We have reached the end of Season 8 of The Office, the first season without Michael Scott. I offer my thoughts on the season as a whole and the future of the series below, but first, let’s finish this year with Free Family Portrait Studio. Although this episode was a season finale with a significant change at the end, the show wisely plays it very low key. After a season of mostly out of the office adventures, bringing it back “home” to close it out without relying on ‘stunts’ definitely helped.
Continuing some time from where we left off last week, the main plot revolves around David Wallace’s purchase of Dunder Mifflin from Sabre. I expressed my problems with this entire concept during my last recap, but I guess that’s how it is. On the day of this episode, Andy is expecting David Wallace to make the announcement that he bought the company and reinstated him as branch manager, so he decides to put on a ruse and dress up as an alcoholic janitor desperate for any job whatsoever.
I’ve made my utter dislike of Andy Bernard clear since the start of this season, and tonight just reinforces why I can’t get into the character. The reason is pride. Andy is way too proud and narcissistic. Despite the show’s attempts at portraying his insecurities, I can’t shake the sense that the vast majority of the time Andy truly believes that he’s the greatest. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the show played his attention whorishness as a character flaw, but I think the writers, for whatever reason (The Hangover), are so desperate for the audience to like him that they ignore that this trait is an actual problem. In other words, if none of the characters acknowledges it, is it actually there?
As a janitor, Andy really plays up the downtrodden angle to the point where even Erin tells him he needs to ease up on the desperation because these are images people cannot get out of their heads even after the big reveal. He reeks of booze, he spills food on himself and eats it, he mops the carpeted floor. After a quasi-intervention, Andy admits the scam but everyone thinks he’s crazy. However, David Wallace comes to the rescue and reveals that he is in fact buying the company and re-installing Andy as head manager. Andy, once again, continues to showboat but no one cares, and everyone begins to ask David Wallace legitimate questions about their future rather than listen to Andy gloat over himself. I can’t blame Stanley for caring more about potential payment stoppage, but Andy’s pissed because he wasn’t center of attention. He gets even more upset when he attempts to fire Nellie, she begins quoting Shakespeare, and he re-hires her for a job that allows her to do anything she wants.
This revelation also leads to the departure of Robert California (real name Bob Kazamackas). Wallace announces that Sabre is going to liquidate all of its assets, which seems weird to reveal in a meeting when you’re just trying to sell off one subsidiary but I’m not a business guy, and thus Robert is out of a job. He strikes a deal with Wallace to co-fund his philanthropic trip to Africa, Asia, but mostly Eastern Europe where he will mentor young gymnasts. I was expecting Robert to leave with his tail between his legs, so him “winning” was a welcome surprise. And it was a nice call back to the cold open.
The tertiary plot featured a return of Val, the warehouse worker whom Darryl had a crush on for most of the season and who last appeared in February’s Special Project. I was hoping this storyline was done for, but I wasn’t surprised that it wasn’t, even though all that happens at the end is that she holds Darryl’s hand during a picture. Like every time it’s appeared, Varryl (?) is such empty filler that I have to imagine that the time could be better been spent on including purely funny scenes. Though I did like seeing the familiar faces of two of the warehouse workers who quit in this season’s best episode: Lotto.
Unsurprisingly, the best plot, and the one from where the episode takes its name, is Dwight’s offer to give all the office park’s tenants free family pictures. Jim is convinced that it’s a plan to harm his children due to a Velcro suit prank he pulled, but it’s really an attempt to get Angela’s baby DNA. Angela prevents Dwight from getting her son’s hair and fingernails, but he snatches his dirty diapers leading to a low speed “chase” between him, Angela, and a dummy car driven by the simultaneously under- and perfectly used Mose dressed as Dwight. Like the episode where Angela gives birth showed, Dwight and Angela are probably the romantic couple with the best comedic chemistry on the series. Also, during the closer, State Senator Lipton tells Oscar how concerned he is that he never called him after the charity event. Strangely or sadly enough, that is one of the top plotlines I’m looking forward to see play out.
So where are we at the end of the episode? Without any answers regarding Angela’s child’s parentage and with Oscar and State Senator Lipton not yet hooking up, we’re basically back at zero. Andy Bernard, weak willed as ever, is still regional manager (if Ed Helms returns), except now the CEO is actually his ally thus taking away the conflict, which was already lacking in a season with an “evil” boss of bosses. And I guess we have to continue to put up with Nellie next year. At least calling Gabe “skeleton man” wasn’t that bad a line from her. Speaking of Gabe, wouldn’t he be fired too? He’s a Sabre employee, not a Dunder Mifflin one.
• I liked the cold open making fun of the “It Gets Better” campaign. If I had to give the show credit for something this year, it would be they had a pretty good collection of cold opens.
• Another reason that the Dwight plot worked was because the picture montages gave us funny moments with Ryan holding up signs (one declaring his love for Kelly, one with a missed connection) and Creed sitting between who I presume are his parents.
• Moment of the Night: Creed’s “Good, good, the carpet’s due for a moppin’.”
• Thanks for reading.
Overall Thoughts on Season 8
And that marks the end of The Office Season 8. My overall opinion is not good, and the number of quality episodes this year could probably be counted on one hand. While it’s somewhat true to say that the show needed to re-discover itself after the loss of Michael Scott, it does not explain away the laziness, egregious deviations from its central premise (how much time was spent away from the office?), and lack of direction that defined the series this season. After all, one of the The Office‘s strengths is its ensemble, and Season 8 wasn’t like Scrubs Season 9 with a whole new set of characters as the leads. The show had a solid foundation that could have survived even the departure of its biggest name.
Where did this season go wrong? Probably the first big mistake the show made in the post-Steve Carell era was making the bland, milquetoast, inoffensive Andy Bernard the boss. The end of the first episode, where the entire office leaves shaking his hand and congratulating him for standing up to Robert California, made it clear that the show had changed for the worse. Dunder Mifflin had suddenly become a nice and friendly workplace where the boss is the ally and leader- everything The Office rallied against during its better years.
While it might be argued that Robert California fell into the “villain” role, this also didn’t pan out. Robert’s interactions were mostly with Andy, so the rest of the cast couldn’t have the personal relationship, antagonism, or dislike towards him that they had with Michael or any other branch manager. And, as the CEO who practically lived in the office, Robert was too powerful and omnipresent to serve as a legitimate foil.
Moreover, the show suffered by making Robert the most interesting character on The Office. He brought an edgy off-beatness that made him more fascinating to watch than the rest of the cast because he offered something different. Spader turned out to be too good for the series by treating it as a dark, corporate satire as opposed to the shut-our-eyes-to-the-world bubble that Dunder Mifflin Scranton suddenly existed in.
In previous years, it seemed as though more was going on within the show’s universe. It’s not that every episode was part of some ongoing plot like Parks and Recreation has done this year, but you got a sense that there were worlds existing beyond the cameras for these people. The majority of the ongoing plots this season were poorly thought out unrequited love stories (Darryl/Val; Andy/Erin; Jim/Pam’s Replacement) or focused on Andy’s neediness while the series itself lacked any momentum. Season 8 took away most of the characters’ humanity and replaced it with something saccharine, banal, and/or hollow. In one episode, Pam says that she enjoys going to work. That is not something you ever want to hear from Pam. Or anyone else on this show, other than Dwight and Michael.
By the middle of the season, it became obvious that even the showrunners realized they had made a mistake, not just with Andy, but with pretty much everything. In response, they completely shifted gears and gave us the Florida story arc. At the beginning, I was taken in by the idea that this was going to be something significant, cleverer, and fresh, and lead to changes in the show itself. Instead, it just ended up as a way for them to kill episodes. There are less convoluted ways to get Andy and Erin together and the still ill-defined Nellie (do we laugh with her or at her?) in the branch manager’s chair. Andy’s firing and the “turf war” came too little, too late. Though, to be fair, they did end up dialing down the pleasantness. And, at least I was wrong about the show giving an office hug this season.
Onto the future. The Office is renewed, even though most of the main cast is not signed for a season 9, James Spader is definitely not returning, Mindy Kaling is not returning, and Paul Lieberstein has stepped down as showrunner. Nevertheless, this might be the best thing for the show. Losing Michael allowed the writers to take things easy because they eliminated the strong antagonistic presence that forced the other characters to react. But losing people like Jim or Andy might allow the odder characters to take center stage and breathe new life into the show. Or, at the very least, hasten its overdue ending. Though with 30 Rock entering its final year, it’s hard to believe that NBC will axe its two biggest comedies in 2012/2013.
Another problem is that it looks as though the most reliable regular, Dwight, will be leaving at some point for his probable mid-season replacement- The Farm. While I don’t know how well this will work as a series since Dwight is the punchline character rather than the straight man, one of my biggest problems is the working title- The Farm. The reason The Office fit this show is because it was the office. The every office. But Schrute’s Farm isn’t the typical farm- it’s a dirty beet farm/bed and breakfast where the only workers are Dwight and Mose. Its weirdness has been its appeal as a comedy setting, which is counter to simply titling it The Farm.
Nevertheless, that’s an early nitpick for a show that hasn’t even been officially picked up yet. Let’s see what happens next week during upfronts and how it fits with the multitude of comedies NBC has already green lit.
Again, thanks for reading.