One of the prized jewels of Netflix’s lineup of shows is The Office. With some of TV’s funniest characters and enduring seasons, it will still be just as funny twenty years from now. And since It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is not longer on Netflix, The Office stands alone as the top dog in the comedy category. Revisiting the funnier highlights and the tender moments in between is a treat every time. There is, however, one thing I’ve been hearing from fellow bingers that has stood out to me: how Michael Scott, played to a tee by Steve Carell, would’ve been fired in real life. It does seem obvious that a guy that dumb and inept would lose his job, but something just wasn’t adding up for me. I couldn’t agree wholesale with the theory. Something about Michael Scott, to me, just didn’t seem fireable. So I binged for the first time in years to see why I couldn’t buy into it.
I tossed real life aside because you always should to some degree when it comes to anything you see on screen – but for the sake of the argument, I’ve taken some of reality’s more obvious beats into consideration. My final takeaway is that, given the circumstances, it’s not only “realistic” that Michael would have kept his job but almost unrealistic to assume he’d lose it. Here are the reasons Michael Gary Scott kept his job:
No one could match his energy.
Michael had off-color jokes that made everyone uncomfortable. Alluding the Pam being hot (and ugly at times); Phyllis, Stanley, and Kevin being overweight; Oscar being gay; Creed being old; Meredith being a boozebag. Roastjobs that logically should have gotten him fired. So how come he wasn’t? Because of Toby Flenderson, Michael’s HR Director and number one enemy. People filed complaints about Michael but Toby never sent them to Dunder Mifflin’s corporate office. It’s never stated explicitly why but it can be summed up to Toby just didn’t feel like it. He was a soft-spoken, non-confrontational character that just didn’t have the energy to combat Michael. It’s difficult enough to confront your boss about his behavior and a boss like Michael just adds so many layers of difficulty.
Everyone else in the office, admittedly more proactive than Toby, couldn’t go tit for tat with Michael either. Michael was a relentless hurricane of childlike enthusiasm and awkward social skills. He took improv classes during his free time, familiarizing himself with all different types of scenarios so he would always have a response. No reasonable person could ever battle this manchild on every front, no matter how mundane (Michael used this to his advantage via Tube City). Michael wore everyone down to the point where trying to get him fired seemed too monumental a task, so they instead settled for him leaving them alone. Toby couldn’t get a sentence in without Michael firing a shot across his bow. Michael literally tried to frame Toby for dealing drugs and Toby did nothing about it. Good luck trying to fire that guy.
Only Michael reveled in being a boss. Whenever someone other than Michael Scott tried to make an announcement, they had no control of it. Each character chimed in trying to use logical office communication tactics and it became a free-for-all. Michael, however, had such a command of his audience with his ridiculous behavior that no one could ever fully derail him. He absorbed all of the quirkiness in that office that left them unable to fully interrupt his flow. No one, except for Dwight, had any real flare for being the boss and Michael utilized that to always command the situation. Michael had totally changed their very perception on what is considered normal office behavior.
He held some type of leverage over all of his bosses.
Let’s start with Jan Levinson-Gould, Michael’s direct supervisor in corporate. She had the best opportunity to fire Michael and she had designs to do so. She was a no-nonsense chick, wearing pantsuits and a perpetual-resting bitchface. Michael’s jokes, most of which never landed, crashed and burned miserably with Jan. Then something happened: Jan got divorced. She dropped the Gould and any defenses she had against Michael’s advances. At a potential client meeting at Chili’s, where Michael first learned of her divorce, he took the reigns of the meeting while Jan laid back and had a few drinks, expecting Michael to fail – only he didn’t. Michael landed the client, which no doubt left drunk Jan impressed. Once the client drove off, Michael and Jan shared a drunken kiss, stopped, kissed again, and hooked up the rest of the night. And just like that, without knowing it, Michael had leverage over his superior.
Jan tried like hell to bury that night, making sure it was never mentioned again. No shot. Michael Gary Scott was in love and would pine for hers in return every chance he got. Any time she tried to reprimand him for his job performance, he mistook it her criticisms for lovers’ quarreling. She couldn’t make any moves against Michael in the workplace because he would just mention their “relationship,” putting her own job in jeopardy. She was almost successful in eliminating Michael by closing the entire Scranton branch in favor of Stamford, until Stamford’s regional manager Josh Porter pulled a wildcard move and jumped ship to Staples. She had no choice but to keep Scranton operating with Michael at the helm with no foreseeable opportunity to fire him.
Michael jammed her up enough to even squeeze a toxic relationship out of it, complete with vasectomies and the most gloriously awkward dinner party of all time. A few months of dating Michael caused Jan to spiral downward until she eventually lost her job at Dunder Mifflin, while Michael still sat comfortably as regional manager.
Now onto Ryan Howard, once Michael’s temp until he pulled a wildcard move of his own and became Jan’s replacement at corporate. Ryan never saw himself as a loyal employee to Michael or to the Scranton branch, despite Michael saddling him with nonsensical errands; he was always looking for his way out of that office and he had finally found it. He believed he had a firm understanding on how to handle Michael Scott, who was now his subordinate, and that was to belittle him as if he were a child. Ryan quickly learned that handling Michael is a full-time job by itself. Though Ryan was Michael’s boss, Michael still treated him as if he were the temp, creating a Napoleonic complex for Ryan he couldn’t overcome. On Ryan’s watch, Michael hit Meredith with his car; accidentally kidnapped a pizza delivery kid and accidentally streamed it online; and just generally threw him off. All out-of-the-ordinary workplace dilemmas well beyond the grasp of a young VP.
I don’t think it’s far-fetched to assume Ryan privately lobbied to Dunder Mifflin CFO David Wallace to replace Michael. But if you’ll remember, in the same season, Michael, at Jan’s insistence, participated in a deposition as part of her lawsuit against Dunder Mifflin. And Michael stayed loyal to the company, which scored him major points with David Wallace. So Ryan wasn’t going to get his boss to sign off on firing Michael.
Also Ryan had issues of his own: his ambitious Dunder Mifflin Infinity website wasn’t going well; he became addicted to coke trying to live the posh Manhattan life; and he got arrested for fraud with said website, which obviously led to him getting fired. Ryan, with all his zeal and innovative pursuits, was just too inexperienced and juggled too much to go head to head with a seasoned pro like Michael, who had outlasted yet another burned out boss.
Next up was Charles Miner: tall, dark, handsome, and played perfectly by Idris Elba as a hard-assed stiff. Charles was appointed by David Wallace who certainly noticed how Michael was able to outmaneuver his previous bosses. Charles was to act as the middleman between Michael and Wallace. He was also Michael’s first outside-hire boss with whom Michael had no personal relationship. Michael’s shenanigans were not going to work on him.
Michael quickly realized what was happening when Charles showed up in Scranton with vague agendas: he was getting squeezed out. Charles canceled Michael’s fifteen-year anniversary party, wouldn’t allow Michael to speak to Wallace, and worst of all, wasn’t familiar with the paper industry. He was from steel! These didn’t work for Michael, whom we all know has no qualms about causing a scene. He marched right up to Wallace and quit.
That wasn’t the end of it though. After he quit, Michael started The Michael Scott Paper Company and began stealing clients from Dunder Mifflin. His client-poaching got to a point where David Wallace came out of hiding to Scranton to discuss what needed to be done. They eventually decided to buy out Michael’s company. Now it was here where Michael flexed on Dunder Mifflin in ways no one ever saw coming. He alluded to the possibility that David Wallace could be fired if he, Michael, just continued to steal Dunder Mifflin’s clients. “I don’t need to wait out Dunder Mifflin – I think I just need to wait out you.” Wallace knew Michael well enough to take him at his word that he would not stop. No one could match Michael in the arena of petty energy.
Wallace knew this was a mess of the situation, but he saw an opportunity to get his clients and his regional manager back. He agreed to bring Michael back and we never saw Charles again. Oh and just to flex harder, Michael hired Ryan as a temp (again) and hired Pam as a saleswoman. It was from this point on that Michael was absolutely untouchable. Wallace and his employees had witnessed just how much clout Michael had.
Now that we have dissected Michael’s more adversarial bosses, we come to the friendlier ones: David Wallace and Jo Bennett. These two relationships with Michael are not as layered compared to the previous three but are, however, simpler: they liked Michael.
It’s been stated how Michael is loyal to the company and it was noticed by David Wallace, but more than that, I believe Wallace actually liked the guy. He found him funny and entertaining. A guy in Wallace’s position was likely surrounded by corporate stiffs all day and Michael was the complete opposite. He was never boring and, it should be noted, became Dunder Mifflin’s highest earner around season five. Of course that goes a long way but I believe it was Michael’s goofy personality that just worked for Wallace. He enjoyed Michael’s antics which made his boring routine a little more colorful.
Michael didn’t stay around long for Jo Bennett after she acquired Dunder Mifflin, but she felt similarly as Wallace did. She was certainly informed how Michael was the highest earner for Dunder Mifflin and probably chalked up his eccentricities as part of his success. She had certain flare-ups with him but nothing major. She found Michael sweet and unique. Jo was almost matronly toward Michael at the end of season six when she sensed something wrong with him.
I imagine traveling to Scranton, Pennsylvania for business isn’t terribly exciting but a guy like Michael Scott makes it memorable.
He appealed to everyone’s humanity.
Throughout the seven seasons Michael Scott was on the show, there were moments that elevated him from caricature (“Never be a caricature.”) to actual human being. Brief glimpses peppered throughout the early seasons showed how he was not only a relatable guy but a sympathetic one too.
His coworkers began to realize this through his deeds. From the more bumbling ones – kissing Oscar as a way of apologizing for his unintentional homophobia, taking his female employees to Victoria’s Secret for women’s appreciation, dragging Meredith into a rehab center – to his more earnest ones – befriending Toby’s daughter on Take Your Daughter To Work Day, attending Pam’s art gallery when no one else did, becoming a father figure for Erin – Michael always did them out of the kindness of his heart. In some cases the results may have been disastrous but they always came from a good place. What started out as a pathetic joke became one of Michael’s sweetest qualities: he saw the office as his home and his coworkers as his family, for whom he would do almost anything. Even Stanley.
Kind deeds were reciprocated his way (mostly by Pam who dealt with Michael more than anyone.) Pam being the last character to say goodbye to Michael was poetic because they were the two characters who grew the most throughout the show. She quit her job to join Michael at the Michael Scott Paper Company and even tried to set Michael up on dates on more than one occasion. She noticed flickers of Michael’s softer side before anyone and worked to bring them to light.
The other characters in The Office were mixed bags themselves. As the seasons went on, they found themselves not too dissimilar from Michael. Plenty of them struggled to find love and happiness same as him, which opened their eyes to his more human side. They witnessed Michael’s reckless attempts at happiness no matter what the outcome and took lessons from them. By the end of Michael’s time at Dunder Mifflin and even after he left, everyone in the office became more involved in each others’ lives. A fitting legacy to leave behind.
Michael outlasted any would-be opponents, shared humanizing moments with his coworkers, and took on everyone’s baggage as his own, all the way until his exit. He ran into situations where he feared he would lose his job but ultimately did not. Obliviousness, pure nerve, relationship-building, and a whole lot of luck kept Michael Scott as regional manager.
Credit needs to go to Steve Carell, who elevated Michael Scott from a great comedic performance to a great all-around acting performance. We laughed, cringed, and cried with Michael without it ever feeling forced – all thanks to Carell’s acting chops. Also credit to the writing staff for creating a character that could’ve easily fallen into one-joke territory as a guy who just needlessly offended everyone. They instead created an incomplete human being who knew it was too late to change, so he refused to settle until he found someone to love him for who he was. They serviced Michael well . . .