Whether you’re talking about sports, entertainment or any other aspect of life, one of the hardest things to do is to know when to quit. However, every once in a while, we’ll find someone who knows when to leave their fans wanting a little bit more, instead of wishing they had received less.
Perhaps the greatest example of this in American pop culture is Jerry Seinfeld, who reportedly turned down $5 million per episode to do a 10th season of “Seinfeld,” and instead took it off the air after a ninth season in which it was television’s top-rated show. While Seinfeld’s decision is somewhat unique in a business where money almost always comes first, he’s not the only groundbreaking comedian to walk away at the top of his game.
Lesser known in America is Ricky Gervais, the man who pulled a “Seinfeld,” so to speak, and cancelled his critically acclaimed British comedy after only two seasons. If Gervais’ name sounds familiar, it’s because he created the original version of “The Office,” a version most of you likely have never bothered to watch. Before Michael Scott, there was David Brent, before Dwight, there was Gareth, and before Jim and Pam, there was Tim and Dawn.
I know this seems like heresy to most of you “Office” lovers, but the fact is, the entire premise of the show you shape your Thursday nights around is derived from the original British version. That’s in no way a knock on the American version of “The Office,” as Carell and company have carved out an identity of their own, but it’s important to note the similarities between the two shows before noting the one main difference: The British version lasted 12 total episodes, followed by two Christmas specials, while the American version will air its 64th episode this Thursday night.
Gervais ended the original version quickly because he didn’t want to run out of ideas, but as much as it pains me to admit it, it appears that the American version is approaching the no-mans land that Gervais once feared. Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, “The Office” is spiraling downhill pretty quickly, and it’s coming dangerously close to tarnishing its legacy as one of the best shows in recent memory. Seasons two and three were consistently brilliant – highlighted by moments such as Dwight’s search for wedding crashers, the Michael Scarn screenplay, the Sharper Image gaydar and Michael wearing a woman’s suit. Despite finally bringing Jim and Pam together, season four started out strong, but the writers’ strike brought the momentum to a screeching halt, and in the past month, “The Office” has struggled mightily to regain its old brilliance.
The lynchpin of the show – Steve Carell’s Michael Scott – started off the post-strike era with a brutally uncomfortable dinner party, and last week viewers were subjected to an awkwardly dramatic scene between Michael and Stanley, followed by Michael’s Rodney Dangerfield monologue, which was almost sad to watch and lasted about 30 seconds too long. With their old sexual tension having been replaced by a series of fake marriage proposals, Jim and Pam have become pretty boring from a comedic standpoint. Even Dwight – the breakout character of the show – has become a caricature of himself in recent weeks. If the writers really think we would rather see Dwight making out with leggy blondes than stuffing himself in shipping crates, then the show is truly in more trouble than I imagined. Throw in Ryan’s drug problems and his budding feud with Jim, Toby making a move on Pam and the fact that an increasing percentage of recent episodes haven’t even taken place in the office, and it’s clear that the show’s writers are running out of funny storylines.
Don’t get me wrong, “The Office” is still one of the best shows on T.V., but it’s definitely reaching a crossroad. The writers have such an impressive track record that it’s easy to believe they can right the ship, but if they can’t, let’s hope that Gervais steps in before our memories of “The Office” are tarnished for good.