Vulture's Willa Paskin gets at the reason I'm watching The Office with dry eyes and a critic's curiosity rather than a fan's verklemptness:
Yes, the Michael Scott of season seven of The Office is slightly less boorish than the Michael Scott of season two. He has matured over the course of the series — and especially this season, thanks to having found his soul mate, and, of course, having to wrap up his story arc. Michael loves his staff like they are family — they are his adopted family; that's the show's essential premise — but he still remains capable of remarkable acts of insensitivity, which is, and always has been, an integral part of his character. Michael is not, and has never been, perfect. But as Michael Scott, Steve Carell has been nearly so. And over these last few valedictory episodes of The Office, Steve Carell and Michael Scott have gotten conflated. In the world of the show, a lovable buffon is moving to Colorado; in reality, a beloved TV star is going to make movies. Only one of these guys is getting the send-off he deserves.
Maybe The Office's producers are taking lessons from the anger directed at the Seinfeld finale and deciding that sitcom fans don't want to see characters' true natures in what is supposed to be a valentine to the cast, crew, audience, and everyone who's ever loved a TV show.
TV critic Jaime Weinman has defended the traditional "taped before a live audience" sitcom, arguing that single-camera comedies like The Office can sometimes get too "insular" and they don't have the opportunity to get immediate feedback from people who don't work on the show. (Though Parks and Recreation, which started as a single-camera Office clone, surpassed its parent when it committed to believability instead of cringe-comedy stunts.) I know that The Office is supposed to be squirmy humor that doesn't get big laughs, but it doesn't fully commit to that premise the way the British original did. We were never supposed to see David Brent as a lovable clown as we are with Michael Scott. And for all the cutting-edge reputation of The Office, I sometimes feel like I'm watching Red Skelton or Jackie Gleason doing anything-goes comedy for the cameramen before the audience files in and the real show begins.
Cross-posted at Extra Criticum.