It’s been nearly a month since we spent time with the crew from Dunder-Mifflin. Andy and Erin are still driving back from Florida while Nellie remains branch manager of the Scranton office. Like last episode, we split our time between Andy/Erin and everyone else.
During the previous episode, I complimented how it managed Andy and Erin reuniting. I’ve criticized the show’s handling of that storyline throughout the season, but I thought it led to a relatively nice end. Unfortunately, tonight, they had to squander that good will by devoting yet another subplot to the resurrection of their relationship. This time, we had to deal with Andy breaking up with Jessica, his girlfriend.
One of my biggest problems with this plot comes down to this- The Office is not a show about the personal lives of the employees outside of the office. While it has broken this rule before, for example when Jim and Pam tried to get their child into preschool, it never wasted this much time on something so disconnected to the rest of the show (at least not when it only involves two people). I wouldn’t be surprised if this storyline took up at least half of the episode’s running time, if not longer.
Another of my major gripes involves how the entire storyline played out so ridiculously sitcommy. Andy and Erin drive to Jessica’s family’s cabin in southern Pennsylvania where, unbeknownst to them, her family is throwing a bachelorette party. (A surprise family gathering! That spells wackiness!) When it comes time for Andy to break up with Jessica, instead of telling her the truth (which she figured out involved Erin), he lies and pretends he’s gay. So we have the predictable scene where she tells him he’s not gay because he got ‘excited’ around her, and he tells her he is gay, and another guy’s like “maybe he is, he wanted to go shopping with me,” and it’s all so very tired. For more padding, Erin overhears lies Andy said about her (e.g. her not being relationship material) when dating Jessica and becomes cold around her new boyfriend. So Andy rushes back, tells the entire family the truth, and they scream at him to leave while throwing cake at the car as Erin and Andy kiss.
It was a repetitive (and when I say repetitive, I mean going back decades), pointless affair that was nothing but filler. Jim breaking up with Karen and Pam breaking up with Roy combined didn’t take up this much time, and the losing ends of those more legitimate relationships were characters we came to know, not people we only met twice before. And the death of those pairings (same with Angela and Dwight) would affect the office itself. When we left Andy and Erin in Get The Girl, they were in love and Andy was her knight in shining armor. When we leave Andy and Erin in Welcome Party, they are in love and Andy is her knight in shining armor. It added nothing to their relationship, the characters, or the show. Andy remains a weasel who eventually does the right thing and will probably always be that way. It’s not a positive character trait.
The Welcome Party segment in Welcome Party, on the other hand, was okay, but it could have been much better. Enough elements were present to make it work, but it simply wasn’t given enough screentime. This happens when you try to split time evenly between one group of two people and another of more than 10.
Nellie has finally moved to Scranton, but she’s obviously unhappy because she’s in Scranton and surrounded by the Irish. Robert, in his still entertaining, quietly chaotic fashion, suggests that Dwight and Jim help her unload boxes into her place while everyone else plans a welcome party. As everyone hates her, they decide to throw the party. (Throw as in “throw the fight.” I wasn’t sure how it would read, but I didn’t want to lose it either.) While Jim and Dwight are putting away boxes, Nellie opens up to the two about losing her boyfriend and having to start over from zero. Now feeling morally obligated not to go along with the plan, Jim and Pam have to sabotage the sabotaged party.
In better The Office days, this storyline alone could have carried an entire episode. Planning the purposely poor party, gossip, talking badly about Nellie behind her back, an extended party scene showing everything going wrong- this would have been enough to last the half hour. While we do get some of that tonight, the episode could have gone further with it and given more side characters decent moments. We get glimmers, but it never fully gets to build and settle. Instead, it all feels rushed, and cutting away to Andy and Erin didn’t exactly help with pacing either.
• I was annoyed during the “Why is she here?” talking head scene where Jim and Pam complain about not understanding Robert’s aims that we didn’t get more staff members voicing their opinion.
• When Jim calls Pam and tells her to call off the bad party, I was initially bothered that he didn’t tell her why to stop doing all those things. Then I realized that she trusts him enough to listen, and I liked that angle of their relationship.
• I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about Nellie as a character, but I do think she is a more entertaining head than Andy.
• During the party planning scene, Darryl explains that the warehouse has nicknames for the office workers, such as Jellyroll for Andy, Dennis the Menace for Michael, and Douchebag for Ryan. I liked the reference to Michael because it provided a good sense of continuity and even realism to the show. Michael’s name was mentioned only in passing without anyone reacting in the slightest.
* I liked the cold open as the office tried to remember if Stanley had a mustache or not.
* Runner-Up Moment Of The Night: Creed explaining why the party was his best gig ever. (He gets to play his original songs, which even he admits are terrible.)
• Moment of the Night: Robert apologizing to Nellie- “If I had known Jim and Pam would use this party as an excuse to abuse a magician… ”