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Character Deep Dive: Michael Scott

Steve Carell as Michael Scott in The Office
©NBC

Portrayed by: Steve Carell
Show: NBC’s The Office

Best. Boss. Ever. Or at least, where fiction is concerned. The Office‘s Michael Scott is single-handedly one of the most flawed, often-problematic characters to exist in comedy, but his heart is undoubtedly larger than every mistake he could make. Whatever our thoughts on Michael Scott, there’s no denying that he’s one of the most intricate characters to date. 

It’s hard not to appreciate Michael Scott and everything Steve Carell brought to the character even while we roll our eyes at his antics because it all comes down to his compassion for those around him (excluding Toby Flenderson). During The Office‘s first season, I didn’t understand his character quirks at all. I couldn’t see why he was so adored because his blatantly stupid comments were a distraction. However, as the seasons progressed, it became easier to understand him and why he behaves the way he does. It’s why “Goodbye Michael” is one of the saddest episodes in The Office’s history because he grows into the kind of character the audience will miss.

Michael Scott isn’t a fantastic character because he’s got a wide array of excellent traits, but he’s great because he’s often unexplainable and complex. And that’s kind of the most remarkable thing about this character, you don’t realize the moment he grows on you, and though his actions will always bring forth tons of secondhand embarrassment, you can’t help but appreciate him anyway.

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Michael Scott and WHY

Michael Scott isn’t exactly a character that needs to be understood, but rather it’s crucial to know that he’s a character The Office needs. They all are. Something about how oddly unwholesome most of them were made the show work. Michael’s actions are so bizarre sometimes you don’t even bother trying to figure out why, you laugh. You laugh because he has absolutely no idea what he means when he says things like “I declare bankruptcy” or “Dwight, you ignorant slut,” and it wouldn’t work the same way for any other character. But the reality is that Michael says those things with the genuine belief that he’s being helpful. He stupidly wants to fit in more than anything else.

And perhaps, the most fascinating thing about him is that he honestly believes this is the best he can be.

But here’s the thing I appreciate about Michael—there’s an interesting amount of innocence in him even though almost everything he says is rude or over-the-top. It’s so deeply embedded in him that he must be the best boss in the world that frequently when he’s under the impression that he’s doing something good, it’s the exact opposite. Michael’s humor isn’t similar to his coworkers’—he isn’t as sarcastic as Jim Halpert or Dwight Schrute. He’s certainly no Ryan either, but because he wants to keep up in conversations with them, he attempts to match what they have and, almost always, fails drastically. But I suppose that’s where it’s best to laugh with him.

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Michael’s attempt at humor aside, a characteristic trait worth noticing is how attentive he is to his coworkers. Though it doesn’t work for their benefit, the fact that he catches plenty of what they say and care about brings to light the detail that he isn’t doing this job for rank or praise, but rather because he genuinely cares about the people in the company.

Still, while Michael is written as a bit of a clueless dud, he takes drastic approaches in every area because he wants to be a helping hand consistently. For instance, calling Stanley’s wife or setting up the intervention for Meredith. The reality is that he wants everyone to be their absolute best selves, but he takes all the wrong methods in making them happen. He doesn’t consult anyone because he thinks he’s supposed to know it all. You can’t always be mad at Michael for things like this because you know that, at the very least, his intentions are never malicious, but rather, they come from a place of genuine adoration and concern. They come straight from his heart. If The Office were airing today, writers would have addressed some of these details better as they’re issues we discuss more in-depth now than we did back then.

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The Friend

Additionally, where Michael could be naïve and wrong when giving advice that needs to be serious, he does his best. Michael’s actions have always matched his words, allowing the audience to truly see that this man has a lot of heart to share beyond the attempts to appear cool. I’ve always appreciated the fact that when it came down to Jim and Pam’s relationship, he could see things they weren’t able to. He could see that Roy wasn’t right for Pam. He could see that Karen wasn’t right for Jim.

And he could even see that Holly was with the wrong man. While I didn’t always agree with how he approached Holly’s relationship, it was easy to see when he understood that he needed to step back. He understood his mistakes quickly, and he learned from them. He often sacrificed his happiness for the sake of his coworkers because he knew that beyond wanting to be the best boss ever, he just wanted to be their friend. (He complained while doing so, but deep down, you knew he was okay with the decision.)

But the truth is, it all comes down to one moment that made it clear to me that Michael Scott would always be one of my all-time favorite characters to exist, and it’s when he was the only one to show up to Pam’s art show.

Michael’s decision to not only show up but to buy the painting that perpetually hung at Dunder Mifflin is The Office’s heart. When he’s awestruck by it, it’s Michael’s genuine belief that he’s staring at a masterpiece, and that will always be worth noting. He proves in this moment that when it comes to those he cares for, he doesn’t see their flaws or their weaknesses, but rather, he sees the greatness that’s within. He sees something worth tirelessly celebrating, and in buying that painting, he constantly celebrates Pam and the entire office.

Michael Scott has always wanted people to see the best in themselves because he couldn’t easily see it within himself, and that kind of almost childlike belief is the best thing about it. It’s the type of rare showcase only a brilliant actor with Steve Carrell’s inimitable gifts could bring to life. Carrell’s work as Michael was so unparalleled, so groundbreaking in comedy that you felt the emptiness when he left until the very moment he returned. It was easy to be frustrated with him and yet, it was easy to root for him, and there aren’t many characters we can say that about. (And the fact that he’s never received an Emmy for the series will be something I’ll complain about for the rest of my life.)

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Gissane Sophia View All

Gissane (pronounced Geese-enny) or, as people often call her, "Goose," is a Christ fan above all and a romance enthusiast who's taken her Master's degree in English and love for essays into writing lengthy analyses about pop culture.

She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Marvelous Geeks Media and the co-host of Lady Geeks' Society Podcast. She drinks too much coffee, wants to live in a forest, and cries a lot because of her favorite characters. She's a member of The Cherry Picks and can also be found writing features for Looper.

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