Did Steve Carell Really Drive Michael Scott's Car Into A Lake In The Office Season 4?

Like most sitcoms, "The Office” changed over the course of its run. For one, the cast was always changing, with additions like Ed Helms, Rashida Jones, and Ellie Kemper helping to keep the show fresh, and the eventual loss of Steve Carell proving a big blow to the series. The show's quality also experienced a slow but steady decline, with a steeper drop after Carell's departure following the show's seventh season, though the final season saw a decent uptick for a solid conclusion. 

These kind of developments are also natural for a sitcom as part of the life cycle of television. But the show experienced another common symptom for an aging sitcom: it got much goofier. Comedies like "Seinfeld" and "Scrubs" can relate. As shows go on, you become more willing to get a bit more surreal and take more comedic risks than you would have early on. 

"The Office" started out as one of the most down-to-earth sitcoms you can imagine. It was about a bunch of people working at an extremely mundane job, and the most surreal part of the show was that one or two of them were weirdos. As "The Office" went on, however, they too began to let loose and get a little more exaggerated with jokes and scenarios, such as in season four when Michael drives his car into a lake because his GPS tells him to.

Was it too stupid?

In "The Office" episode entitled "Dunder Mifflin Infinity," Ryan returns to the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin to reveal his new plan for making the company more high-tech. Michael, played by Steve Carell, fears being replaced by technology and sets out to prove that nothing beats the personal touch of business by using gift baskets in an attempt to win over clients. This path also sparks a resistance to new technology, such as the company-wide Blackberry mobile device. But it doesn't stop him from misunderstanding his rental car's GPS and driving it straight into a lake.

According to an episode of the "Office Ladies" podcast, this particular joke led to some backlash by those who felt the show was getting too stupid, according to a conversation host Jenna Fischer had with Carell. "He reminded me that we got a lot of pushback after this episode aired because of this moment," said Fischer. "He said people kind of thought it was a little over the top, that it was unrealistic that someone would follow their GPS into a lake."

Personally, I take issue with the idea that this scene was a bridge too far for the show, as Michael Scott had proven himself to be a pretty monumental idiot at this point. Michael had been responsible for enough wacky and dangerous hijinks that I find it hard to imagine anything he wouldn't do.

Furthermore, the scene was also backed up by a lot of real life instances of people following their GPS into a body of water or other dangerous places. A reality of the world is that no matter how stupid something seems, there are probably at least a few people who've done it, and writer Jen Celotta borrowed from real world stupidity to throw Michael into this situation.

If you take issue with Michael driving his car into the lake, I feel comfortable pronouncing you to be no fun at all. The scene is hilarious, and the lengths they went to to film it are impressive too.

Into the deep

"The Office" was not unfamiliar with spending big money for a gag, but the logistics of filming the car actually crashing into a lake was one of their biggest undertakings as a production. According to the "Office Ladies," they actually did plunge a real car into a real lake. Of course, alterations had to be made for safety purposes. The car had its engine and gas tank removed. Because of that, the car wasn't merely driven into the lake on its own. A specific rig was built that would pull the engineless car into the water.

According to Carell, they did two full takes of the scene, which featured him and Rainn Wilson in the car with a single cameraman in the backseat. It was that camera operator, Randall Einhorn, who had the unenviable job of squeezing into the backseat next to a giant gift basket while filming. Despite his discomfort, Einhorn insisted on filming the scene in a specific way, as Fischer explained on the podcast:

"He said at first they discussed just filming it on lipstick cameras that were in the visors. We've seen them do that before. But Randall felt very strongly that it should be shot using the handheld camera from the back seat. So he kind of fought for that."

The use of the handheld camera would allow for a better, more mobile view of the water entering the car as they submerged in the lake. Using the better camera was even more difficult as it was extremely expensive (around $130,000) and couldn't get wet, requiring heavy protective casing, which made it even more of a burden to carry.

A well-executed stunt

In addition to all of that, they needed to take special measures to record sound for the scene, according to Fischer:

"He told me that for sound purposes, they had a wire on both Steve and Rainn and they use these waterproof mic packs called The Countrymen, which Randall knew about from 'Survivor,' because remember, he spent all that time on 'Survivor.'"

In addition to utilizing tactics Einhorn learned on the wilderness-based reality show, they had multiple boom mic operators standing in the water around the car as well, ensuring that every sound from the crash and inside the car would be adequately captured.

Despite all the prep and hard work that went into it, it was actually quite an easy time for Carell and Wilson. However, Wilson expressed his only problem in a voice memo on the podcast, and it was not about his safety in the stunt at all:

"My main fear wasn't like drowning or the car or anything like that. It was kind of like this water is not the cleanest and there's all these houses all over the place. And I just knew it was pretty sewagey and I was just really afraid of an eye infection or something like that. It was like kind of. Kind of eerily warm, the water was not cold at all, but it was super fun."

Thanks to all the measures taken by the cast and crew, they were able to make the show's biggest stunt yet a memorable experience for all involved. In a way, the scene that some called the show's stupidest thus far actually was the smartest and most well-planned out.