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The Office Recap: Special Project (Season 8, Episode 14)

Posted By Brett Harrison Davinger On February 9, 2012 @ 10:20 pm In Movies & TV,Television | 7 Comments

It’s Valentine’s Day-ish At Dunder Mifflin

Love and Business. Tonight’s special Valentine’s Day episode of The Office took on both topics. I’ll go through the business side first, since it was the better of the two subjects.

Robert California selects Dwight to lead a special project that involves him picking a team from the Scranton branch and spending three weeks in Florida setting up a chain of Sabre stores that will compete with The Apple Store. Could that be done in three weeks? I mean, they’re going against Apple, and all we know about Sabre’s products is that its tablet computer was terrible and one of its printers blows up. Anyway, I’ll let it slide because it seems to be a plot with long-term consequences.

Dwight wants his team to be Darryl, Phyllis, Toby, Angela, and Oscar. Realizing that that will eliminate most of the office’s best workers, Andy counters with Darryl, Phyllis, Cathy, Kelly, and Kevin. To “out play” his boss, Dwight leaks the Florida picks to the crew to make the ones not chosen pissed off about their fate. When facing his angry mob, Andy looks flustered and blusters, because that’s all he can do since he has no backbone. Meanwhile, Robert asks Jim personally to come to Florida, and Jim and Pam spend most of the episode trying to compose the exact perfect text message to send back to him since they are boring people who lead boring lives. After allowing the gang to individually present their case on why they deserve to go, Andy assigns Dwight a crew of Cathy, Stanley, Ryan, Erin, and Jim; Dwight audibly curses about the last two. So at the end, Project Leader Dwight gets none of what he wants. HOWEVER, he realizes that, believe it or not, he might have a damned good team anyway. It’s falls under the same “let’s humanize Dwight” category as the end of Doomsday [1] from earlier this season.

The World’s Weakest Boss

Photo by: Byron Cohen/NBC

Every episode, I grow more and more disillusioned with Andy as a boss and as a character. From his constant look of befuddlement and fear to his inability to stand up for himself about anything to his lack of control over his staff, Andy always appears over his head. Whatever flaws previous bosses such as Charles Miner, Michael Scott, and Davis Wallace had, their subordinates followed them (for the most part) with Dwight ever-ready to play second-in-command. Tonight’s episode further showed that Andy doesn’t have authority, he has the title of authority. His rule is law because he received the position of boss, not because he earned the right to dictate. And this works most of the time because he doesn’t cause conflict and his ground crew treats him like an equal. But he is not an equal, he is their commander.

As for The Sabre Store, this was that story’s prologue so it’s too early to fully judge it. Like I said above, it seems like a questionable decision from the company, but we’ll probably learn more about its feasibility as the storyline continues. Dwight’s attempt to wash out his team by setting up a conference room with extreme heat, putting up pictures of bugs and Casey Anthony on the wall, and boot camp sergeant-ing them worked well enough as the mid-episode comedy break. Not hysterical, but competent.

And now, as Valentine’s Day approaches, let’s take a look at love.

A Romance That Worked

NBC Photo: Byron Cohen

The romance aspect of The Office has existed since its start, but tonight, the problems with its current romantic storylines shined ever brightly. In previous seasons, these entanglements followed logically from the characters and their lives. In other words, they were believable. Jim and Pam, Angela and Dwight, and Kelly and Ryan were all based in some level of reality. But now, its current group of parings give the impression that the writers cannot think of anything else for these characters to do.

As far as this complaint goes, I’m willing to give a pass to Erin and Andy. They have a world outside of Andin(?), and there seems to be something genuine between the two, mostly because of Ellie Kemper’s performance. But, as I’ve said before, I don’t like how the show has made them unrequited simply for the sake of being unrequited. The star-crossed lovers angle worked for Jim and Pam; it doesn’t work for Erin and Andy. The boss has expressed that the main reason why he hasn’t acted on his feelings towards Erin is because he has a girlfriend, not because she’s his subordinate. His unwillingness to break-up with a girlfriend he barely cares about comes across as yet another example of his weakness as a human being, which makes him a lousy leader and a character you can’t root for in life or in work.

But the other two main romantic subplots are even worse.

Darryl is still pining for Val, the new warehouse worker, and he spends most of the episode trying to figure out how she feels about him. This has been going on for most of the season, and tonight concludes with him realizing that she probably has feelings for him. He doesn’t act on this conclusion, but he’s confident that she wants to get with him… so this will be dragged out even longer. Varryl, not just in Special Project but throughout the entire year, shows that the writers cannot figure out what to do with Darryl. His courtship keeps him separated from everyone else in the office, it has nothing to do with his actual job, and it doesn’t give significant depth to his character. He’s insecure around a new girl. So what? Furthermore, Val appears to exist simply to be a potential love interest for Darryl. She’s not a character, she’s a plot device, which only serves to show the weakness of this arc.

When You’re Out of Ideas, There’s Always The Homewrecker

Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC

But the worst of the three is easily Cathy and Jim. Even though Pam’s back, Cathy is still working at the office, and she got sent on the super special Florida assignment. I understood them keeping Erin on after Pam returned the first time following the rise and fall of Michael Scott Paper Company. Pam was no longer a secretary, and the office needed one. Moreover, Kemper had a screen presence and ingratiated herself into the show. We saw Erin interact with the characters and befriend some of them. We’ve seen none of that with Cathy, who probably hasn’t had ten lines since she was first hired. And her ultimate goal is to sleep with Jim? Like Val, if her only purpose is to be a romantic interest/foil/villain, which seems to be the case, the character should be eliminated. While Karen might have been a romantic foil, Rashida Jones gave her a likeability and personality that Cathy severely lacks.

And we know that Jim won’t sleep with her with 99.9992% certainty. Jim and Pam has served as the heart of The Office throughout its entire run, and the show won’t break them up. Even though Cathy says on the phone that their marriage seems on the verge of collapse, we’ve seen none of it on the show, even though this would be the perfect time for such a storyline to exist. Jim with the wife he’s always wanted, the house, the kids- disgusted by and fed up with the American dream. But he’s not annoyed with Pam or even exhausted despite having to care for two young children. The show’s perfect couple are still perfectly content with one another. They might be boring to watch, but they don’t appear bored with each other. From the evidence on screen, they seem as close as ever.

Also, Jim is the audience surrogate. They’re not going to have the show’s “lead” cheat on his wife weeks after she gave birth. Not unless they want the public to completely despise Jim, which would be a fascinating development. Since we can be relatively sure what won’t happen and because we still don’t know why Cathy still has employment with Dunder-Mifflin, this entire storyline comes across as a cheap and lazy way for the writers to waste time and build needless drama. Let’s just hope that we won’t have to deal with Person X catching Jim kissing Cathy when really it was Cathy kissing Jim and he pushed her away less than a second after their lips locked but Person X missed that part. …that is definitely going to happen, isn’t it?

Additional Thoughts:

• I harp on Andy a lot, but after his over-the-top silly faces throughout the episode, especially during the presentations, can you blame me?

• I liked Ryan’s presentation, but I generally like when Ryan does stuff. He is quite good at both corporate and hipster douche, and the show should use him more.

• Meredith asked why Cathy was still on staff. Good for Meredith.

• While I know Angela likes competing against Pam, I still thought her showing her body and baking skills right after giving birth came across as out of character.

• I presume that Erin is not going to kill herself in Florida, even though she said she’s not coming back to Scranton. But if she does, that would be a interesting and dark twist.


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[1] Doomsday: http://calitreview.com/21312