…But I’m on episode 16, “Valentine’s Day”, and I’m just going to say it now:
How on EARTH has Steve Carrell not won a single Emmy award for playing Michael Scott? Not ONE!
His performance is one of the best I have ever seen – in anything.
What, you think I’m exaggerating or kidding? I’m absolutely not. As Tom Simon pointed out in his essay “Deal Me Out”, comedy is both more difficult to write and more difficult to act than drama.
But this needs further elaboration. It is easier to get a laugh than it is to act out genuine emotion – see Rain Wilson’s performance as Dwight, which is very funny but certainly not as transcendentally brilliant as Steve Carrell’s. Or, for an even better example, see Jerry Seinfeld in the show of the same name.
But to show genuine emotion AND be legitimately hilarious…ah, well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? That’s why Michael is such a difficult character to play, and why they struck gold with Steve Carrell as the lead.
(This, of course, becomes even more evident with the fantastically bad reception Ed Helms got as Andy Bernard, who from what I’ve seen is basically Michael but more annoying. Carrell quite literally could not be replaced.)
I use transcendentally in a particular way here. Steve Carrell rises past the usual barriers surrounding the comedy genre and sitcom sub-genre in his performance of Michael Scott. The character he portrays is a very specific one: Selfish, immature, petty, and obnoxious, lonely, and pathetic.
And yet, through all of THAT, we need to get the impression that Michael genuinely means well, loves his employees, and just wants to be loved.
From what I’ve seen thus far, Carrell’s two best performances were in “The Dundies” and “The Deposition”. That critical moment in the series where Michael hits absolute rock bottom in “the Dundies” is really gut-wrenching, and Carrell’s comedy and improvisation (so I would guess, anyway) were absolutely spot on as well.
“The Deposition” puts Carrell’s character through the ringer, but in this one he really gets to show off his skill at playing serious emotion with comedic effect. In a very sad and very funny scene a dejected Michael sits down for lunch with his arch-nemesis, Toby. After Toby opens up to him about the time he was forced to testify at his parents’ divorce, Carrell gets up and wordlessly throws Toby’s lunch tray onto the ground, then silently walks away.
The acting in this sequence is subtly inspired, as is the writing. First, we see Michael show up at the table so totally dejected that he’s willing to sit with Toby. As Toby tells his story, Michael is the perfect picture of the sympathetic ear appreciating a friend’s empathizing. The flipping of Toby’s tray is a brilliant and in-character role reversal, hysterically funny and also a masterful display by Carrell in showing Michael’s emotional state while still being able to draw a legitimate laugh.
The moment the episode is most remembered for, when a stunned Michael decides to go against his girlfriend in a borderline-tragic scene, is indeed terrifically acted. But – to focus on the comedy again – Michael’s horror as the executives start to read his diary out loud is played completely straight, but it’s for that reason it’s funny. If Carrell had done that reading incorrectly, the scene would have died and the whole exchange would be awkward – not “funny” awkward, but awkward in the sense of a joke gone flat. At the very least, it wouldn’t have been nearly as good.
Carrell is also adept at physical comedy- Michael’s dancing in season 2 is an absolutely glorious moment. And – as much as I emphasize the comedy, this really is critical – he nails the moments of pathos Michael gets. His “Absolutely not” in “The Deposition” is devastating and not even remotely funny.
So anyway…look, I laugh at “The Big Bang Theory”, and Jim Parsons is funny…but HOW ON EARTH did he beat out Steve Carrell for an Emmy???
Blech. It’s as if this last season of “Justified” didn’t even get a single nomination for one of the greatest final seasons of –
I guess this makes sense after all.