April 28 marks Steve Carell’s final episode of The Office, in a supersized finale sure to be full of emotional farewells and strained humor. It’s been a while since the show was at the center of the sitcom zeitgeist, but it’s still an important part of pop culture, and Carell’s departure signals a huge change. Here are three questions that need to be answered about the future of The Office.
Should the show continue? NBC has picked up The Office for an eighth season, and there was never even talk of ending the show when Carell announced he would be leaving. But any narrative TV series that has been on for seven seasons inevitably shows signs of decline, and The Office is past its prime, when the romance between Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) fueled epic message-board arguments online. Over time, Carell’s Michael Scott has softened and become more sympathetic, and the show as a whole has lost a lot of the discomfort and bleakness that defined it early on. Carell’s departure should have been a sign to wrap things up before they got even worse.
Who will replace Carell? This is the question that has been consuming entertainment websites and online fan discussions, and the answer is that we probably won’t know until next season. Although high-profile guest stars including Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Ricky Gervais, Ray Romano and Will Arnett are all appearing as this season comes to a close, it’s almost 100 percent certain that none of them will join the cast next season. Instead, the show might focus on its already extensive ensemble cast, or add new characters in minor roles instead of bringing on a new main star.
Will anyone care? Declining ratings indicate that fewer and fewer people will, even if Carell’s actual farewell episode draws a good number of the curious. And once those famous guest stars disappear, what will be left is a sitcom in its eighth season, without its famous main star, having told most of its good stories years ago. It’ll take a real reinvention to bring the same level of excitement that The Office had in its third or fourth season. And the talented Carell won’t be around to help make that happen.