California Literary Review

The Office Recap: Pool Party (Season 8, Episode 12)

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January 20th, 2012 at 12:30 am

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Amy Ryan as Holly Flax, Steve Carell as Michael Scott in The Office PDA

Michael Scott and Holly Flax – an actual storyline that built over several episodes. A lesson The Office needs to learn from itself.

Photo by: Danny Feld/NBC.

jj1960, a commenter on last week’s The Office recap, mentioned how Dwight’s trip to Florida actually serves as a quasi-prologue to an upcoming arc involving Dwight accepting a new position with Saber corporate. Assuming the show won’t screw it up, this is a very good thing. One major problem with this year of The Office is the lack of ongoing plots. I’m not saying that previous seasons featured intricately crafted storylines, but most had a couple of recurring threads, whether it be office romances; Jim as manager; Michael leaving; the collapse of Dunder-Mifflin; the danger of the branch closing; the Michael Scott Paper Company; Ryan as an executive; Dwight as the building owner; or even The Scranton Strangler. Maybe not all of these arcs had payoffs, but they gave the impression of the show existing in a universe rather than merely as a collection of individual episodes.

I’m having difficulty thinking of anything similar this season, which is already half over. Angela might as well have never gotten pregnant. Along with not contributing comedic fodder, Pam’s pregnancy is self-contained in The Boring World of the Halperts. Although Robert California provides some of the show’s more interesting moments, his control of the company and divorce don’t appear to affect much. Andy’s insecurities as a manager is as much of a storyline as Michael’s stupidity, and I still think he comes across as a weak placeholder until someone with an actual presence can step into the role of Boss. It’s like when an elementary school student has to “run” a class while the teacher steps outside for a few minutes.

Although time will tell, it’s nice to know that after 12 plus episodes, maybe something of consequence might happen on this season of The Office.

But that wasn’t this week, as tonight’s episode, The Pool Party, involves Robert throwing a pool party for the Mifflinians at his Scranton mansion. I should note here that this is the fourth episode this season that has taken place primarily outside of the office. In addition to last week’s Trivia (bar in Philadelphia), we had Garden Party (Shrute’s Farm) and Gettysburg (Gettysburg). So 1/3 of the episodes of The Office are no longer actually in the office. That’s not even including episodes like The Incentive, Pam’s Replacement and Doomsday where we go off-campus in the final act (to a tattoo parlor, Shrute’s Farm, and a pharmacy, respectively) for matters only tangentially related to the business.

<br /> Ellie Kemper as Erin Hannon and Rainn Wilson as Dwight Shrute in The Office Pool Party

Dwight doesn’t understand Erin’s “advances.” Though Dwight/Erin have better comic chemistry than Andy/Erin.

Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC.

Much like last week, nothing much happens tonight. Simply, Robert must sell his house due to the divorce, so he invites the gang over for a pool party. He rues not being able to use the mansion to the best of its ability (especially as an Eyes Wide Shut-ian sex palace), takes people on a tour of his abode that provides little narrative or comedic satisfaction, people drink and be merry, and that’s pretty much it. It’s another episode to show how much the office enjoys being around one another, which is something that I am still not comfortable with.

The focus of the episode was on the Andy/Erin relationship. Erin is still attracted to Andy, and Andy is torn between his attraction for current girlfriend Jessica and for his former flame Erin. Bizarrely, his reasoning for not going after Erin seems more to do with him having a girlfriend, one whom his parents really like even though he doesn’t seem infatuated with her, rather than the potentially fireable offense of a boss dating his secretary. Because that’s apparently why Andy and Erin cannot be together, it’s difficult to invest in this storyline. Jessica’s barely a character, and Andy’s cowardice in not dumping her makes him seem weak and wishy-washy- not good qualities for a romantic lead.

Sure, in the early seasons we had Pam and Roy as an obstacle to Jim and Pam, but Pam and Roy had been engaged for years by the time the show began, and we could understand her conflict. Furthermore, the point of the show during that era was that these were losers stuck in miserable lives unable to achieve happiness. Things have clearly changed. Later, when Jim and Karen became the obstacle, that relationship emerged naturally from Jim attempting to escape his attraction to Pam by moving to a different city where he fell for another co-worker. Both pairings also benefited from the love interests having regular appearances on the show rather than just two. Put another way, until Jim and Pam got together, the timing was believably not right for them. The timing has never not been right for Andy and Erin.

 Ed Helms as Andy Bernard, Ellie Kemper as Kelly Erin Hannon, Eleanor Seigler as Jessica in The Office Pool Party

Un-bizarre love triangle.

Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC.

However, the most interesting part of the episode was Gabe and Ryan finally competing for Robert’s affections. This was something I had been waiting for since the beginning of the year. Both characters made their bones by being wormy brown-nosers looking for any way to advance in the company. It always bothered me that the show never did much with the natural competitiveness that would emerge from these two personalities, similar to how Andy and Dwight were rivals when Andy first came to Scranton, so I’m glad it did something with that tonight. “Follow The Boss” chicken had (and has) more potential than any other subplot in tonight’s episode, and I hope that the show uses it more as the year progresses. Nevertheless, I should add that while I didn’t have a problem with Robert (and, subsequently, Ryan and Gabe) skinny-dipping in Robert’s giant pool, I did take issue with the gang cheering for them. Though I understand that many of them were drunk, the Mifflinians never came across to me as a group who would loudly cheer for one another. (A problem I also had with The Incentive.) A scene like that should be treated awkwardly by characters other than Jim, not as some sort of rousing “this is the best party ever!” moment.

Additional Thoughts:
• I thought the opening sequence was kind of funny until learning that it was all a scam for Dwight and Stanley to get meatballs from Jim. Even though I like the prank backfiring on Jim, I still think it worked better without the reveal.
• Andy’s most annoying line of the night: “Serious outbreak of the grumpies.”
• In another subplot, Andy received a ring base from his family and wondered whether he should give it to Jessica. After he loses it, Phyllis and Kelly find it and want to destroy it out of superstition. The only reason I can think of as to why Andy didn’t admit to it being his is because misunderstandings and needless lying are needed in lame sitcoms.
• Pam’s replacement disappointingly talked tonight. Even though I know she had dialogue in her first episode, I came to enjoy the running gag of her never speaking.
• Jim wanted to leave early, but Robert kept pushing him to continue the tour. Every time he expressed disappointment, I wanted him to leave so he could stop ruining everyone else’s good time.
• Although I’m reasonably sure that Jim’s reckless driving to get out of Robert’s driveway was because he wanted to abandon the party and get back home as quickly as possible, did anyone else think it gave the impression that he was drunk driving? Although I’m sure that he only pretended to drink, the most common image of him in tonight’s episode was with an open wine bottle in his hand.
Archer returns tonight on FX.

  • Dave

    Why do you bother doing recaps when you clearly hate the show? There were numerous running long-term plots that continued to play out in this episode: Daryll wooing the warehouse girl around his insecurities; Andy trying to move on from Erin but keeps being drawn back in; The entire office’s need to impress Robert. Also, one appears to be starting, with Pam’s replacement trying to latch on to Jim.

    You clearly don’t care to try to see these and would rather complain that it’s not Michael Scott doing something foolish and Jim pining after Pam. That started 7 years ago. The show has to evolve.

  • MC

    I agree with many of your comments and it’s clear, by the details, that you are a regular follower of the show, unlike other critics whose reviews I’ve read. However, there’s something you don’t mention and I think it’s critical for the poor performance of the show this season. That is the lack of serious conflict between Andy and his subordinates. The main conflict that triggered the action, both in the original English version or the first American version, was the fact that both David Brent and Michael Scott were usually not liked by their employees. They were, most of the time, terrible bosses (with the occassional vindication, for example when Michael Scott demonstrated from time to time being an outstanding salesman). The fact that they thought they were great managers while they were often hated, distrusted or disliked by their employees triggered all sorts of funny and akward situations. But this season, they seem to like Andy and he seems to do every attempt to be a good supervisor. Micheal Scott and David Brent were braggy guys that believed they were the best when they were the worst. That was funny. Andy is a humble guy that is insecure about himself but is actually pretty good. That is not as much fun. While the new dynamics in Dunder Mifflin might actually be good for the work atmosphere in a real office, they make for a very lame comedy.

  • kianein

    I don’t question your being critical of this show as in many ways this season has been a monster letdown. Also, the sub-plots are as good as non-existent as they don’t really add a lot of meaning or even value to the show. The fact the show is titled The Office but is now starting to (almost regularly, 4 episodes this season) feature locales far away from the original comic ground i.e. the confines of the office shows a writer’s block or perhaps mere laziness on writer’s part. Also, after Pam’s exit the real stars of the show are Jim, Andy, Dwight and Robert, but somehow the main theme was thoroughly disappointing with the neither-here-nor-there couple’s three-way love triangle. Add to that Robert C’s weird Playboy mansion dreams and in many ways it becomes an almost rude shock for any ardent Office follower like me. Here’s hoping the show doesn’t die a sudden death.

  • Cathy

    Jim drove off like that because Meridith’s van was blocking his car, he asked her to move it but she told him she put her keys in a bowl when she arrived. He wasn’t drunk or being silly, just wanted to get home.

  • Jonathan

    I’m a huge office fan and this is the first accurate review I’ve seen of this episode. I’m baffled at the positive reviews I’ve seen. Why do the writers think Jim’s dislike for fun is advantageous to the show? Does anyone relate to a married couple who works and lives together not wanting to do anything in their spare time but sit at home on the couch with eachother, even at 9pm on New Year’s Eve? And yes… I wish there was a plot that lasted for more than an episode this season. Are we ever going to see Dwight’s Gym for Muscles again? Come on!

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