"The Office" is nearing the end of its seventh season, and "you can sense a weariness and desperation setting in" as the show prepares for life without star Steve Carell, writes Matt Zoller Seitz in Salon. Carell, who plays the dying-to-be-liked boss Michael Scott, is leaving at season's end, and the run-up to his departure has been filled with subpar episodes that only remind us how much funnier the show used to be. Thanks to Carell's brilliance and popularity, "The Office" has gradually morphed from a "classic ensemble-driven show" into "the Michael Scott Show." Now, the show's writers will be forced to make his character (awkwardly) come full circle, then start all over again next season. And prolonging a storyline that already feels over is "just asking for trouble," says Zoller Seitz. Here, an excerpt:

The departure of a show's passive-aggressive, misery-inflicting lead should not be nearly this problematic for the series or the audience. It should be a simple matter of engineering Michael's exit, setting the stage for his replacement by another manager, and preparing for a Michael-less season. But somehow it became a conundrum as vexing as the prospect of replacing Archie Bunker on "All in the Family" or Sheriff Andy on "The Andy Griffith Show" or fill-in-the-name-of-an-unquestioned-lead-sitcom-character-here. Almost the entire run of Season 7 has dealt, in some way, with Carell's announced departure (with certain wonderful exceptions, including the "Sweeney Todd"-driven community theater episode "Andy's Show," which featured Dwight's great line, "All that singing got in the way of some perfectly good murders"). But the simple fact is, Michael Scott cannot be replaced because the series made him irreplaceable. ...

The smartest move would be to make the final episode of this season the final episode of the series, too, and maybe just avoid catharsis or introspection or redemption and just quietly turn out the lights, as NBC did almost 20 years ago when "Cheers" ended. But we all know that's not possible. The series is the anchor of NBC's Thursday night lineup. The corporate bottom line dictates that the "The Office" will stay open no matter what.

Read the entire article at Salon.