It's usually hard to let go of your youth, to admit that you aren't quite what you used to be. Americans are treated to frequent and very public manifestations of this affliction of denial courtesy of our sports heroes. Whether its Brett Favre waffling about retirement from year to year or Willie Mays fumbling around the outfield with the New York Mets, legends often crumble before our eyes rather than blaze into the sunset.
Television viewers are often assaulted with the same type of lingering dissatisfaction when it comes to the denouement of favorite shows. Most recently, fans of "The Office" watched as the once brilliant sitcom spun through tired and scattered story lines that fell far short of the standard established in earlier seasons. Amid rumors that big changes are once again in store for NBC's hit series, the network announced in mid-May that it would, indeed, renew the show for a ninth season. In this case, though, there may be more involved than just limping along another fading favorite.
In the Season 8 finale, Robert California (James Spader) bid adieu to the Scranton gang after just one year, guaranteeing that there will be more upheaval for next year. We already knew that Mindy Kaling was leaving the show to focus on her own project, and Toby (Paul Lieberstein) is also slated to pick up stakes. Lieberstein, who seemingly runs the show behind the scenes, will reportedly turn his focus to a planned spin-off, which most sources seem to indicate will revolve around Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson). While the idea of a continuation of any "The Office" characters may seem unpalatable at this point, the juxtaposition of the parent show with a Dwight vehicle probably makes about as much sense of the renewal news as anything.
Of all of the personalities on "The Office," it's hard to imagine any but Dwight being deep enough to pick up the mantel of series star. Writers have long hinted at Mr. Schrute's varied interests, and his inability to land and sustain a managerial role with Dunder Mifflin have led him to dig in deeper with his beet farm and to explore other creative avenues, such as commercial real estate. Dwight is quirky, sure, but he is also a strong personality who may be able to hold a series together while it gets its feet under it and establishes an identity.
And getting Dwight's show off the ground may be what the latest "Office" renewal is all about. The sitcom is still one of NBC's ratings winners, despite its struggles, and it should provide a ready-made audience for any child show that the network has planned. If Dwight could make the move out of the cubicle farm and onto his real one by, say, early 2013, he would presumably ride a decent coattail for an initial ratings grab. Then, if all works well, Schrute Farms could step into the breach as "The Office" takes its last breaths.
Then, maybe, Dwight would be free to actually be funny again.