‘The Office’ hires James Spader as new boss (sort of)

Senior Television Writer
07.06.11 77 Comments


“The Office” has found its new boss – sort of – and will be adding James Spader to the cast when the series begins is eighth season in the fall. An explanation of how this will work (which some may consider spoiler-y) and my thoughts on it coming up after the jump…

So, Spader was by far the most impressive of the guest stars who interviewed for the branch manager job in the season finale, playing Robert California, whom “Office” showrunner/co-star Paul Lieberstein described in the press release as “this uber-salesman that has a power to convince and manipulate, like a high-class weirdo Jedi warrior.” But while Spader was the funniest of the guest stars, his character was so intense and strange that it felt like making him the branch manager would change the series’ energy too much.

And apparently, Lieberstein, Greg Daniels and everyone else recognized this as well, because Robert won’t be the branch manager for very long. As Lieberstein explains it, “He’ll have been hired over the summer as the new manager, but within hours, got himself promoted. Within days, he took over the company. James has an energy that is completely his own, and ‘The Office” has no tools for dealing with this guy. We’re thrilled he’s joining our cast.”

This allows the show to deal with several problems at once. It brings in a recognizable, Emmy-winning star to front the series after the exit of Steve Carell, it allows the company to not have an absentee CEO anymore now that “Harry’s Law” has been renewed, but it also doesn’t try to shoehorn the new star into the exact role that Carell vacated. In fact, some of the stories that were published when rumors of Spader’s hiring first broke suggested that the new set-up will allow the show to promote a character from within.

And now knowing who the big hire is, and what role he’ll be playing, I think the new manager should be Jim Halpert.

For most of the last year, I didn’t think that would work. The brief period where Jim and Michael were co-managers of the branch was not a particularly good one for that character, and it felt like making straight man Jim into boss of all the crazies would only accentuate the at times uptight and smug qualities he’s displayed in the series’ later years.

But Krasinski was terrific working with Spader in the finale, and the idea of Jim having to constantly deal with this CEO who is both incredibly crazy and incredibly persuasive – of Jim having to be the buffer between Robert and the staff in the way he at times was between Michael and the staff – sounds like a lot of fun, and a very good role for a character the writers have struggled to use for several years.

Andy still feels like watered-down Michael when they put him into that kind of position, Dwight would be too implausible long-term (even with crazy Robert in charge of the company), and while I still think Darryl would be a fine boss, the finale went so far out of its way to show him as unqualified that I’m not going to hold my breath for it.

Dunder-Mifflin’s corporate overlords had a fairly regular presence on the show in the years when Jan Levinson was Michael’s superior, and even with CFO David Wallace. So I think there are ways to incorporate Robert on a weekly basis – maybe even to explain why he’d be hanging around the Scranton branch all the time – without it seeming too contrived. Especially if Spader continues to be as funny as he was in the finale. See below:

What does everybody else think? Are you happy with Spader? Would you rather have seen one of the finale’s other guest stars? And, if the show does promote from within for the branch manager gig, who should get it?

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