Already? James Spader Is Leaving 'The Office'

After only one season, Spader is abandoning his role as Robert California, which according to producers, was the plan all along

Looks like The Office (Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET, on NBC) will have another staff shakeup next season. We already know of two actors who might be ditching Scranton in the fall: Rainn Wilson's got a possible Office spin-off, and Mindy Kaling will depart the series if her promising new Fox sitcom gets picked up. And now comes news that James Spader will soon collect his final paycheck.

"James came to The Office to play a role that was two scenes long in the season 7 finale," executive producer Paul Lieberstein explained in a statement. "He instantly brought so much life and intrigue to the part that those two scenes became a season. James always wanted this to be a one year arc, and he now leaves us having created one of the most enigmatic and dynamic characters in television."

Well, "enigmatic" sure does describe Spader's character, Robert California. Also: weird and oddly controlling. But while Robert's Jedi mind tricks have certainly kept the Dunder Mifflin employees on edge, they haven't prevented the show's ratings from falling after Steve Carell's departure. Not that anyone would accuse Spader of failing to replace Carell in the hearts of viewers. Producers didn't even try to replace the beloved Michael Scott.

During a season 8 preview, Angela Kinsey (who plays Angela) described Spader's character as "completely opposite of what Michael Scott was. Michael Scott wanted everyone to like him, and Robert California, you don't know what he's about," she said. "He's mysterious." 

From his very first appearance, at the end of season 7, Robert California has had a creepy ability to size up the various office employees, zeroing in on their fears, insecurities and hopes for the future. And season 8 has focused on how the various characters -- from the popular Jim to the competitive Dwight to the obsequious Andy -- have reacted to his eccentric and sometimes menacing presence.

This wasn't a bad strategy. Who hasn't experienced a dramatic shift in the atmosphere of an office when a long-time boss is replaced by someone much less predictable? Still, the ratings may have slipped because, in the end, Spader's strange antics didn't mesh well with the other characters. We all know someone like Andy, or Angela or Toby. Their idiosyncrasies resonate broadly. But no one (neither the characters nor the viewers) ever really got a handle on Robert California.

It could be that, even on TV, there is such a thing as too weird.

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