Tonight, Beavis and Butt-Head returns! But before that, The Office.
After two decent weeks and one week off, The Office returns to mediocrity with its annual Halloween episode.
With Michael Scott gone, the Halloween festivities seem to have lost some of their luster. People are dressed in costume, but there’s little humor eked from what they wear. After an opening sequence where Andy Bernard explains his rules (“1) Don’t be offensive, 2) Don’t be cliché, and 3) Don’t take the first two rules too seriously.”), we see the choices. Meredith went as Kate Middleton; Gabe, Kelly, and Toby all go as skeletons (presumably just to do a poorly choreographed ‘Dem Bones dance to anyone who wants to see it); Creed is Osama Bin Laden; Darryl, Kevin, and Jim go as the three star players of the Miami Heat; and so forth. Jim only did it because Kevin cried.
Construction Worker Andy commissions Fast Food Fame Wendy from Wendy’s Erin to organize the Halloween party. She does a basic job creating a simple but inoffensive celebration. Unfortunately, Andy learns that Non-Costumed Robert California is coming to visit and freaks out about the blandness of the affair. At this point, I realize the formula for the new era of The Office. The crew has something planned, Andy discovers that Robert is stopping by, panics, and makes things worse.
While I understand the fear of trying to please a new boss, this exact storyline has happened several times already with predictable results. This show used to do this concept well enough, both with David Wallace and with Stringer Bell, but the Andy/Robert relationship is pure sitcom, complete with over-the-top gestures and misunderstandings. It’s the equivalent of “My BOSS is coming to dinner … and you burnt the roast!!!” While I could possibly accept this as a plot maybe once or twice, a blip on the overall landscape of this season, the show has already repeated it in four out of its five episodes. How many more times do we need to see Andy’s freaked out, wide-eyed, “Uh-oh! What I’m going to do now!?!” look.
Robert arrives with his Zombie Son, comments on the party being dull, and Andy sends former Party Planning Committee leaders Wild West Whore Phyllis and Cat Angela to replace Erin and create a more exciting event. Erin turns to Gabe for guidance. He sets up a “horror” DVD of gross footage, such as a melting doll and the brushing of bloody teeth, called “Theater of the Disturbing” (I forgot the exact title, and couldn’t read it in my notes.) It looks like how people make fun of art house films and has nothing on The Navidson Record. This disgusts the audience, so Erin pulls out a deck of dirty playing cards and is summoned into Andy’s office. She explains that she’s been nervous all day because she fears losing her job since Andy has been treating her weirdly. Turns out, Andy’s been dating someone who has never called or visited the office because Andy didn’t want Erin to feel uncomfortable, but the relationship came to a point where he needed to tell her about it. Great, more personal crap with Andy Bernard.
In the B plot, Robert California goes from office member to office member and asks them about their greatest fears. While collecting this data, Robert asks the camera “What am I up to?” and gives a “damned if I know” smile. An episode like this clues me in on why Robert California has a penchant for visiting this lowly branch of his nationwide firm. He sees them as a social experiment. The act of traveling between Florida and Scranton, Pennsylvania, might appear to lack rhyme or reason, but Robert does not seem to follow conventional conceptions of logic. He takes pleasure in asking odd questions out of nowhere, saying arbitrary statements, getting uncomfortably close, and remaining a curious distance away. I presume he does these things to gauge peoples’ reactions as to better understand a microcosm of humanity. There are times when I don’t know if Robert actually is CEO of the company or if he’s just smart and clever enough to convince the idiots in Scranton that he is.
Nevertheless, he uses this knowledge to tell a ghost story that encompasses everyone’s worst nightmare, from seeing your baby die to dying alone to Jim Halpert to getting lost in a fantasy world. I wasn’t entirely sure what the show was aiming for with this sequence. After giving the talk, Robert gives a talking head about how people shouldn’t let fear control them (a worthwhile lesson), which is interspliced with scenes of people in the office seeming comfortable and relaxed; even Andy and Erin repair their friendship. But Robert’s story itself was so pointless and odd that I don’t know if we were supposed to believe that the story cured people of their issues or if it’s a coincidence that both things happened. The smarter people of the office didn’t seem taken in by what he was saying (at least Jim had a dumbfounded look), and it worked better when it appeared that Robert was rambling to dopes just to watch them hang on his every word.
Regardless, Robert California remains the most interesting part of the season. He brings a totally different vibe to the show, and Spader’s off-kilter performance changes the energy of the characters. This is especially welcome in an environment like The Office where everyone seems too close and easy with one another. But, like I said at the start of the season, his persona might be more suited on a better, darker show with more interesting side characters worthy of playing off of him. Oh well, Spader successfully spun-off from another long-running series before.
• Basketballer Jim and Kangaroo Pam argue about the existence of ghosts. Pam believes; Jim doesn’t.
• Karagan from Starcraft Dwight befriends Robert’s son.
• If his relationship is as important as Andy makes it out to be, the girlfriend probably should have been at the Garden Party. Unless she’s nothing but a place-filler until Andy gets the confidence to ask out Erin again. Either way, like I said earlier in this review- Great, more personal crap with Andy Bernard.