Steve Carell as Michael Scott on The Office.
In a perfect world, in which endings are calculated to simply make good sense, NBC would let The Office come to a graceful conclusion after seven seasons when Steve Carell leaves next year.
That seems unlikely. Absent a sudden flurry of hits next year, NBC is still going to be in a rebuilding phase, and absent massive ratings increases for Community and Parks & Recreation, it's still going to be scrambling to keep that comedy block alive — especially if it gets socked in the teeth by CBS's decision to crash the Thursday-night comedy party with the huge feet of The Big Bang Theory.
While the show has dropped off in critical acclaim, it's still by far the strongest ratings performer they've got on the night (I do not see Outsourced changing that). The Office isn't likely to flicker out just because it seems to have peaked creatively any more than Party Down was saved from death by Starz just because it had plenty of gas in the tank.
Naturally, there's lots of speculation about what should happen in an imagined post-Carell eighth season when Michael Scott is gone. Newsweek suggests Kelly Kapoor be put in charge. Oscar Nunez (who plays ... Oscar) wants Michael to kill himself and the show to go away. (You can calibrate the tongue-in-cheek level on that one for yourself; it may be surprisingly low.) Others have suggested Ricky Gervais (who, of course, played the boss on the original British Office).
To me, it's staring them right in the face, but Newsweek, even while claiming to eliminate all the possibilities except Kelly, skipped right over it.
The correct answer is Darryl (Craig Robinson).
First of all, Darryl is one of the few supporting characters they haven't pigeonholed so fiercely that he only has one note left. Unfortunately, the others — Angela, Meredith, Creed, Kevin, even Dwight — have become so good at playing on a small field that they don't seem to have a lot of unexplored potential. Many of them have also been utterly ruled out as management material. My solution may strain credibility, but making Creed the boss would take you into the realm of an Avatar-like fantasyland. (As much as I would like to see Creed announce his departure on his invisible blog.)
Darryl, on the other hand, has always held himself back a little, while showing that he's crafty, clever, tough, sweet, wicked, and thoroughly capable of taking charge. He doesn't have one thing (alcoholic! old and crazy! Bob Vance!) that forms the lion's share of the comedy around him.
He also wouldn't be a bad choice in actual fact. Darryl's unquestioned authority over the warehouse is the perfect opposite of Michael's inept, chaotic handling of the people upstairs. If you were the upper management of Dunder Mifflin (or whatever entity winds up being in charge of Dunder Mifflin by then) and you looked at the Scranton personnel, you might logically conclude that the only person with any chance of running that place successfully was Darryl. He's even got an office upstairs now. He's got good ideas.
When I allow my mind to wander to a Darryl-run office, there suddenly seem to be comedic possibilities that few others would bring. Darryl has relationships with Kelly, Ryan, Dwight, and Toby, and they're all funny. (His dismissiveness of the newly twerp-ified Ryan delights me no end.) But he has no relationship to speak of with anyone else — specifically, he has almost no relationship with Jim or Pam, which leaves both of those as blank slates for the writers to work with.
Moreover, Craig Robinson is really funny in a way that seems to be exactly what the show needs right now; he's always calm, never grasping. His humor is mostly very small and very confident. Think of how still he is. Think of how rarely he raises his voice. When I think of how the show has changed for the worse in recent seasons, one of the things I think about is how broad it is — without much quiet to cut that feeling.
Now, this quietude is all very different from Michael, and that's intentional. The other way to go, obviously, is just to pick another really talented buffoon and try to play out the old dynamic with a new boss played by someone who's already famous. This is the "let's hire Will Arnett (or whoever) and hope for the best" approach.
I don't think that approach can work. Fans of this show have already ridden over the bump of comparing Carell to Gervais; I don't think they can pass over a bump of comparing someone else to Carell who's being asked to do essentially the same thing. So as great as they all are: no. No to Will Arnett, no to Fred Willard, no to Jean Smart, no to all the funny actors you might expect. No, really, to the idea of bringing in anybody else who hasn't been on the show and asking him or her to take over the lead.
(Of course, having said that, there are impossibly unlikely candidates who are occupied in other lines of work and are not possibilities but who, were they bafflingly available, would get waivers from the "no new people" rule. Call it the Paul Rudd Proviso.)
The way to go is to promote from within and give Jim and Pam something good to play off again, which might reinvigorate them. Pam, honestly, no longer is frustrated enough with Michael to make her interactions with him as funny as they once were, and Jim sort of got confused by his own trip to management. Jim and Darryl might wind up friends. Dwight was always Michael's eager consigliere; I like the idea of his being on the outside a little more, perhaps outside a friendship between Darryl and Jim.
Now, I don't think they'll actually do this. I think they'll go with the Will Arnett Or Whoever option, which will last one or two seasons, and that will be eight or nine seasons, and that's all you can reasonably expect, and it will go out like many other shows, with nobody liking it as much as they originally did. But for my money, back to basics would be best, and I'd give that big desk to Darryl Philbin.