James Spader Joins 'The Office'

How will Steve Carell's replacement fit in?

Well, it’s official; of the many people The Office introduced in the season finale as a possible Steve Carell replacement (including the ones like Jim Carrey who could never in a million years join the show full-time), the new regular is the character played by James Spader, whose quirk was unnerving and manipulating everyone around him with his almost superhuman self-confidence.

Whether that quirk will carry over into most of the new season, or whether this will eventually be revealed as a mask for insecurity and weakness, we don’t know; that will be decided by the writers. Everyone on The Office is a mass of insecurities, and Michael Scott/David Brent’s behaviour came out of insecurity (about relationships with other people, his qualifications for the job, and so on), so the idea of bringing someone who is apparently not insecure about anything is kind of the obvious way to go for contrast.

Another point of contrast, as mentioned in the description, is that Spader will wind up running the whole company, promoted from Michael’s old job very quickly. This will give them the option, I suppose, of being able to play around with just what the guy’s part should be – he can be a guy who drops in sometimes, or he can be demoted back to the manager position. (It also keeps the “who will be the manager?” plot points alive.) One of the advantages of doing a show about one branch of a corporation is that they always have a built-in excuse for taking a character out of the main world and bringing him or her back again. (The best example of that, and the most daring, was sending Jim off to another branch in the opening of the third season, which was deliberately done to allow the writers to experiment with the cast chemistry and find out what they would do when Jim wasn’t around, as well as trying out new characters in Jim’s branch who could then be brought into the main cast later.) Also, it might be an inducement to a new big-name regular that he doesn’t have to do as many scenes in the main office set; that could make his schedule more flexible, whereas regular office workers like Jim, Pam and Dwight have to be there even for scenes where they don’t speak, just to show they’re at their desks.

I didn’t think he fit in particularly well with the cast in his appearance, but it’s too early to tell on that score. Still, Spader’s schtick on Boston Legal was being so weird that no one could really communicate with him except the equally crazy William Shatner character; he specialized in talking at people, not to people. It doesn’t have to be that way on The Office, but the way he’s been set up suggests a show that’s embracing the broader style it’s developed over the years. The U.S. version started with something vaguely naturalistic and inevitably got crazier, so it sort of figures that its newly-created lead is a larger-than-life character with a strange name.

My feeling is that the show had some interesting places to go without a new lead character, and that the Will Ferrell character demonstrated the dangers of having a new character who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the group. However, commercially, the regular cast probably doesn’t have a big enough name to carry the show. Whether the show needs a new star or not, this is NBC’s only hit comedy and they will need an established TV star to keep Thursday night going for at least another year. Besides, as I said, they’ve left themselves a lot of options, including not making Spader the lead if they don’t want to or if he doesn’t work out.

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