Toby and Kelly (and Dwight?) clock out: Where does 'The Office' go from here?

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Image Credit: Danny Feld/NBC

The Office is about to get a serious renovation. In March, fans learned that Paul Lieberstein — who plays Toby Flenderson and is also the series’ showrunner –  will depart at the end of Season 8 so he can concentrate on launching an Office spin-off about Schrute Farms. If that show gets off the ground, Rainn Wilson’s Dwight will also leave Dunder Mifflin.

And today, Fox officially picked up It’s Messy, a sitcom created by and starring Mindy Kaling — meaning that motor-mouthed Kelly Kapoor is also on her way out the Office door. Since Kaling’s an executive producer and the writer of some of the sitcom’s most memorable episodes (“The Injury,” “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” and “Diwali,” among others) as well as one of The Office‘s stars, losing her will be especially tough on the series.

It was hard enough to watch Steve Carell’s Michael Scott depart for Colorado — and a movie career — in Season 7. But what will happen to NBC’s most-watched sitcom if three of its biggest names leave for less fluorescent pastures? Can this Thursday-night staple overcome an uneven year to finish strong in its (presumably last) season? Would a reboot revitalize the show — or make matters worse? And who will bother sticking around to watch?

Though these questions won’t be answered by tonight’s finale, whatever happens will help determine whether we should be optimistic about The Office. The news that James Spader will leave the show after tonight is enough to get me feeling better about Season 9; his Robert California was perhaps a good character in theory but an inconsistent, unsettling, and unlikeable one in practice. The Office will be better once the f—ing lizard king and his kooky mind games are somebody else’s problem.

Plus, once Spader’s gone, the cast will be free from the story lines that bogged down the show this year — everyone wants to impress Robert! Robert is a big weirdo! Robert is a terrible manager! That will let the crew focus on doing what they do best: mining the indignities of everyday life. Dwight’s departure might have the same effect, which is why I won’t shed too many tears when he heads off to the beet farm.

Kaling and Lieberstein’s exits, though, are going to be harder to overcome. I’m not sure if The Office could feel like The Office without them — but I’ll tune in to Season 9′s premiere to find out.

What do you think, Office fans — can the show maintain its still-decent quality without the players who are leaving? Are you, like me, happy to see Robert California go on his merry way? And what’s in Dunder Mifflin’s future — a David Wallace buyout? Andy restored to the manager’s seat? Jim leaving to start the bike shop he’s always wanted to own? A surprise retool that makes Phyllis the star of the show?

Air your thoughts below — and check back after the finale for our reaction.

Read more:
‘The Office’ finale: Will somebody please help Andy? — EXCLUSIVE VIDEO
B.J. Novak teases ‘Office’ finale
Photo Gallery: ‘The Office’: Jim’s Best Pranks!

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