APRIL 15, 2011 12:36PM

THE OFFICE: WILL FERRELL: Update Steve Carell's Absence

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I was looking forward to Will Ferrell playing Michael's replacement on THE OFFICE, because Will Ferrell is a high caliber comedic actor, who is not a lighter weight than Steve Carell.  What I could not have known, is that because Will Ferrell is such a profoundly deep comedic actor, there would be trouble.

To say last night's (4/14/11) episode was cringe worthy, is to say nothing, since THE OFFICE is often cringe worthy, and Steve Carell's, Michael Scott is almost always so.  No, Ferrell takes it to another level, in which it reaches torture.

Why?  Because Will Ferrell is more than just a comic.  His character, D'Angelo Vickers, comes off like a real person among fictional characters.  He stands out as real, which is the opposite of Ferrell's movie, STRANGER THAN FICTION, in which he played a fictional character walking around among real people. His humor goes beyond humor.  what he is, is an actor who totally embodies a role.  So there he stands, a really scary kind of boss, all too real, among very good actors, who nevertheless play cartoons, even if they play them well.  When Will Ferrell embodied George W. Bush on Broadway, the power came from the fact that he really EMBODIED Bush.  He wasn't exactly making fun of him, so much as tranforming into a version of him that showed the scary shadow lurking under the surface.

Steve Carell is a terrific comedic actor and he has done wonders to make the cringe worthy boss, Michael Scott, loveable, despite everything he does and says.  Yet, next to Ferrell's character, Steve's, Michael Scott seems less real in some way.  Even more so with characters like Brian Baumgarten's, Kevin Malone.  It is as if Ferrell is standing amongst a bunch of carboard cut outs.

The case of Ed Helms as Andy is the most fascinating.  He is being made, by Ferrell's character, D'Angelo Vickers, to jump through hoops.  Having been branded as the office clown, even though he isn't, Andy must now try to be a clown.  The contrast between an actor, who really is good at broad comedy, portraying a character who isn't, is brilliant.  At the same time, this cardboard slapstick, reminds one of what appear to be pratfalls by Ferrell in movies like BLADES OF GLORY, but by contrast, are  "pratfalls" of a more artful kind.

THE OFFICE is actually doing us a wonderful service.   In life we go through many separations, and usually, especially in the work place, they are not recognized.  When I left my job, teaching at a language school, after an automobile accident, I was treated like Chinese history--as if I never existed.  We lose favorite stores all the time.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  Two soap operas just got cancelled after 40 years.  30 ROCK will be going in a year.

Therapists always advise a 6 weeks separation process before ending therapy.  Yet, despite all this preparation, separation is still difficult.  And as far as I know, no TV show has ever walked us through it, before THE OFFICE.

It was tear worthy as well as cringe worthy to watch Michael suffering as D'Angelo Vickers won the office staff over.  Every torment Michael felt, we felt with him.  And that made Vickers dislikeability all the more dislikeable.  We are being guided through this transition.  And I must say, I'm relieved Ferrell will only be there for four episodes.  He's so real, I couldn't stand it if he stayed.  It would be like having to endure a real boss that sadistic.  They may have liked that in England with Ricky Gervais' boss, but I prefer a loveable idiot like Michael. And whoever replaces him, will hopefully be a funny cartoon we don't have to take too seriously.  Having said that, bravo to Will Ferrell for demonstrating the method to his madness.

Update: The Office Without Steve Carell (10/7/11) isn't working.  I've given it 2 chances and I hate to say it, but I'm going to bail.  Ed Helms is an admirable comedic actor, but just as Andy is uncomfortable and grinding his teeth as the new manager, so is the audience.  The show has always had cringe worthy moments, but not cringe worthy in the sense that we are embarrassed for an actor who was great until he had to fill Steve Carell's shoes.  All the castmates are excellent in their individual ways, but they are a supporting cast, and suddenly the wall they have been supporting has collapsed.  I gave it two chances, but I'm not going to be watching from here forward.  It diminishes what I so liked about the office before.  It's become a sad parody of itself.  I don't like wasting my time on a half hour show anyway. I'd rather watch an hour show.  So to reel me in, a show has to be REALLY  good. When the Office and 30 Rock were back to back, I could put in my hour.  Now I'll spend my time elsewhere.  Maybe even here!

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Great commentary on last nights episode. We gave up The Office early this year to take on Doc Martin to which we are totally addicted. Last night was a Martin re-run so we watched Ferrell enter as the new "cringe worthy" addition. No question, last nights performance pinned him as being outright more intimidating than Scott. Although, we've felt that since Pam and Jim finally got together, The Office lost a lot of its magnetizing elements. Last night however may very well have started a whole new Office?
I hope you're right. Some of these shows reach a peak and then fall off.