Life, The Movies, And Michael Scott

One of the keys to the character of Michael Scott on The Office is that he’s a person who constantly tries to act out things he’s seen in the movies, and is puzzled when they don’t work in real life. The fact that Michael is an action-movie fan is built into his character, whether it’s the action-movie script he wrote with himself as the hero, or getting angry at Oscar for not liking Die Hard. And at least once an episode, Michael will do or say something that would make sense in a Hollywood movie but does not make sense in real life (it’s real to him, I mean, not to us). David Brent would sometimes do this on the original show, but it wasn’t as central to his character. As Michael has moved away from the bad jokes and forced friendliness of David — or as some of those characteristics have been transferred to Ed Helms’s Andy — his main job is to demonstrate that what worked for Bruce Willis doesn’t work for him.

On last night’s episode, Michael was about to leave and tell Andy that his fiancee is cheating on him. Jim tries to dissuade him. Michael says: “I’m sorry, it’s too late.” To which Jim points out: “No, it isn’t, because you haven’t done anything yet.” And as he does every time someone points out the inaccuracy of one of his clichés, Michael responds by stammering out some lame reason why it was sort of accurate, or could be accurate, demonstrating his annoyance at being dragged back into the real world when he was having fun pretending to be an action hero. The “Product Recall” episode, where he decided to notify the press about said product recall (with disastrous results!) was like an extended 20-minute version of one of those moments, where Michael tries to make things happen in a cool, neatly-structured, happy-ending kind of way with himself as the hero.

That’s one of the reasons why Michael is a more sympathetic character than David was; most of his embarrassing moments come less from an attempt to flaunt his power over other people (he doesn’t do much of that any more) and more from an attempt to arrange the world according to the storytelling tropes of his favourite movies. He’s a lonely man whose knowledge of the world seems mostly to come from popular culture. He’s developed along similar lines to the character Carell played in The 40 Year-Old Virgin — in fact, the writers have said that that movie was an influence on how they wrote for Michael/Carell — a guy who isn’t really mean-spirited, just in a state of arrested development, unable to see the world beyond his home video collection.

Maybe Michael should start a TV blog to let off some steam.