I suspect that the rumors about who will replace Steve Carell when the actor makes his much-publicized exit from The Office after seven seasons may be much more entertaining than the actual announcement of who gets the job – if the job is filled at all. As Carell's final episode approaches, online speculation and suggestions from critics and fans alike run the gamut from the laughable (Charlie Sheen) to the intriguing (Steve Martin, comedian and Daily Show correspondent Lewis Black). My favorite rumor, which I've not seen mentioned lately, was that New Zealander Rhys Darby could replace Carell. Darby played the similarly deluded (and hilarious) Murray Hewitt in HBO's Flight of the Conchords, a well-meaning but clueless manager for two struggling musicians played by Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. Darby is still my favorite candidate, but if his place in the rumorscape is any indication, he's a very long shot.
Will Ferrell debuted as Deangelo Vickers in last week's episode, and the online chatter bubbled with speculation over whether he was a suitable heir. But press materials from NBC indicate that Ferrell is only on board for a multiepisode story arc and nothing more. Thank goodness. While Ferrell was funny, and he and Carell together were even funnier, Ferrell's mean-spirited Deangelo does not feel like a good choice for the long haul.
The following actors have also risen to the top of the rumor mill as possible replacements for Carell, mainly because they will appear in the expanded season finale as various applicants for Michael's job, according to Michael Ausiello at www.tvline.com. (The NBC press site does not confirm or deny these names.) Here are the actors and my thoughts on their chances of replacing Carell:
Will Arnett: Arnett has played his share of dense, arrogant characters, both on Arrested Development, his short-lived follow-up sitcom Running Wilde, and in his recurring role as Devon Banks on 30 Rock. He's a known quantity, but he's a no-go, as he's apparently signed on to shoot an NBC pilot. Well, shooting a pilot is one thing; a pilot getting picked up is quite another. That, and it sounds like the potential series is a vehicle for Christina Applegate, whereas on The Office, Arnett would have top billing. Final thought: I can see it.
Ray Romano: It's doubtful Romano would do The Office in addition to his Peabody Award-winning series Men of a Certain Age, currently airing on TNT. Final thought: No.
James Spader: Now, this is interesting. The deadpan Spader (Boston Legal) has great timing and could bring an interesting slant to the ensemble, which comparatively leans toward the wacky. Final thought: Not sure, but would like to see what Spader brings.
Catherine Tate: The British comedian (Doctor Who, The Catherine Tate Show) is largely unknown to U.S. audiences and could bring an unexpected oomph to the series. Sure, Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) could deal with an older woman like Kathy Bates' Jo Bennett being the boss lady who drops by from time to time. But after being passed over for Michael's job, having a female boss closer to his age sounds like hell for the creepy character. And would Mindy Kaling's loopy Kelly Kapoor or Angela Kinsey's dour Angela Martin find a female boss a threat or a reason to celebrate? Final thought: New face, new blood, new energy. Tate would be a great boost for an already strong show.
Ricky Gervais: He created and starred in the original UK version of The Office as David Brent, and after making an amusing cameo earlier in the season, he'll appear in the season finale as another applicant for Michael Scott's job. But who's to say the job will be filled at all? Think about it. While Carell's exit will be deeply felt, The Office is an ensemble show. The remaining cast is strong enough to withstand his departure. Another thought: An in-house promotion with Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) as the new boss. Can you imagine what that would do to the Dwight-Jim rivalry?
Steve Carell's swan song will occur in an extended episode of The Office on April 28. The hourlong season finale airs May 19 on NBC. Check local listings for air times.
As always, stay tuned.