major emotional issues. In the last scene, he attacked Michael's cake as the shocked staffers looked on.

The show's season finale will include guest appearances by Jim Carrey, Ray Romano and executive producer Ricky Gervais, the star and co-creator of the British series on which the US version is based.

One of the last workplace comedies to undergo a change at the top was "Newsradio" after star Phil Hartman was killed by his wife in 1998. Jon Lovitz took his place, but the low-rated show was canceled the following year.

"The Office" is hardly a big ratings draw. It currently ranks at a lowly No. 63 so far this season, averaging about 7.4 million viewers. Top-rated "American Idol," by contrast, averages about 25 million viewers every week. Still, "The Office" plays well in key demographics coveted by advertisers, and lowly NBC has few other hits on its schedule.

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