****SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT***
So, the new, final season of The Office premiered last night. The staff of Dunder-Mifflin is back on film after a summer and a lot has happened:
- Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling) moves to Miami. During her final day at Dunder-Mifflin, she gleefully tossed all of her winter coats at the heads of her coworkers, crowing that she won’t need them anymore. Except, she’s moving to Miami, Ohio.
- Her on again/off again boyfriend, Ryan (B.J. Novak) moves to Ohio, not to follow her, but because he’s sure that Ohio is the next Silicone Valley.
- Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) returns from a wilderness experience, climbing a mountain and gains confidence.
- Oh, and nothing interesting happened to Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) except that he was offered a chance to join a startup sports marketing business plan, which he turned down because the job’s in Philadelphia.
The eighth season of The Office was a bit of a bust. Because of its strong writers, it still amanged to offer laughs, but the loss of its star Steve Carell who played Dunder-Mifflin’s regional manager, Michael Scott, was pretty devastating for the show. Many fans felt the show should’ve been shelved with Carell’s departure.
The feeling when we return to the office in Scranton, PA, is a bit like returning to school after summer break. Aside from Carell’s missing presence, we’re also saying goodbye to Kaling and Novak, who were also writers on the show, as well. Their departure will probably wreak a little more havoc on the show as both made incredible contributions to the program. But their exits are exactly the kind that they deserve: Kelly’s so dim, that she doesn’t even know that her fiance is dragging her to Miami, Ohio, so her little march through the office, tossing down jackets and winter coats like flowers is especially funny. Ryan, on the other hand, is still besotted with Kelly, and is going to follow her there – but because he cannot lose face, he insists to the camera people that it’s because Miami, Ohio is the next hub of the technology industry.
Back in the office, we get another glimpse of just how long this faux documentary has been filming (almost a decade!), when we’re listening to Jim and Pam in a confessional interview. Jim shares that he’s been offered a chance to work with a buddy on a sports marketing idea, but turned it down because it wouldn’t work with his family. Pam, on the other hand, chirped happily that their lives stayed the same and nothing changed. Then the two pulled off their mics to get back to work, and Pam, in shocking candor, muttered that with their lives, jobs, marriage and children, nothing interesting and new would ever happen to them.
But it’s not all angst – Erin (Ellie Kemper), the office receptionist is thrilled because Andy’s coming back from a managerial Outward Bound retreat in the mountains. He comes back with a new sense of self-confidence, but also a new, unappealing asshat side of him, as well. Andy’s always been a polarizing character – some found him sad and sympathetic, others found him annoying and grating – I fell somewhere in between. But I always felt for Andy when he was trying to be a good guy – and deep inside I believed he was. At least in “New Guys,” he comes off as a jerk. He zeroes in on his nemesis, Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate), who treated him like crap in the eighth season and tried to take his job, but he also started to gun for sad sack, HR rep, Toby Flenderson (Paul Lieberstein).
Andy’s jerk persona comes to an ugly climax when he drags the staff down to the parking lot to have some of the them walk across a tight rope. He shows off his admirable skills and then savagely volunteers Nellie for the job, who insists on wearing her high heels. After helping her on the rope, she teeters, before he shoves her off, with a dismissive, “you suck.”
I get why Andy would hate Nellie – in fact, I don’t like Nellie (although, I think Tate did a great job in the last season). But his hostility is a new thing to take and it’s not all that attractive.
The episode is called “New Guys” because there are, well, two new guys who joined the Dunder-Mifflin team: Clark (Clark Duke) and Pete (Jake Lacy), both who are dubbed Dwight, Jr. and the new Jim, respectively. Dwight, initially, is very pleased at a possible protegé. You have to understand, his heart took a beating, when he found out that Angela’s (Angela Kinsey) baby with her closeted state senator husband (more on that later) isn’t his as he suspected. But Dwight’s general bonhomie is quickly replaced by jealousy and paranoia, when he believes that Clark is out to get his job.
Jim, on the other hand, is experiencing some kind of early mid-life crisis and doesn’t appreciate having Pete labeled as the new Jim. Still brooding over the job offer from his friend, he overhears Pete talk about his future goals, and remembers he once was like Pete – with dreams and goals, but allowed himself to become satisfied with his drone job. It’s a poignant and sad moment that prompts him to do something rather rash: after everyone leaves the office for the day, he dials up his friend and took the job. Without consulting Pam. Jim is usually the paragon of the ideal husband – I mean, do you remember last season when Robert California (James Spader), wrote a list of losers and winners in two columns: even though Jim was on the winner list, he wrote up his own list: in one column, Pam, their daughter Cece and their new baby; in the other column, Jim wrote “everything else.” It was a very awwww moment. And do you all remember how cool Jim was when crazy, but hot, temp saleswoman Cathy tried to jump his bones? So, to see Jim potentially screw his family life up impulsively like that was a bit strange. I’ll be interested to see how Pam deals with the news.
In every episode of The Office, Dwight is on hand to offer the biggest laughs – and even though his presence seemed slightly diminished, he still contributed. Obsessed with besting Clark, he tried to walk across Andy’s tightrope, after Clark proved to be a natural. He was a disaster and ended up with a bloody mouth as his body kept slamming down on the ground. Intent on “winning” he devises a plot to bike across a wire tied from the office building to a telephone pole. He assembles a contraption that would weigh down the bike and keep it balanced as he would pedal across the tightrope – he straps a printer to the thing, so that the weight of the printer would balance the bike. The problem was it wasn’t enough and the bike flipped around, and Dwight was left holding on to the handlebars for dear life, until the fire department came to the rescue. Creed (Creed Bratton), in his inimitable, spaced out way, thought all this was a circus in the parking lot.
The sage of Angela and her gay husband took on a, I think, ridiculous turn…Oscar (Oscar Nunez) is having an affair with the senator. Now, I always hoped Oscar would get some more interesting story lines, that delve into his personal life a bit – there was a nice thing a season or so ago, when he was crushing on a guy from the warehouse, but we got very little of Oscar’s home life outside of the office. Unfortunately, we also learn he’s a heel. He and Angela never were best friends, but Oscar still managed to be a barometer of some kind of decency – for him to do this to her, is pretty reprehensible.
And when reviewing the show’s first episode of the season, I realized that all the characters displayed some kind of nasty undercurrent – Pam’s insensitivity to Jim’s restlessness; Jim’s covert uprooting of his family’s life; Andy’s more savage cruelty toward Nellie, Dwight and now Toby; and Oscars catting around with Angela’s hubby. What’s interesting is that more often than not, these were the characters that were the decent ones of the group – you rooted for them. Don’t get me wrong, no one the show, with the exception of Erin, is totally virtuous and kind, but the cruelty was pretty off-putting.
Despite all this dourness, there were some gut-busters folded into the narrative: the main one being Kevin and his quest to save a turtle he ran over with his car. The Office often finds its best gags with surreal or random jokes like this one – Kevin, trying to save the doomed turtle, tried to put his shell back together again, like a jig saw puzzle (Oscar’s helpful comment of, “I don’t think that piece fits there” had me on the floor). Because Kevin’s, well, Kevin, his attempts at saving the turtle turned from sad to catastrophic, as he starts to glue crap he found around the office to cover up the gaps he missed when gluing the shell back together.
The final season of The Office has a lot to prove: the writers have to show critics that it’s ending, not because it’s run its no longer fresh and viable, but because the stories have come to satisfying conclusions. That’s a challenge. There’s a valedictory feeling to the program, partly because of the huge media hype trumpeting this as the last season. Hopefully, the return of Greg Daniels means the show will return to its original format in the tighter first few seasons – where the audience laughs at the foibles of a lower-level paper company.
So, how did “New Guys” do? Well, it’s not The Office at its best, nor is it close. There were few laugh-out-loud moments – Kevin provided most of them. The evolution of Jim’s, Pam’s, and Andy’s personalities don’t fit yet – it might be something that needs to be developed. It also feels as if Krasinski and Fischer – both great comic actors – are getting a bit tired – never has Jim’s impish mugging seemed so stale. Wilson is perfect as usual – though, he was strangely underused in this episode (though the scene where Dwight vomits his homemade blue power ade all over Angela in the hospital after learning he’s not the father is pretty awesome). It’s still to early to decide on the artistic fate of the final season of The Office, but if this episode’s any indicator, then the show’s in trouble.