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.
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.
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.
• 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.