On Writing – Character Study: Michael Scott in The Office

I want to take a moment here to reflect on, of all things, The Office and anĀ element of the show that- for me – made Michael Scott’s character and story throughout his tenure on the series much more poignant, which I feel many people miss.

Michael Scott was fantastic at his job.

It’s a running detail in the showthat gets lost behind the antics and drama, but Dunder Mifflin is a business. We get caught up easily in the minutiae of the drama unfolding around their office between Jim and Pam, Jim and Dwight, Jim and everyone he makes that face at the camera because of, etc. However, rather than part of the humor of Michael Scott’s awkwardness being catalyst for the business failing, it’s brought up routinely that not only was Michael one of the best salesmen in the company’s history, but he’s also (somehow) an incredibly effective manager because the show mentions repeatedly that his branch is one of the only profitable branches around.

As a salesman myself, Michael’s effect on the business is profound. Here’s a salesman whose work in the days of the company being a tenth of the size it comes to be clearly contributes to its eventual success. He’s also clearly still apace with the company’s success, as there’s a moment during a convention where he single handedly closes a deal with Hammermill (no easy feat executing such deals in a hotel room between drinks), and his departure marks the transfer of key large accounts to Andy that only he had the ability to land and maintain (as demonstrated by Andy losing five of the six).

When you put Michael’s success as a salesman and manager into the narrative, what you see isn’t an inept goofball, what you get is a human who “gets his job” to a degree that he doesn’t understand why everyone else isn’t more relaxed. In my experience, trying to close sales while reeking of desperation is never good, and Michael’s office antics were clearly him imparting that spirit to his colleagues. Was he perfect? Not at all, he was a human.

It also paints a much more interesting picture of Michael’s human and personal struggles. His being single so “late into life” despite clearly wanting a family- this is a guy who put career first until he reached what the ballooning company made clear was his zenith. (How much more profoundly does his resignation statement “you have no idea how high I can fly” ring with that in mind?) Like so many of us, as he became aware of that, where did he look naturally? To the women he knew through work like Jan and his realtor.

Michael’s temporary resignation arc is a brilliant one in my opinion. I think it alone is worth revisiting the show for, to see a guy who- on the one hand- is annoying and socially inept at times, but on the other is clearly so skilled and dedicated to his job that he does deserve a modicum of respect that his company is fighting to avoid paying him by way of using Idris Elba’s character as a smokescreen.

Why bring this up? Because this is a writing blog, of course, and because I think a lot of Michael’s character depth gets overshadowed by the focus on his antics. In the end, the reason why Michael worked, and his departure was so deeply felt and irreplaceable was because the character had a wealth of elements to his character so subtly written into his lore that we got to know him so naturally that we barely realized how deeply we knew him.

One running gag that really emphasized this would be Kevin’s occasional updates about his fiance eventually turned ex. He was also having his own relationship, goals, and personal struggles that we’d only hear blurts about, look how much closer we are to Michael, Jim and Pam by comparison.

In the end, it’s a level of characterization that should be aspired to. It’s fine for a character to have a primary trait or facet (i.e. goofy/socially inept), but there have to always be other facets to them, whether or not those are at the fore. Each person has sacrifices and choices they’ve had to make, have impact on the world and people around them, and have a perception of their achievements, worth, and goals.

The Office, especially in its first five/six seasons was superlative in deftly exploring and revealing that with such artful subtlety that we barely knew how close we were to its main cast- just as we often don’t realize with people in our own lives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s