One thing that’s troubled me about The Office Season 9 is that it lacks a main character. While The Office has always been more of an ensemble than something like My Name is Earl, the first eight seasons had some sort of nucleus. Seasons 1-7 had Michael or Jim or even Jim and Pam. Season 8 had Andy and, to a lesser extent, Robert California … before they replaced Andy with Dwight for a short bit in the middle. But Season 9 lacks a heart around which the show revolves. After two seasons of propping Andy up as the nice-guy hero, they returned him to his original dick/villain role, a move that I both approve and disapprove of. Then he left for the majority of the first half of the season. Jim somewhat moved to Philadelphia, and the strain on his and Pam’s marriage has put both of them in less than positive light. And Dwight is too weird to be a lead, which is probably why The Farm failed.
This isn’t to say the primary focus on the ensemble has been a bad decision. Season 9 has been the strongest one in years. But this is not Treme. Without a core, the show has picked up a rudderless feeling. Probably part of the reason I wondered if Dunder Mifflin was still operational during the first few episodes. This has nothing to do with this week’s episode, entitled “Paper Airplane.” But, as “Paper Airplane” is mostly an average, filler episode, I figured it’s worth posing as we head towards the end. That’s right. Five episodes over three weeks left. Let’s see how this plays out.
Tonight we get … I don’t want to say it’s the calm before the storm, because I have no idea where the show is headed. It’s not as if I expect the final five episodes to bring about the apocalypse. Overall, “Paper Airplane” was one of those middle of the road episodes. Not particularly memorable, but not terrible. The humor is toned down so it’s not cartoony/goofy and has the feeling of classic era Office, but it lacks many comedic moments of note, though it has a decent share.
The title of the episode, “Paper Airplane,” refers to a paper airplane contest being held by the manufacturers of a new type of paper that, as Dwight points out, is incredibly horrible for the environment. It’s a simple plot that does good enough. Down to the final eight in the company, it turns out the prize of $2,000 brings out the spirit of competition in people. Erin shows her competitive side that grew out of her time in the orphanage by being a sore loser and sore winner. Kevin makes a bunch of paper airplanes, but none of them can fly. Dwight shows a previously unfathomably willingness to take a dive so that Angela can win because she is now living in a studio apartment with her child and many cats. Spurred on by both Esther and Angela, Dwight gains the victory. And he shares a plot with the rest of the office, so that’s different. I think the entire contest could have worked better if it were more of a focus rather than have the time split between three plots, which has been a recurrent problem this year.
This sequence also re-ignites the Angela/Dwight affair. Although they don’t do anything, Angela expresses that the only reason she doesn’t return affections is out of pride. And even though Dwight explains why Esther is a superior partner, it’s obvious he still has feelings for his co-worker. I don’t mind the return of this love triangle as long as they keep it light and weird, and not intense like the Jam relationship. Additionally, I found it difficult to believe that Senator Lipton would put Angela and his own child into poverty if he wanted to have any sort of political future. However, the short sequence in the studio apartment- complete with the cats going after the baby- was an easy comedic high point, so I’ll let it slide.
Before we return to the office and the episode’s second big plot, I want to take a diversion into the C-plot. Continuing from where we left off last week, Andy’s agent (Roseanne) got him his first gig, and it’s in an industrial video. The “jokes” come from Andy’s horrible acting, and his unwillingness to use an eye wash … because he never put anything in his eyes before. Forced to do it or lose the gig, he goes face first into the water and screams loudly for an extended period of time. Generally, I find screaming for the sake of screaming to be a weak form of comedy. Very few people can make it work. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Dan Castellaneta as Homer Simpson, and even that’s a crapshoot. Ed Helms is not one of those people. It’s a lame sequence, and a horrible use of Roseanne.
Finally, we return to the office and The Continuing Adventures of The Halperts: Marriage In Crisis! After couple’s therapy, they’re trying exercises to save their collapsing union, such as by saying “I appreciate sacrifices” and “I appreciate opportunities” to indicate pleasure and displeasure, respectively. Clark thinks they’re stoned and wants to join in. Despite the comic potential with these forced greetings, it’s treated very seriously, especially when compared to the rest of the episode, but that’s been par for the course for the entire season so I cannot hold it against them. At the end, Jim is about to leave for Philadelphia when Pam rushes out to give him his umbrella. He gives her a hug of desperation that initially makes Pam confused, but she gives into it. It features strong acting on both of their parts and makes me glad that the show didn’t go with a typical “these fake emotions are crap! Honesty!” twist.
However, during the hug, we cut to a scene of their wedding where the preacher is giving the “Love suffers strong and is kind. It is not proud…” speech. Because I did not remember this moment, until I saw Michael (et al.) smiling in the audience, I legitimately thought we were flash forwarding to someone’s funeral. Now that’s how you set up the final five.
• Creed had two great moments tonight. 1) During the initial round of the paper airplane contest, he throws a cantaloupe instead. 2) When Dwight wins the check for $2,000, he rushes up to him and says, “I know a guy who can turn that into $800. Hint: it’s me.”
• I don’t know what they’re doing with the documentary. If they’re still filming for the final episode or if it’s completely done. All I know is that Lipton didn’t officially come out until this season, so if they’re doing a follow-up to the documentary, it should occur after the documentary airs.
• The director of the industrial video tells Andy to pretend that he’s giving a news report. I thought there would be a call back to earlier this season when Clark used this ruse to hit on Erin, but there wasn’t.
• Speaking of which, Pete and Erin are still together, which only makes me realize that the show has done nothing with them since they announced their relationship.
• I know details about the series finale have been released, but I’m staying dark as much as possible.