A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about former The Office actor Patrice O’Neal having a stroke. This Tuesday, it was announced that he had passed away. Patrice O’Neal was a genuinely talented, very insightful, and truly hysterical stand-up comedian. As I said the week of his stroke, it’s more than worth it to check out his material on YouTube or watch his last special Elephant in the Room on Netflix Instant. His death is a loss to fans of true comedy.
Speaking of true comedy, let’s go the opposite direction and look at tonight’s episode of The Office. (In case you were wondering, the show did not have an In Memoriam at the end. At least not one that I saw.)
Once again, we have an episode where Robert California tasks Andy to do something, Andy gets flustered, and Andy fails. I have no problem accepting that Robert is a smarter person than Andy Bernard, and if the time ever comes when Andy outsmarts Robert, I will be disappointed with the show. However, considering how many times this plot has been repeated, I would welcome anything to breathe new life into this already tired storyline.
Tonight’s mind game begins when Robert rushes in and tells Andy (and Jim) not to hire his wife Susan under any circumstances. Susan is played by Maura Tierney, co-star of one of the best sitcoms of the 1990s- NewsRadio. It’s a shame that show didn’t get the attention it deserved during its run, and I still maintain the death of fellow WNYX-er and Saturday Night Live legend Phil Hartman to be one of the most shocking celebrity deaths of all time. Miss Troy McClure. This isn’t to take away from Patrice O’Neal’s passing either. Anyway, Tierney fits well on screen, gives her character a toned down intelligence, and has good chemistry with Spader. If they Boston Legal The Office with Robert California, she should be involved.
During the first part of the episode, Robert takes her around and keeps pushing Andy to give her a job, even enticing him by mentioning how good it is to do a favor for your company’s CEO. It’s a ridiculously obvious tactic, but Andy, of course, falls for it and welcomes Susan aboard. When Robert calls Andy a numbskull, you have to agree with the boss. After three months and nine episodes, it’s obvious that Andy is at best an average person doing a job with the barest level of competence. Whereas Michael Scott’s stupidity/obliviousness made him unique, offered storytelling opportunities, and even allowed him opportunities to win due to his wild card nature, Andy’s simplicity just makes him dull and easily readable. You’re not going to be surprised by what Andy does, and if Robert (rightfully) fires or demotes him, it’s difficult to say that the show would be at all harmed.
Charged with getting Susan out of the office, Andy reviews his knowledge of sitcom 101 and enlists his staff to be mean to her until she quits. Surprisingly, the crew agrees and goes along with the plot… The Office should not feature a gang of employees who scheme together. Moreover, since they know that Susan is Robert’s wife and they don’t know that Robert put Andy up to this, why wouldn’t one person (Gabe? Ryan?) go against the crowd to (incorrectly) suck up to the boss by befriending her?
Eventually, Susan realizes something’s amiss and gets Andy to admit-without-admitting that Robert’s behind the weirdness. Robert, Susan, and Andy all meet in the conference room where Robert demands Andy to tell the truth, which he does causing Robert to call him a “lying son of a bitch.” Maybe “barely competent” is too nice to describe Andrew Bernard. Impotent might fit him better. To not figure out any of Robert’s tricks after god knows how many show-months? Andy is a weak-willed doormat who needs constant flattery in order to make him feel as though he has any self worth but never does anything to prove that he deserves it. When Michael Scott mourned, at least he had the decency to do so in private.
To settle the dispute, they call in Jim to give his testimony, so Jim runs out of the office. Robert asks Erin to tell security to find him, and the building’s security guard locks the only gate exiting the facility. I guess Dwight’s despot-esque guidance did influence others working in the building. Otherwise, this seems very unsafe. With his only escape route cut off, Jim runs to the top of the building to hide. Do I need to explain how very un-Jim-like this is? When caught, he gives a non-answer about how great it is to see Pam (who is on maternity leave this episode) every day without giving any information about what transpired earlier.
Susan accepts that she is not going to work at Dunder-Mifflin and leaves. In the parking lot, Andy tells her that everyone wanted her to work there except for Robert (is Andy incapable of learning?). She responds with “different circumstances. Who knows, maybe when all this settles down… (Andy: “Totally.”) It’s a date,” and Andy, once again, is perplexed. How I loathe him. At this point, I’m going to fanwank that Robert brought her in just to screw with Andy and that they will both have a laugh over the stupidity of that branch later that night.
Despite my complaints, I have to give The Office credit for making Susan normal and intelligent. The show could have very easily made her a bitch, a ditz, or a hen-pecker who makes Robert’s personal life one of emasculated misery. Considering how many easy routes this show takes on a weekly basis, I completely expected Susan to be one of those three caricatures.
The B-plot involved Dwight opening a gym in the complex (first with old timey/unconventional methods like lifting buckets of rocks and ripping phone books, and then with more modern equipment) and Darryl as its first member. Like most B-plots on The Office, this is totally divorced from everything going on and could be implanted into basically any other episode that doesn’t have either character in a main role. At the end, Dwight agrees to be Darryl’s trainer. I’m sure they’ll have a bunch of zany adventures off-screen, and we will never see the gym or hear about it again (except for maybe a throwaway line in a later episode). Or, to paraphrase The Simpsons, “well that’s the end of Dwight’s gym business.” (“Why?”)
• I never wanted to rely on comparisons to Michael Scott in these recaps, but the show forced my hand.
• Andy comments on Phyllis making room-clearing farts. That totally seemed like a joke meant for Kevin, but they decided to give it to Phyllis instead for some reason. The same thing happened during Gettysburg two weeks ago. On the bright side, they didn’t give us another Look How Incredibly Stupid Kevin Is! Moment of the Week.
• Dwight’s line “I know how to build a business. You need to get the black people to do it to get the white people to do it and then you need to get the black people to stop doing it.” was easily the best of the night.
• Speaking of Dwight’s gym, unless scenes were out of order, I’m relatively certain he managed to remove and create an entire gym all before lunch. Keep in mind, this includes buying equipment and having it transported to the facility.
• At various points in the episode, Andy walks/talks like a robot, pompously pronounces his name when signing documents, and says “okey dokey artichoke.” I loathe him so much.