Even though Michael Scott (Steve Carell) liked to be liked, “The Office” lead is still a lovably controversial character.
The most infamously cringe Michael Scott moment, though, proved to be the Season 6, Episode 12, titled “Scott’s Tots,” where Michael tries to dodge the fact that he promised a group of 15 students he would pay for their college tuition through the fictional Michael Scott Foundation if they graduated high school.
“Hey, Mr. Scott, whatcha going to do? Make our dreams come true!” the students iconically sing to the tune of “Bad Boys” once Michael shows up in their classroom. But things quickly turn sore as Michael explains he can’t even pay for their textbooks, leaving the high schoolers scrambling.
Now, 13 years later since the episode aired, writer/director and star B.J. Novak is reflecting on the cringe “Office” moment. Novak made his directorial debut with “Scott’s Tots” and said he had “no idea” the implications of the episode.
“Just so we get clear, did you bring me on to answer for ‘Scott’s Tots’? To apologize?” Novak said on former co-stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey’s “Office Ladies” podcast, as reported by Mashable. “You know, I was assigned the script, loved it, and it was only much later…I think it’s a sign of how deep into the show I was, or we all were, that we did not have a foot in the real world.”
Novak continued, “Not that that was an unrealistic episode…that’s exactly what Michael would do. That’s exactly what Michael would feel. I also think that we can talk about it creatively. It makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t know if people are responding to — it seems like no one’s responding to it saying, ‘It’s a bad episode’ or ‘Michael wouldn’t do that.’ It’s more just like, ‘It’s so hard to watch.’ So it is consistent, I think, with the show.”
The “Vengeance” director explained that it’s not Michael’s lie that’s hard to watch years later. Instead, it’s Michael’s enthusiasm; the character even says that it was the most generous “empty promise” he’s ever made.
“It’s Michael — he got carried away with his generosity, with his belief in himself. I mean, maybe this is what people cringe about,” Novak said. “It’s a very, very lovable version of Michael Scott, as well as a heartbreaking version of Michael Scott. And it’s sort of the whole series in an incredibly distilled, uncomfortable way from the Michael Scott point of view when you look at it like that.”
However, Novak admitted that the episode is “very difficult,” especially when grappling with Michael’s pure intentions.
“He is such a believer, you know? And so his belief got ahead of him. And this is by far, you know…this is the biggest consequence of all,” Novak said.
And fans of the British version of “The Office” know the workplace comedy often veered to the darker side of things. Novak recalled writer Paul Lieberstein saying that they are “not going to totally sell out” with the NBC series.
“The British [version] had ended dark every time, more or less, and we had been ending dark every time, more or less. And so I guess ‘Scott’s Tots’ was definitely one of those [ones for us],” Novak summed up. “That is sort of this incredible distillation of why we love Michael so much and why he’s made everyone’s life so impossibly difficult, which is sort of the heart and the comedy of the series. But it’s not usually that intense, you know?”