Season seven of The Office is in many ways the end of the series... well, actually in just one very major way: its Steve Carrell's last season, and without Michael Scott there is just no way the series can ever again be the same. It's not just Steve's one in a billion comedic talents that the show loses, it's also the intricately constructed dynamic between the characters. The teleplay of the entire cast that has developed into such a perfectly functioning comedy machine is something that cannot exist in the same way without Michael. The secret weapon of The Office is its spectacularly talented cast, but in a strange way, the loss of one (especially when we're talking about the main character) is enough to offset the chemistry of the entire cast. Michael Scott was the centerpiece of the ensemble, and without him, every single one of the characters loses something, whether it's their direct interaction with Michael that brought out the best in their performance while creating a one of a kind comedy team (particularly true of Jim and Dwight), or the complex balance of diverse comedic styles from one scene to the next that made each character's role seem so different and important. The talented cast may easily survive the departure of Steve Carrell, but the show can never be the same without him.
So, how does Steve's announcement to leave the series affect season seven? Well, first of all, Michael is clearly, and often awkwardly, pushed to the sidelines in order to instantly faze him out. The character that was for six seasons the driving force of every single episode is now rarely featured in the same capacity. There are very few episodes that allow him to take center stage and this hurts the show, badly. There are far more B-stories, and sometimes C-stories, that feature the rest of the cast. Sometimes this a good thing, but many episodes start to feel crowded and paradoxically, the more sub-plots given to side characters, the less time there is for them to shine as the cast begins to become fragmented. There are very few 'ensemble' eps that involve everyone in the same story. Some characters are featured way too much... Kevin for example, becomes a bit over used, and as a result he wears a little thin. The same goes for Erin. Both are great characters but season seven puts way too much pressure on them to be funny. All the while Creed is rarely even given a single line. The biggest mistake the writers make is giving a ton of screen time to Gabe, who is without a doubt the worst, most painfully unfunny character the show has ever scene. I could write another whole review just on how and why this guy is ridiculously awful.
Season Seven also features a string of guest appearances by Will Ferrell as Michael's (temporary) replacement. He fits in fairly well at first, and there are some great scenes that showcase Carrell and Ferrell as a powerhouse comedy duo, but it's hard not to wonder why the producers would bring in such a high profile guest star to share the spotlight with Steve in all of his last episodes. It may just be for ratings, but you'd think the last episodes to feature Steve Carrell would be enough to generate hype. It may be to keep the audience's interest in the show beyond Steve's departure, but, ironically, Will is only featured in one (sub-par) post-Michael episode, then the series actually gains momentum when Will is written off and the remaining original cast members take the spotlight. Whatever the reason, it's hard to resent the presence of Will Ferrell, because he has good chemistry with the cast and, well, he's funny, plain and simple. At the same time though, it's a little strange not to have a complete and total end of the season celebration of Michael, even his last episode features a Will-centric sub-plot.
Season Seven is a hard season to define. It's certainly not a bad season, there is plenty to celebrate but at the same time it makes the previous season, thought by many fans to be sub-par, look like pure gold. The episodes that do celebrate Michael are kind of hit and miss. The return of Holly Flax is a great boost to Michael's character arc, but the progression of their relationship is rushed and often pushed into the background. Dwight, on the other hand, is ace all year long; 7 is chalk full of great stories revolving around his ownership of the building. There also plenty of great stories with Jim and Dwight that do not disappoint. Andy is also hilarious all year long as he continues to get more and more well deserved screen time. Pam also gets some nice subplots as newly promoted Office Administrator.
Notable episodes include...
Nepotism- A great premiere that sets the bar high. Michael hires his worthless Nephew and Pam attempts to prank Dwight.
Christening- A great Jim and Pam story that manages to involve their daughter in a non-invasive way. Also features a great sub-plot where Michael, feeling excluded from the ceremony, impulsively boards a bus to Mexico.
Viewing Party- A Glee party at Gabe's house??? Amazingly this ep is actually really funny. Feat: another great Jim and Pam parenting sub-plot where Dwight is the only one able to calm Ceci down, Andy gets high on powdered seahorse, and Michael gets jealous and disconnects the cable.
Classy Christmas- One of the few Michael-centric episodes featuring the return of Holly Flax as well as an epic snowball war between Jim and Dwight. Possibly the best episode since season five.
Threat Level Midnight- Considered a fan-favorite by some, I personally consider this episode to be over the top and way out of character. The idea of Michael actually filming his legendary screenplay sounds funny but it doesn't really play out that way. I'd like to know how his production values could be so high that he could afford CG and massive set pieces. Also, why was the cast so eager to participate and when did they find the time?
Michael's Last Dundies- A classic written by the great Mindy Kaling. I can't think of a better way to end Michael Scott's tenure at the office than another episode revolving around the Dundies.
Goodbye Michael- An emotional and hilarious send-off to the world's greatest boss, expertly written by Greg Daniels (making you wonder if the series would have had more stamina if he wrote more than just one post-season-4-episode a year). It has the energy and pacing of the show's earlier seasons, as well as a few very satisfying call backs.
Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager- A tremendous episode that allows Dwight to run away with the spotlight. Steve's presence is missed but this ep proves that the show can in fact still be great without him.
The Search Committee- Another surprisingly high-energy, high quality post-Carrell ep featuring a plethora of entertaining cameos from Ray Ramano to Warren Buffett. A very promising prequel to season eight.
Though starting to drift farther and farther away from its prime, The Office is still relatively excellent throughout season seven. A must have for all fans, especially since it is Michael's last. And though the show will go on, Michael will always be missed. He had a had a great run. But as great as it was, it didn't last nearly as long as it should have... That's what she said.