California Literary Review

The Office Recap: The Initiative (Season 8, Episode 2)

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September 30th, 2011 at 12:47 am

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Ed Helms as Andy Bernard on The Office

The new leader.

Photo by: Ron Tom/NBC.

It’s taken me awhile to figure out exactly what bothers me about Andy Bernard, but I think I figured it out: he’s network-approved Michael Scott.

The initial success of The Office (both the British and American versions) came from its dark core. All of the characters were losers trapped in their lives. Office drones because they couldn’t be anything but office drones. Michael Scott constantly hovered between likeability and unlikeability. A fun guy, yet one you pity. Embarrassing, but believably enthusiastic. Misguided and childish, but with a heart. He wanted to be friends with people who went out of their way to avoid him and treat him with condescension.

When Andy first appeared, he was one of the failures. A little lord Fauntleroy who couldn’t make it on his own. He prided himself on his singing and dancing abilities, while everyone else just cringed at his crooning. An uncharming charmer. More pleasant than most of the cast, but you still wouldn’t want to hang out with him. These are all very Scott-ian qualities, but Andy imbued them with a pretentiousness that made him different from Michael.

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on The Office

The old boss.

Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC.

After they decided to make Andy more of a focus of the show (I blame The Hangover), these negative qualities turned into positive ones. Like Michael, Andy was a showman. However, unlike Michael (and even early Andy), where we uncomfortably watched him perform, the show started treating these abilities as … good. Compare last season’s Andy’s Play to Michael’s improv class or Pam’s art show.

The end of last week’s The List brought this message home. For all his faults, Michael was loyal to his crew, whom he saw as his family. When he defended them to Dunder-Mifflin Corporate, there was a real passion because of how much they all meant to him, yet Michael never got the accolades, he never got the friendship- this was the key to his character. However, after Andy praised his staff to Robert California, the entire office goes home thanking him and giving him high fives and handshakes.

Both Andy and Michael are goofy attention seekers who want to be loved and to do well by others. Over the past season, Andy received the credit from the characters and the showrunners, both as a leader and as a performer, that Michael spent over a decade trying, and failing, to achieve.

For the audience, liking Michael Scott came with a hesitation, but rooting for Andy Bernard requires no thought at all. He’s too good. Michael Scott without the ignorance or unintentional malevolence. An inoffensive, mass-friendly leader … who defeats the entire point of the show.

John Krasinski as Jim Halpert from The Office

Of course, Andy is not the only person who suffered from this change. Jim Halpert, who at one point was the audience surrogate, now has the American dream- the respect from his company and his co-workers, the girl of his dreams, the house, and the kids.

NBC Photo: Trae Patton

I wrote all of that before I watched tonight’s episode, The Incentive.

As the episode proper begins, Dwight is encouraging the staff to sell the Sabre tablet computer known as The Pyramid. It’s heavy and clunky with barely any memory. Then, Andy comes in with three ties draped across his arm and asks for the staff’s opinion on ties and tie pins because he wants to impress new CEO Robert California. In addition, he began giving nicknames to his coworkers. He calls homosexual accountant Oscar “C-SPAN,” which stands for “Cocker spaniel. Spaniel because of your Spanish bloodline, cocker…” and he stops. At least to me, these moments came across as pilfered from an “Embarrassing Things For Michael Scott To Do” file.

Robert California arrives at the office, compliments Andy’s tie, and asks to speak to him alone. He tells Andy to inspire his crew to do better, unintentionally (probably unintentionally) playing on Andy’s insecurities about his abilities as a leader. At one point, Robert reads Andy and Erin and immediately knows that they both like each other. When Andy starts telling him about their romantic entanglements, he replies, “I’m afraid you lost my interest.” This is the Robert California I like. Rude and blatant but honest and true. Considering the meekness of practically every character, someone that forward is a reprieve. Robert leaves and tells Andy to double his group’s sales. Andy asks how, and Robert just tells him to get it done.

 Ed Helms as Andy Bernard on The Office

The incentive program.

Photo by: Ron Tom/NBC.

After finding it difficult to give a pep talk (he knocks over a computer monitor when trying to place his leg on the table), Andy develops an incentives system where each employee gets points that they can spend on useless widgets if they do good work. We aren’t treated to a “coffee is for closers” moment, and I don’t know if I mean “treated” sincerely or sarcastically. Most of the toys are less than 20 points, but Jim asks Andy about what they could receive with even more points. Eventually, Andy agrees to get a tattoo on his butt if they reach 5,000 points. They hit this total in less than a day. The tattoo design would make it look like Andy’s butt is giving birth to a baby.

Following work, they all go to a tattoo parlor together. As I complained about last week, they are really pushing the angle that these are family members and not just co-workers with Andy as the hapless single father trying to raise a large brood following the death of his wife. It really doesn’t work for me.

Anyway, Andy rushes out in a panic, and Jim leaves with him to provide the type of pep talk that he used to give to Michael, except without the underlying snarkiness. Andy expresses his fears about not knowing why Robert selected him for such a lofty position. Jim explains that the important thing is that Andy inspired the crew and they appreciate him for that, however, no one actually expects to get the tattoo done.

Andy runs back in to prove them wrong and be a leader. Instead of the original design, the loving gang changed the original image to a dog wearing a shirt that says ‘Nard’ on it for Andy’s nickname “Nard Dog.” Outside, Andy shows the work to the group who all laugh and cheer. I’m pretty sure they didn’t hug one another, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. I expect a giant group hug by mid-season.

James Spader as Robert California

Robert California understands the show; no one else does.

Photo by: Ron Tom/NBC.

While the gang excitedly congratulates Andy, the documentarians splice in footage of Robert explaining why he chose Andy for the role. I believe his answer (“There’s something about an underdog that really inspires the unexceptional.”) is meant to make him seem like a villain, but instead it makes him one of the show’s greatest characters in years. And one of the few who remembers the point of the series.

Additional Thoughts:
• The first half of the episode was better than last week’s episode overall, but once it became about Andy’s tattoo it fell apart.
• One subplot involved Darryl’s ex-wife visiting him. For whatever reason, he told the entire staff that she was coming by. The crew gives off the vibe that if she and Darryl went on a movie date, they’d all follow and sit three rows behind them.
• Angela and Pam started taking pregnancy walks together and Angela threatens to call social services because Pam drinks tea out of mugs previously used for coffee. Then it turns out she did make the call, so they decide to take separate walks. The pregnancies are not doing favors to either of the characters.
• The cold open involves Kevin cutting out words in order to speak faster, so he’ll say things like “Thank” instead of “thank you” or “Not me fault” instead of “not my fault.” The execution is about as good as the concept.
• Still no Gabe. You’d think he’d be following Robert California around like a lapdog.
• The universe of Parks and Recreation is so much richer. As is Community’s. And in a week, probably Whitney’s.

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