Welcome to the first of three straight weeks of hour-long Offices; the final three weeks of The Office at that. And, if tonight’s episode “Livin’ The Dream” is any indication, they are going to be three surprisingly decent hours of television. Along with probably being the best episode of this season (maybe of the best couple), “Dream” is a great start to this presumed “trilogy” that will wrap up our nine-season journey.
One of my favorite aspects of The Office (both incarnations) is that we are watching sad people. Not damaged in the way the gang from Community are/were, but normal and pathetic. Painfully average. If you think back to the original five main characters (Michael, Jim, Dwight, Ryan, and Pam), only Pam had larger than life dreams- to become an artist. (Speaking of which, what happened to that mural?) Ryan wanted to finish business school, Dwight wanted to become assistant manager, Jim wanted to date the secretary, and Michael just wanted a friend. There was something dreadfully human in these ground level goals. Then, when the show started obtaining some popularity around the second or third season, this aspect kind of floundered. But “Livin’ The Dream” brings it back and moves forward many long-running story lines.
One of the show’s major focuses, Andy still has dreams of superstardom as an actor, singer, dancer, entertainer, etc. Several seasons ago, the office mates somewhat appreciated him as a talent with horrible episodes such as Andy’s Play. However, as Andy has returned to his pre-Hangover persona, he is no longer treated with respect, and the office looks down on him for his pipe dreams. While some (e.g. Phyllis) might admit he has some abilities, no one thinks he has what it takes to go to Hollywood. Even after praising Andy, Phyllis says “but there’s just something there you don’t want to look at.”
Not one to be dismayed, Andy starts the episode deciding to quit Dunder Mifflin so he can concentrate full time on making it as an actor by auditioning for roles and attempting to make it onto reality shows. This occurs the same time that a sorely missed David Wallace comes to the office to fire Andy because it’s become clear where the Narddog’s priorities lie. However, Andy quits first, which causes Wallace to remark “well that kind of worked out” as a smile creeps across the face.
Andy runs around the office and announces his pie-in-the-sky plans until reality comes crashing down around him. Everyone tells him to give up. Even Nellie, who I thought hated him and wanted to see him leave/fail. Even Erin, Andy’s former romantic partner (a period of her life that she recalls sadly), tells him the blunt truth- that she’s afraid that he’ll be homeless and starve. Panicking, he returns hat in hand to Wallace who allows him to remain on in sales. Later on, he realizes that he needs to burn all his boats before he can rush towards his dream. Kind of like Bruce Wayne forgoing the rope to escape from his Brazilian prison in The Dark Knight Rises. He ensures his persona non grata status by cursing out Wallace and taking a dump on his car. It’s kind of self-destructively smart, in its own way.
At the end, he returns with his guitar and sings a rendition of “I Will Remember You” played seriously and, thankfully, without flashbacks. It’s an earnest scene that manages to avoid the ham-handedness that has plagued this show’s attempts at emotions for years (see: the farewell Michael episodes). Yet, even though Andy might be able to play guitar and sing, the show never makes it seem as though he has what it takes to escape the fate of the subject of Albert Hammond’s “It Never Rains in Southern California.”
In happier news, at least one character sees their decade-plus-long dream come to fruition. With Andy gone, Wallace needs to find someone to fulfill the manager position. And he chooses Dwight, who earlier that day finally earned his karate black belt from a new sensei (The Soprano‘s Michael Imperioli in a bit of unnecessary stunt casting). Similar to the Andy story and unlike the time Dwight was named interim manager under Jo’s reign, this is handled with a bit of respect for and understanding of the character. The show doesn’t make fun of Dwight for having or wanting the position, and the palpable joy from the beet farmer carries the storyline. Even Jim is pleased with the decision. It feels like a reward earned rather than one cheaply given.
To the show’s credit, Dwight doesn’t even really go mad with power. When Wallace is indisposed and cannot make the announcement, Dwight stands on a desk and screams “DWIGHT SCHRUTE IS THE NEW MANAGER!” To which Creed responds by standing on his desk and quasi-spartacussing “CREED BRATTON IS THE NEW MANAGER!” He also banishes Clark to the annex because he refused to relinquish his desk to Jim earlier in the episode, but with a sense of professionalism over fascism.
Angela also continues her storyline tonight as she deals with the poverty-stricken fallout from her split with Senator Lipton. Looking like a complete mess, about to be evicted from her apartment, having lost her cats, and dealing with possible alcoholism, she’s at the lowest point of her life. (I talked last week about not believing that Lipton would send her and his son into poverty for the sake of his political career, so I won’t go into that again.) Still feeling guilty, Oscar invites her to move in with him, and she accepts. During the first half of the season, those two built up a decent on-screen chemistry, and I’m glad to see it return.
The most notable part of this sequence happens at the tail end of the episode. Angela has a sobbing breakdown in Oscar’s car and confesses that she still loves Dwight. I honestly thought this scene was easily as good, if not better, than Pam’s release from earlier in the season. Terrific acting on Kinsey’s part, plus it felt more natural and was more emotionally engaging than the earlier scene. The Pam/Angela rivalry was a big component of the first seasons, and as we approach the end, it’s nice to see Angela racking up a few last minute points. Unfortunately, she only has Oscar to comfort her- not a creepy stalker mic guy.
Finally, we get to Jim and Pam. At the episode’s start, Jim has taken a sabbatical from Athlead in an attempt to save his marriage. However, at the end, Darryl tells him that Athlead got a prospective buyer, and they’d have to spend three months traveling out west…or something like that. I wasn’t entirely sure what happened, but apparently, it’s everything they’ve been working for over the past few months. I assume the end result is that after three months they’ll get a lot of money. However, Jim says he can’t go for Pam’s sake, but Pam overhears this conversation and ponders what to do next. I assume this is going to be a major aspect of next week’s episode(s), so I’ll get into it, as well as my take on Pam’s effect on Jim’s dream, more then.
• This episode had a remarkable amount of funny moments. That might be due to being an hour long, but I’d be willing to put its laugh-per-minute ratio up against Office episode of the past few years.
• The episode also makes good use out of the talking head segments by having multiple people commenting on the same topic– that being Andy’s “talents”- at different points. As expected, Creed probably gets the best line- “I think just about anybody could be a star. My postman. The night janitor here. But Andy, no, definitely not. Charisma black hole.”
• Dwight mentions losing the interim managing position because he fired a gun in the office. Points for continuity.
• As Wallace is about to reveal that Dwight’s the new manager, he gets a phone call and rushes into the boss’ office and shuts the door. I thought it was going to be that he sold the company, or that the company was going under, or something that would leave Dwight with egg on his face. Instead, it was just about his stupid kid and his drum kit. Credit to this show for fooling me.