‘The Office’ recap: “Livin’ the Dream

I have a strange relationship with The Office – I’m glad the show is finally over – in my mind, it’s been over since the end of the 7th season, but I still feel tiny pangs when thinking about saying goodbye to the goofy crew of Dunder Mifflin, all of whom entertained me for almost a decade. And as the episodes near the end – there are only two left – I’m noticing an autumnal feel to the proceedings, as if the writers, directors, and actors all want to make sure that nothing is left unsaid.

So “Livin’ the Dream” is an interesting entry in The Office canon because it combines the best and the worst of the post-Carrell Office: there are some great laughs, and some bravura performances, but yet again, Ed Helms’ Andy Bernard is left to fill Michael Scott’s slot and falls short at each turn. And because the show’s closing shop, the writers are also making sure that the various peripheral characters – Creed, Nellie, Pete, Clark – all get at least one or two good lines apiece. And even though this is far from The Office at its best, this is one of the better offerings of the last season, despite its bloated length (45 minutes).

In “Livin’ the Dream” Andy’s so set on becoming famous that he’s ready to leave Dunder Mifflin. The amount of self-delusion in the man at this point is ridiculous – even though we understand that he’s got some marginal talent – after all, his performance in a local production of Sweeny Todd was well-received – we’re also meant to understand that it’s kind of nuts for a guy like Andy – who’s in his late 30s – to just give up his steady job for fame.

But this is essentially what’s wrong with the Andy Bernard character and why the shift from supporting character to main was so ill-suited. When we first met Andrew in season 3, he was an annoying, but affable guy, who wanted to be liked. Then the writers slowly gave him some back story, but overall, he was good for a laugh because of his oppressive sincerity. Then Michael left, and in his stead, they threw in Andy, and just hung up some of Michael’s cast off neuroses like an endless, aching pit of need. Andy was promoted to regional manager and essentially had to play the Michael Scott role – he was both villain and hapless hero – and the character wasn’t likable or interesting enough to pull that off (this is in no way an indictment on Helms who did a great job, despite the character’s incredulous elasticity).

And so now at this point, Andy’s become a strange Frankenstein composite of every kind of awkward, cringy joke one could think off and it gets wrapped up in preppy drag (weirdo Gabe had a great line in season 8 describing Andy’s sartorial choices as “living life as one long brunch”). But there’s still some goodwill left because we know it’s going to be over soon, so reluctantly we shift over to Andy’s side, and like his sympathetic coworkers, we’re not thrilled when he announces his plans to trade in stability for a life of supposed celebrity.

Andy’s impending absence leaves the regional manager position open: and that’s where Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) comes in. Unlike Andy’s windmill chase, Dwight’s actually qualified for his pipe dream, except he was thwarted at every turn. At this point, he’s resigned to his fate, always the regional bridesmaid, never the regional bride. In fact, he’s even okay with Jim (John Krasinski) getting the job, which he assumes is inevitable, especially as we see Jim and Dunder Mifflin CEO David Wallace talking in the now-iconic conference room (which should become as legendary a set as Friends’ Central Perk and Cheers‘ Cheers). David turns to Jim for counsel on how to move forward: would Dwight be the right man for the job? Jim offers an unequivocal yes.

And with that I think there’s hope for Jim Halpert after all – remember he was the guy who thought he knew best and instituted huge life changes without so much as a peep to his wife, Pam (Jenna Fischer). So it’s pretty cool to see that Jim put aside any feelings of ill-will and endorse Dwight for this job; this is a newer, older, and wiser Jim Halpert – this isn’t the guy who put Dwight’s calculator in a mound of Jell-O, or sent him on a fake CIA mission that ended with Dwight waiting for a helicopter on the roof. Instead Jim is putting aside any feelings of pettiness and giving Dwight his due.

Not only that, but he’s also putting his marriage first – which is great. As a result from their therapy sessions, Jim’s scaled down on his business work to spend more time with Pam at Dunder Mifflin. And despite his business going great, and some great job opportunities sprouting up in the West Coast, Jim is firm: he can’t put his family through more turmoil and tells a disappointed Darryl (Craig Robinson) that he won’t go to the West Coast – of course he doesn’t know that Pam overheard everything and realized just how committed (and contrite) Jim is ath this point.

Because this episode is twice as long we get some more subplots, including Angela’s (Angela Kinsey) slow descent into hell. After being dumped by the senator, she was forced into moving her crowd of cats into a studio. Unfortunately, it’s not going well, as she’s coming to work covered in cat hair. In this particular episode, things are especially bad for our girl. She comes to work looking like something one of her cats dragged in. We find out that Angela’s cats have been taken by the city, and she’s been evicted.

Oscar overhear all this and he makes amends by inviting her to stay with him; this is the kind of hands across the aisle stuff that The Office rarely goes for, so it’s nice that it does so in such a quiet way. Oscar won’t let Angela even consider sleeping in a tent (she’s scrolling through some camping supplies Website), and insists she bring her baby and move in with him. Angela’s exhausted, but her hand finds its way onto his and she gives a tired but sincere thank you. Later on in Oscar’s car, she breaks down in car, admitting her love for Dwight – it’s such a raw moment and really Kinsey kills it. I know she won’t even be considered, but Emmy voters should look at her performance in this episode – it’s some of the best acting done this season.

It seems fitting that Oscar and Angela end up together: the two were polar opposites – Angela, a repressed, right-wing conservative, and Oscar, openly gay. Their hostility came to a terrible head when it came out that they were both in love with the senator, who dumped them both. Their relationship finally came to a satisfying end – despite all of her posturing, Angela’s not a bad sort, and it makes all kinds of sense that Oscar reaches out to her.

But all of this acted as mere window dressing for Andy’s exit. Convinced it’s a bad idea to trade Dunder Mifflin security for Hollywood glory, he asked for a job and got demoted to sales, since Dwight’s regional manager. With Dwight’s emotional and heartfelt speech in mind, Andy decides to leave again, molesting poor Toby so that he could be fired. Before he leaves, he sings a particularly stirring version of Sarah McLachlin’s “I Will Remember You” which perfectly encapsulates how the writers hope the audiences feel about the show.

Not a fantastic episode, but a satisfying one. Here are some random moments that caught my eye/hear:

  • One of the best lines belongs to Erin (Ellie Kemper). When Andy asks for her advice on whether to leave Dunder Mifflin for Hollywood, a concerned Erin emphatically says, “Andy, honestly, I think you might become homeless.”
  • More evidence that Pam and Dwight are best friends – Clark pretends he doesn’t understand why Jim’s so attached to his wife; Dwight, immune to irony, is incredulous, calling Pam “really cool.” It makes sense that Pam’s calm, level-head appeals to the eccentric craziness of Dwight and Michael; she’s also innately kind, and understands Dwight – she’s like a Dwight whisperer.
  • The excellent allusion to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman; its themes of professional alienation are sledgehammered over Andy’s head as he muses about the show’s tackling of “crushed dreams”
  • A very interesting scene with Pam and Jim and Erin and Pete – Pete was considered the “new Jim” while Erin was hired to replace Pam; When the four were sitting and chatting, the scene was st up to appear like a mirror image, with both Pam and Erin sitting astride their mates’ desks – the two women even wore lavender sweaters.
  • Angela’s meltdown after being evicted on the telephone was pretty epic – after berating her miserly landlady for not returning her safety deposit, she snarled “You have so many hairs on your chin, animal control should’ve taken you away!”
  • The tender scenes between Oscar and Angela are far more appealing than when they were rivals for the senator’s love.

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Filed under Comedy, Sitcom, Television

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