The Internet got pretty excited yesterday when reports surfaced Steve Carell would reprise his role as horrible boss Michael Scott on The Office’s series finale. Many fans are certainly thrilled – the show was obviously at its best in the early seasons when Jim and Pam were getting their flirt on and Carell’s Scott was making you grateful your boss wasn’t that bad. (Can we all just take a moment and remember when he forced Oscar to come out of the closet?) So it was no surprise that as The Office finally closes up shop after nine seasons, fans have been clamoring for a return of the World’s Best Boss. But is a Scott appearance a good way for the show to end?
Finale fans are divided into two camps: Those who think finales are about making people happy – a reward for those who’ve enjoyed the high and low points of a show who want something to smile about, no matter how improbable; others strictly want story and don’t want to see a bunch of shoehorned-in A-list return guest stars mugging to the cameras. Television’s history has shown fans example after example of times when former stars swing by for a return appearance…with mixed results.
Six friends, hanging out in a basement, dating each other and smoking a heck of a lot of pot: the low-concept but high (pun definitely intended) laughs of That ’70s Show seriously started to wane when both Ashton Kutcher and Topher Grace left to pursue a movie career. The show struggled a lot in the final star-less season, so it was no surprise both Kelso (for a handful of episodes) and Eric (for just a few moments in the finale) swung by Point Place for a final goodbye. This disappointing finale proved a truth among diehard television fans: As bad and tacked-on a quick appearance can be (Could Grace have looked more miserable to be there?), it’s never as bad as not showing up at all. Wouldn’t a majority of That ’70s Show fans have been upset if – after all that – Eric hadn’t come back to lock lips with Donna one last time?
Another famous pairing that got a last-second chance? Sam and Diane on Cheers. Diane (Shelley Long) left the show after season five, but came back in the series finale to briefly unite with Sam. In this case, however, the reunion was short-lived, dashing fans’ hopes for a final happily ever after between the twosome. Should Diane have come back at all? Fans are still arguing twenty years later.
It wasn’t just one or two characters that came back for the end of ER – it seems like everyone made a return appearance on the drama’s 15th (!) and final season. George Clooney, Julianna Margulies, Maura Tierney and Noah Wyle – among many others – swung by County General Hospital. The ER final roll call worked (to an extent) because while it didn’t fully capture the former glory of the old days, it felt like a reunion of sorts where you were catching up with old friends. For many longtime ER viewers at this point in the show, it was exactly what they wanted to see. The fact that is wasn’t all crammed into one episode helped the appearances feel less like last-minute add-ons.
For many of these and others the real problem seems to be fans’ expectations about what they want to view. For The Office – despite morphing into a good albeit different show this past season – the center of the sitcom was Scott. When everyone gathers to watch the documentary, which Carell’s Scott will presumably be heavily featured in, won’t it feel like a piece of the puzzle is missing without one final offensive-yet-earnest comment from Michael? Or perhaps The Office might mimic the end of The Cosby Show, with a pregnancy announced over the phone. It’s not clear how big Carell’s potential guest-spot will be, but maybe Michael Scott will have a similar announcement to share with the Dunder-Mifflin crew. Any fan can tell you how desperate he is to be a dad. And all fans hope that, big part of small, Scott will leave them smiling and satisfied. That’s what she said.
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