Michael Scott is disrespectful to women, racial minorities, gay people and overweight people – just to name a few. While this is unintentional, and it’s clear he doesn’t know any better, intent doesn’t matter when it comes to harassment.
So, why do people like Michael Scott so much? Well, the writers of The Office had a few tricks up their sleeves – they gave Michael a few very admirable traits, and they even managed to make the audience sympathetic toward him in certain cases.
Why did they bother? As you’ll learn by listening to The Office Ladies podcast, the first season of The Office got terrible ratings. NBC wanted Office creator and writer, Greg Daniels, to pitch to them why there should be a second season, so he decided to tell them that he would make Michael more likable.
He delivered on this promise, and gave Michael some very likable moments in the following seasons while still staying true to the original character (David Brent – the UK version of Michael Scott).
When Michael Scott Leaves Dunder Mifflin
In 2011, Steve Carell leaves The Office to focus on his film career. According to The Atlantic, viewership and ratings dropped dramatically when the show went on without Michael Scott. Despite Michael’s serious flaws, it’s clear that people loved him – or at least loved laughing at him.
Michael is second to Dwight in terms of the number of laughs they get out of me. While I don’t typically laugh at Michael’s bigotry, I do find his other antics funny. The seasons without Michael are much less funny to me than the seasons with Michael.
Steve Carell was brilliant in his portrayal of this complex character who’s cringeworthy and yet somehow endearing.
12 Ways the Writers Made us Like Michael Scott
1. Michael’s Appearance at Pam’s Art Show
Michael is one of the few people from the office to attend Pam’s art show. Roy goes because he just got back together with Pam and wants her to like him, but he leaves early and doesn’t stick around to support her. Oscar also goes, but his snobbish boyfriend hates Pam’s art, and Oscar doesn’t stick up for her.
Then, Michael arrives and he loves Pam’s art. In fact, he loves it so much he wants to buy one. Pam is shocked that someone actually wants to buy one of her paintings because by this point, the art show is almost over and no one really seemed to like her art.
Michael is so authentic in his praise of Pam’s art that it brings Pam tears of joy. Sure, Michael liking your art is pretty much the same as a kid liking your art, but she’ll take it.
2. Michael’s Agony Over Firing an Employee
While it’s clear that Michael wants everyone to like him, it’s apparent that his reluctance to reduce his staff in the first Halloween episode is motivated by more than vanity. He clearly cares about how the firing will affect not only him but the person being fired.
“A man’s life is at stake,” he tells Pam.
After listening to The Office Ladies podcast episode about this Halloween episode, I was delighted to hear that Jenna (Pam) and Angela (Angela) have this same interpretation of Michael’s agony – it goes beyond just a desire to be popular!
As poorly as Michael treats his employees, he sees them as family. He cares about their feelings, and understands how getting fired affects people emotionally (even if he doesn’t understand how his everyday comments affect people emotionally).
Another sign of Michael loving his employees (deep down) is his “Faces of Scranton” video. He creates this video for a financial review at corporate. It’s admirable to focus on people more than profits.
3. Michael’s Career Success
On The Office Ladies podcast, Jenna Fischer recalls one of the cast’s first meetings with Ricky Gervais, co-creator of The Office (UK). In this meeting, Ricky emphasized the importance of making Michael at least somewhat competent at his job.
He said that in England you can be bad at your job and never get fired, but in America that’s going to frustrate people. He said the writers should show glimpses of Michael being a good salesperson.
The writers heeded this advice. For example, in Season 5, David Wallace, Dunder Mifflin’s CEO reveals that Michael’s branch is the most profitable branch. David is so impressed that he invites Michael to corporate to find out his secret sauce. He then sends him on a lecture circuit to inspire the other branches.
You can imagine how well this worked, but regardless, the numbers proved that Michael was at least doing something right.
4. Michael’s Relationship with Jan
If there’s anything that makes the audience sympathetic toward Michael it’s Jan. She manipulates him by making him do intimate things that make him uncomfortable, using his diary as evidence in a ridiculous lawsuit, spending so much money that he has to work two jobs and making him sleep on a tiny ottoman.
Of course, Michael should be responsible and break up with her, but regardless, it is sad to watch.
5. Michael’s Desire to be a Dad
His desire to have kids is something Michael consistently mentions in every season of the show. However, his habit of choosing women based solely on their appearance and moving way too fast (i.e., proposing to Carol shortly after they start dating), distracts him from his main goal – finding a woman who wants kids and wants to have be in a committed relationship with someone as “unique” as Michael.
I don’t know about you, but someone wanting to be a dad, is very touching.
6. Michael’s Frequent Exclusion from Activities
Another example of how the writers try to make us sympathetic toward Michael is how their storylines often involve Michael being purposefully excluded from something. For example, Michael is excluded from Jim’s BBQ and Ryan’s camping trip.
While Jim and Ryan have good reasons for excluding him, it does make me feel sorry for him because he’s a pretty lonely guy.
7. Pam’s Role as Michael’s “Mom”
In my opinion, people who hate Michael have an inability to suspend their belief and pretend that in this imaginary world of The Office there exists a ten-year-old child in an adult’s body. That child is Michael. I think there is no better way to describe him. To me, he’s like Tom Hanks in the movie, Big.
The way Pam treats Michael is a major reason I have no struggle viewing Michael as a child in an adult’s body. Pam views Michael as a child, too, so she talks to him like a child by using that sweet, concerned voice of hers.
For example, when she wants to save her money from a bad investment (WUPHF.com), she is very tender when telling Michael that Ryan is taking advantage of him.
I find Pam’s role as Michael’s mom adorable. I talk more about this unique relationship in my post, Is Pam Beesly a Good Role Model?
8. Michael’s Concern for Prince Family Paper
When David Wallace asks Michael to get some competitive intelligence from a small, family-owned paper company, Michael is eager to go but less eager to share his findings. The owner of Prince Family Paper had given Michael a list of references because Michael was pretending to be a potential customer.
Michael is not eager to share this information with David because he developed a soft spot for the family when they fixed his car and brought him and Dwight hot chocolate while they waited. He knows sharing the list of references will destroy the family business, so he tries to keep the list away from Dwight as Dwight chases him down trying to convince him to think with his head instead of his heart.
9. Michael’s Youthful Exuberance
As we get older, it’s easy let life stress us out to the point where we no longer find joy in the simple things – the things we enjoyed as a child (birthday parties, acting goofy, dressing up in costumes, getting excited about imaginary worlds, etc.).
I have to credit my husband, Sterling, for this item on the list. Michael’s “youthful exuberance” is one of the few things Sterling actually likes about Michael. The example he gave was the Golden Ticket episode in Season 5 when Michael gets so excited about his “Golden Ticket” marketing idea that he dresses up as Willy Wonka and prances around the office trying to stir up enthusiasm.
Life is too short to forget the joy of imaginary worlds from your childhood, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, E.T. and Toy Story. It’s too short not to propose to your soulmate in a Yoda voice.
10. Michael’s Soft Spot for Erin
When Michael unintentionally upsets Erin by revealing that Andy used to be engaged to Angela, he cheers her up after work by trying to boost her self-esteem and make her laugh.
Another time, at Erin and Gabe’s Glee party, Michael senses that Erin views him as kind of a father figure since she was a foster kid who was never adopted. As soon as this becomes clear to him, he stops acting like a party pooper and tries to get along with her boyfriend, Gabe.
11. Michael’s Relationship with Holly
I’m not saying Michael’s character arc is a redemption story, but his relationship with Holly makes it almost a redemption story. The first sign of change happens the first day Michael meets Holly. They’re riding the Ferris wheel together at Toby’s going away party, and Holly makes a comment that Michael thinks is a good opportunity for a “that’s what she said,” but he stops himself as soon as the first word leaves his mouth and decides to say something more constructive.
Holly becomes Michael’s first girlfriend where his sexual attraction is not the driving force behind the relationship. While he is physically attracted to her, you can tell he is more attracted to her personality because in her, he sees a little bit of himself. Holly embodies all of Michael’s good personality traits without any of the bad ones.
Another sign that Holly is a positive influence on Michael is Michael’s difficult decision to not try to win Holly back at the company picnic, but to let her be happy with her new boyfriend. This is uncharacteristic of Michael. He is typically very insecure and has no filter. However, his love for Holly makes him hold his tongue and hold onto hope.
As it turns out, Michael’s intuition is right, he is meant to be with Holly. They get back together many years later, and this is when the grand finale of Michael’s near redemption occurs: he dumps his horrible friend, Todd Packer.
12. Michael’s Acceptance of Phyllis’ Second Attempt at a Homemade Gift
In the first Christmas episode, Michael hates the Secret Santa gift Phyllis gives him because it’s homemade. However, in Michael’s last episode, Phyllis is knitting him a going away gift, and he doesn’t say one mean thing to her. Progress!
What to do if You Secretly Like Michael Scott
Don’t feel guilty about liking Michael Scott. The writers tricked you into doing so. But “tricked” is a strong word. I’m actually thankful that the writers made me like Michael because it reminds me to focus on people’s good qualities rather than their bad ones. It’s not that I’m letting Michael off the hook for his bigotry, but I’m just choosing to celebrate his baby steps and focus on the funny aspects of Michael that aren’t bigotry-related.
I do sometimes have a twisted sense of humor. There are other things in The Office I find funny that are of questionable morality. Read my post, Are Jim’s Pranks Mean?, to learn more.
A Note About Bigotry
Bigotry-related humor can sometimes be used to criticize bigotry rather than make light of it. It all depends on the character who is being a bigot. If that character is an idiot, like Michael, then it’s possible that the writers are making a statement about the idiocy of bigotry. I fully support any writer who wants to show how insane bigotry is, and I’m sometimes ok with laughing a dark, uncomfortable laugh in the process.
It’s also true that many of us share some of Michael’s ignorance because we may live in a bubble like he does – with only one black friend and one gay friend. Michael’s mistakes make us examine our own prejudices, and that’s a good thing.
While we may not say ignorant things out loud, it’s important for us to recognize prejudices within us because these underlying attitudes have potential to hurt people just as much as spoken words.
What are Your Thoughts?
If you have some thoughts about Michael Scott, please share them in the comments below!