Madeleine Bond

The Office S08E24 – Free Family Portrait Studio

I’ve said it once (well, probably closer to twenty), and I’ll say it again: season eight of The Office has been a major let-down. With Steve Carell in the lead role, The Office produced seven or so truly wonderful seasons (with two, three, four, and five being close to perfect), so there was no way his departure would have any kind of positive influence on the program. This brings me to the finale, “Free Family Portrait Studio”: despite being painfully predictable, was still funny. This is at the heart of The Office‘s future; should it continue purely based on its ability to provide a few laughs, despite not having the emotional resonance it once did? That’s not to say “Free Family Portrait Studio” didn’t have some touching moments, but rather that the show has been on the air for so long and has rehashed so many plot points, that maybe I–and I’m sure many others–don’t particularly care anymore.

Andy has convinced David Wallace to buy Dunder Mifflin from Sabre, and is in the process, managed to win back his position as regional manager of the Scranton branch. For some reason (that isn’t properly explained), he decides that posing as a drunken mess willing to do the branch’s janitorial work, his triumphant return will be made all the more sweet. This aspect of the plot didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but Erin’s misguided attempts to make his story believable to the rest of the office are fantastic. As with many other episodes this season, Ellie Kemper’s Erin saves whole storylines. There was little if any emotional payoff for Andy winning his job back, but frankly, while the question of his employment was key to the episode, Dwight and Angela’s ‘relationship’ was far more interesting.

Dwight organises a free family photos for his employees; they can bring in their kids for a free session with one of those annoying photographers. While most of the employees seem to take full advantage of Dwight’s ‘generous’ offer, Angela is sceptical. She doesn’t want her son Phillip around Dwight, as she knows he’ll try to use the situation to prove the child is in fact his son, not the Senator’s. To me, Dwight and Angela always made more sense as a couple than Jim and Pam. (Not that Jim and Pam aren’t right for each other.)

Dwight goes to extraordinary—and pretty gross—lengths to obtain evidence of his paternity. The whole thing gets out of hand when his cousin Mose becomes involved, and it ends with Angela more or less conceding defeat. The last shot of her and Dwight waiting for lab results was lovely, but is made even better by the fact that Oscar’s suspicions about the Senator are confirmed. For all of their dysfunction, Dwight and Angela are made for each other.

The former warehouse workers come crawling back to Darryl after losing their lottery winnings, which leads him to try and win over Val. Throughout the entire season I’ve felt indifference to these two, are we supposed to believe their connection is the same as Dwight and Angela’s, Jim and Pam’s, or Andy and Erin’s? I will say; however, that their last scene was rather touching, if a little confusing.

All in all, “Free Family Portrait Studio” was a middling episode, but in a season full of mediocre to bad episodes, it was fine. I’m giving it a B, but quite honestly, I was hoping this show would pull out all the stops for the season finale. The Office used to consistently produce brilliant episodes, but I’m almost convinced it will never reach those heights again. With Mindy Kaling leaving the show, it has lost one of its funniest characters (Kelly) and strongest writers. Not only am I certain that next season will be even worse than this one, it will probably also be its last. It’s a shame that what was once such a truly original, hilarious program won’t be able to go out on top.

The Office S08E23 – Turf War

About three quarters of the way through “Turf War” I actually started yelling at my television. I was furious that The Office appeared to be rehashing a major arc from season five, and I was just about ready to finally give up on the show. But! I’m not a quitter, so stuck it out until the end was wonderfully surprised, and most importantly, impressed.

In a drunken act of callousness, Robert California shuts down the Binghamton, NY branch of Dunder Mifflin, and consequently, their clients are up for grabs. While Jim and Dwight try to outsmart a salesman from the Syracuse branch who’s out for the same clients, Andy decides to get creative and finds an interesting way out of his unemployment. Meanwhile, Robert enlists Pam to retrieve a voicemail message he left for Nellie while drunk.

As I’ve said about past episodes, the Dwight/Jim relationship is one of the most consistently funny dynamics on the show, and so while their storyline may not have been the most interesting of the episode (well, tangentially it was), it was a great anchoring the rest of the episode’s goings-on. Luckily, Jim and Dwight’s alliance wasn’t what impressed me about “Turf War”, otherwise that really would have said something about the state of The Office. Instead, the return of David Wallace—who I should have mentioned in last week’s review has become a millionaire after selling his “Suck It” invention—revived what had the potential to be one of the laziest storylines in the history of The Office.

Andy, believing that he can win the major client Jim, Dwight, and the Syracuse salesman are fighting over, sets out to get his job back, or at least start his own paper company. Sound familiar? It was at this point that I started yelling at my TV. Fortunately, Andy seeks out David Wallace and tries to convince him to invest in “Big Red Paper Company” or perhaps, Dunder Mifflin. If this means that the season (or possibly even series) finale features a showdown between Robert, Andy, David Wallace, and Nellie, this whole mess of a season may have been completely worth it.

Another highlight of this episode was the wonderful new relationship between Pam and Nellie. While Catherine Tate still seems out of place on The Office, Nellie’s sad, heart-warming moments are oddly reminiscent of Michael Scott. When Pam hacks Nellie’s voicemail, she finds evidence of her boss’s utterly depressing life – most notably, a message from MasterCard highlighting her debt and a rejection message from an adoption agency. After hearing those messages and being aware of Robert’s awful behaviour towards her, Nellie’s apparent new friendship with Pam was just lovely.

For such a wildly inconsistent episode, I was remarkably impressed with “Turf War”, and am almost certain it was the best episode of the season. As with nearly every episode of season eight, it wasn’t outrageously funny, but like “Angry Andy” was deeply satisfying. I’m giving it a B+.

The Office S08E22 – Fundraiser

Fundraiser—the twenty-second episode of the eighth season of The Office—feels remarkably familiar. I’m almost certain I’ve seen this episode before, even though the major plot points were new. Yes, despite still being funny—which, at the end of the day, is its job—The Office has finally become stale. How many times have we seen an (at least temporarily) unemployed character become a desperate, pitiful person trying to claw back into their boss’s good graces? So far, Michael, Ryan, Dwight, and not Andy have all played this part. Sure, passive-aggressive, verging-on-nervous-breakdown Andy is funny, but we’ve already seen this so many times before in far funnier situations.

So, to the actual plot: Angela’s husband, the Senator (sorry, that’s State Senator) throws a fundraising silent auction for a local animal charity, and Robert California buys two tables for his employees at Dunder Mifflin/Sabre Scranton. Of course, newly unemployed Andy is Erin’s date to the event, and there’s obvious tension between him and Robert. By no means was this the funniest storyline of the episode, but Andy’s description of what he had been doing in his spare time was hilariously depressing; he’s been working on a rock opera set in space with a villain named ‘Thomas Oregon’ – you don’t get points for guessing who that’s based on. As I said earlier, this episode followed a formula that The Office has relied on heavily in the past, but unfortunately, it’s become tired and awfully predictable. It should have been much more enjoyable than it actually was.

Meanwhile, Nellie tries to bond with Darryl, but of course share nothing in common with him. This was a relatively inconsequential plot, but I found it rather odd that Nellie didn’t interact with Andy more. Why didn’t we get to see much of the awkward tension between her and the man she replaced? It didn’t particularly matter; however, as thankfully very little time was spent on this plot, which left more time for my favourite storyline of the episode (outside of the cold open, which I’ll get to later).

The most consistently funny part of the episode was Oscar and Pam’s quest to prove that the Senator is gay. After receiving the Senator’s private cell phone number, Oscar once again finds a reason to question Angela’s husband’s supposed-heterosexuality. Along with Pam, Jim, and Meredith, Oscar attempts to finally resolve the issue. This was a plot point I was hoping the show would return to at some point this season, and was pleasantly surprised by its ending.

For me; however, the most enjoyable sequence in Fundraiser was the cold open. To prove his music-cred, Ryan breaks the news to the office that Smokey Robinson has died (it was just a hoax, by the way), and claims to be a huge fan of his work, while shunning more popular acts. The scene finally confirmed my long-held suspicion that Ryan is some kind of inhuman monster – I mean, I’m with Dwight on this one, who doesn’t like THE BEATLES? This was somehow one of the most realistic scenes in recent Office history, because it was so relatable; we all know that one person who tries to have a cool taste in music, but is really just lying.

This was a middling episode, saved by its few bright spots. I’m giving it a B-, and I hope that the last two episodes of the season are a little more exciting.

The Office S08E21 – Angry Andy

For a half-hour that was relatively light on laughs, ‘Angry Andy’ was one of the most satisfying episodes of The Office since Michael Scott’s farewell at the tail end of season seven. Unfortunately, as I alluded to earlier, the episode went for long-stretches without any funny moments (including the cold open), and sadly, this wasn’t intentional.

Andy returns to the office only to find that Nellie has taken his position as regional manager at the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin/Sabre. Of course, Robert California doesn’t choose to take any real action against Nellie, and Andy is utterly helpless in the situation he has found himself in. The stress of the debacle leads to—um, how should I say this?—performance difficulties between him and Erin. The awkward conversations arising from Andy’s problem were great—particularly the office-wide discussion of it in the conference room—but Nellie is so grating that it’s often impossible to find her funny. Every time she contributed to the conversation, the episode would come to a grinding halt. Which brings me to why this episode was so thoroughly satisfying; it signalled the return of (as the title suggested) the crazy, angry Andy.

Seeing Andy and Erin scream at Nellie and Robert was fantastic. Any regular reader would know that I don’t particularly care for the new additions to the cast, so to see Andy finally lose his cool—something I’ve been hoping would happen again—at two of the show’s least likable characters was oddly cathartic. This scene wasn’t necessarily funny, but as I said, truly enjoyable.

Meanwhile, after Kelly begins dating Ravi—Jim and Pam’s paediatrician—Ryan finds himself feeling actual jealousy. Of course, Kelly has to choose between the two, and it’s really no surprise that she finds herself in Ryan’s arms once more, despite the fact that he’s just awful.

In the end, I didn’t really mind that this episode wasn’t full of laughs, because the episode finished with a scene that I had been hoping to see all season. Sure, Nellie and Robert are still in the show, but I’m willing to put up with them if this means that Andy will be the same as he was in this episode and the show’s golden-age, season three. I’m giving this episode a B+, if only just for Andy punching another hole in the wall.

The Office S08E20 – Welcome Party

After a short hiatus, The Office is finally back on the airwaves. While this show clearly isn’t the powerhouse it once was, it still has some lovely, honestly funny moments, but unfortunately the hiatus gave me time to reflect on the show it once was. I say unfortunately because I realised that if this was 2010, I would have been bouncing off the walls waiting for a new episode. Instead, Welcome Party just kind of came and went; it wasn’t a bad episode, but frankly it’s disappointing to know that it could have been so much better.

Faced with the fact that Nellie is technically their new boss, the Party Planning Committee decides to throw her a welcome party. Of course, no one in the office believes that she deserves to be there, so instead they plot to make it the worst welcome party they possibly can. This was far-and-away the best storyline of the episode. It was great to see that Dunder Mifflin/Sabre Scranton was just as mundane as ever – their delightfully boring ideas of what constitutes a bad welcome party included holding the party in the break-room instead of the conference room and taping a piece of paper saying “UNWELCOME PARTY!” to the vending machine. Outside of the cold open, the party itself was the funniest moment of the episode and was reminiscent of the pointless parties of the Michael Scott-era of the show.

Meanwhile, Dwight and Jim help Nellie move into her new apartment, and—gasp!—learn a secret about her past that actually makes them feel sorry for her. They find a box full of photos of Nellie and her ex-boyfriend, a magician named Henry and she tells them how he left her heartbroken, eventually leading her to where her life is now. I have to admit, even I, someone who typically can’t stand Nellie became a little sad. Of course, this being The Office, Jim had asked Pam to hire a magician for the party after Nellie commented early in the episode about hating them. The awkwardness of the party was multiplied tenfold with the arrival of the magician (played by Eagleheart’s fantastic Brett Gelman), and honestly, the whole sequence was reminiscent of the awkward dynamic season two, which was great.

As for Erin and Andy and their fresh start as a couple; Andy still hasn’t broken up with Jessica and so decides to drop in at her sister’s bachelorette party on the way back from Florida with Erin. This storyline was a let down. Andy is a generally pretty stupid, but is he really so dumb that he would break up with his girlfriend at a family get-together? This was Michael Scott-level stupid, but nowhere near as endearing.

With the news that this will almost certainly be the final season of the show with this cast, it’s sad to know that The Office will never return to its former glory and will possibly tarnish its reputation if the rumours of an out-and-out reboot are to be believed. All in all, Welcome Party was a respectable effort but ultimately lacked the charm of the past episodes, so I’m giving it a B-.

The Office S08E19 – Get the Girl

I’m just going to come out and say it: beyond the resolution of the Erin/Andy storyline, I honestly didn’t understand the point of this episode. Not only is Nellie Bertram’s presence unnecessary, but the whole character is bringing down the show at this point. Nellie feels like a David Brent/Michael Scott hybrid, but unfortunately is not half as funny as either of them. The tension that has been created between her and the rest of the office feels so forced and unnatural that I’m not quite sure why her character is still on the show.

This episode focussed around two main storylines. Firstly, Andy’s quest to tell Erin how he feels about her and to bring her back from Tallahassee, and secondly Nellie’s power grab at the Scranton branch.

Andy and Erin’s storyline was nice and it was lovely to see them back together, but to me, this wasn’t the central focus of the episode. The continuing presence of Nellie Bertram was far more important than the resolution to Andy and Erin’s will-they-won’t-they romance.

Basically, Robert California has transferred Nellie to the Scranton branch despite the failure of the retail project, which she was in charge of. While looking for a place to sit, she takes Andy’s office and more or less decides to usurp his position at the branch. In and of itself, this is a funny idea, but its execution was rather disappointing. It’s made quite clear that Andy won’t lose his job, so is it entirely unreasonable to expect Nellie to be out of the picture at this point? Her presence on the show is puzzling at this point, and the only explanation I can think of as to why she is still on The Office is that she may be replacing Robert California as the CEO at the end of the season.  This storyline was much, much funnier when the characters namely Jim and Dwight were not interacting with Nellie, their chemistry with her just doesn’t quite click.

All in all, this was a disappointing episode, but I think it signals the beginning of the end for The Office. Week after week, they’ll find more ways to insert Nellie into the show despite her obvious lack of chemistry with the rest of the cast. I’m giving this episode a B-, because it was redeemed by Andy and Erin, two characters who have really surprised me in the second half of the season.

The Office S08E18 – Last Day in Florida

Time and again this season, a relatively strong episode has been followed-up the next week by a somewhat weaker one. After last week’s surprisingly funny episode “Test the Store”, I probably should have expected Last Day in Florida to at least partly disappoint me.

After learning that Robert plans to scrap the Sabre store and fire Dwight in the process, Jim tries to warn his long-time nemesis of his impending dismissal. Meanwhile, back in Scranton, Toby and Darryl battle it out over who can sell their daughters’ Girl Scout cookies to Kevin. The contrast between these two storylines was often jarring, but individually they were both entertaining. It was bizarre to go from seeing Jim trying to save Dwight’s career to Toby and Darryl grovelling at Kevin’s feet.

The A-storyline (with Jim and Dwight) was far more enjoyable than the B-plot. As I’ve said before, the Jim-Dwight relationship is one of my favourites on the entire show, and honestly, since Michael’s departure, has probably become the most interesting, as well. Whether they’re simply fighting, or working together for the greater good, their relationship has been put on full display throughout the Tallahassee arc. Some of the nicest moments in The Office’s run have been centred around their relationship: most notably when Jim tries his hardest to console Dwight after his and Angela’s break-up in “Money”. So, to see Jim try to help Dwight was just lovely.

The B-plot was a little cartoonish, especially—as I mentioned earlier—in contrast with the other main storyline, but fortunately did feature some bright spots. Sad, pathetic Toby is always something I like to see on this show, but once again, this episode featured way too much Kevin. He’s okay in small doses, but when a whole storyline is built around him, it gets to be a little much.

The C-plot featured Erin at her new home with Irene, the elderly lady she now ‘cares’ for. Erin is slowly becoming the most consistent and reliable character on the show, and to be honest, is there anything funnier than knowing that for her, tea is just boiled Gatorade? It will be nice to see her interact with Andy again in the next episode, once he travels down to Tallahassee to try and get her back to Scranton, but I don’t really have high hopes for a nice resolution. This season, the more emotional moments haven’t really been resolved that well (see: Ryan this week after his dramatic exit in the last episode).

Overall, this episode wasn’t terribly disappointing, but after such a strong episode last week, I was hoping it would be a little more consistent. I’m giving it a B.

The Office S08E17 – Test the Store

As I’ve said in the last couple of weeks, I’m coming to terms with the fact that The Office no longer has the same emotional resonance or impact it once did. Test the Store once again reinforced this; sure, Jim and Pam aren’t quite as interesting as they used to be, and I don’t feel sorry for Andy in the same way I once did for Michael, but as long as the show is funny, it’s okay. Luckily, this episode featured some wonderfully silly, funny moments, but it also tug at my heartstrings a little. I can honestly say that has happened much since Michael’s departure at the end of season seven.

Eager to impress Nellie (Catherine Tate) and secure the Vice-President he’s been aching for, Dwight enacts a bizarre plan of action to ensure the Tallahassee store’s success. Ryan is placed in charge of an inspiring speech to rev-up the tech bloggers and customers exploring the new store, Erin is transformed into a hipster to give the store a ‘cool’ edge, and Kathy is made to flirt with the bloggers. This storyline was truly funny. I already thought that Ellie Kemper deserved every single award possible for her work on The Office this season, and Test the Store solidified that. Erin is such a delightful, bubbly character and to see her transform into and ultimately fail as a hipster was fantastic. Her scene with Georgia Engel—the magnificent Georgette on The Mary Tyler Moore Show—was lovely, sweet and made me remember that The Office is still capable of real, emotional moments.

Ryan’s realisation that he couldn’t pull off his inspiring speech was a fantastic call back to season five. For a long time, he’s built himself up as a wunderkind, but it’s surprisingly touching to know that he really isn’t capable of the heights he—and others—claim he is. That’s why, again, his inevitable failure was one of my favourite moments of this season. This is the Ryan that I find truly interesting. He’s a complicated mess, who needs to put others (mostly Kelly) down to build himself up.

The B storyline focussed on Andy’s black eye, which was inflicted by a young girl who was trying to harass Pam. This storyline was funny, but Ed Helms doesn’t make me feel sorry for him in the same way that Steve Carell did, which is unfortunate.

All in all, this episode struck a nice balance between emotional resonance and humour, so I’m giving this episode a B+. Sure, it wasn’t on the level of the show’s episodes from earlier seasons, but honestly, at this point it seems a little unfair to compare The Office of today with The Office of yesterday.

 

The Office S08E16 – After Hours

After Hours is far and away the funniest episode of an admittedly ordinary season of The Office. As I said last week, while the show isn’t what it used to be in terms of character development, but it’s still funny, and I’m OK with that.

This week, the episode followed the Sabre employees working on the new retail branch in Tallahassee as they ‘bonded’ after work. Also, while working late to cover for Jim, Dwight, Erin, Kathy, Ryan, and Stanley in Tallahassee, the Scranton employees are witnesses to a tense quasi-showdown between Darryl and Val’s boyfriend Brandon (played by SNL-alum Jerry Minor).

Dwight, of course, tries to score points with Nellie by attempting to seduce her, but his only problem is Todd Packer is in the same situation. After defeating Packer (with the help of Gabe who empties the contents of his inhaler into Packer’s beer causing him to throw up), Dwight eventually seduces his temporary boss, but in nice turn of events, grows a conscience.

My two favourite storylines of the episode were Kathy’s clear attempt to hook up with Jim, which was met by wonderful awkwardness from the married man; and the delightful, yet one-million-kinds-of-wrong friendship between Erin and Ryan. Erin is such a lovely, naïve character, and Ryan—while funny—is such a magnificent manipulator. Jim’s efforts to get Kathy out of his hotel room were wonderful displays of awkward slapstick, and honestly, this is when the show is at its funniest. While these storylines weren’t particularly life changing, they were clearly two of the funniest of the season and played well off the actors’ strengths.

As I’ve said before, I’m not particularly fussed with the Val and Darryl storyline, but I will say that by including the other characters of the Scranton office in the plot, it became exponentially funnier. Whether through Kelly’s enthusiasm to see a real-life soap opera or Pam’s words of encouragement for Darryl, this was a nice addition to an already above-average episode.

No, After Hours is not the greatest episode in the history of The Office, but it was nice to see the show be genuinely funny again, rather than boring and repetitive as it has been this season. I’m giving this episode a B+ because there are few things funnier than seeing Jim doing what he does best, being an awkward mess who ultimately needs the help of Dwight.

The Office S08E15 – Tallahassee

Every week, I find it harder to review The Office. It’s not that the show isn’t enjoyable anymore—in fact, this week’s cold open made me laugh harder than anything else on the show in years—but as a whole, The Office isn’t particularly ‘great’ anymore.  Tallahassee is a key example of this. While, again, it featured some truly funny moments, as a whole, the episode wasn’t anything special. And the reintroduction of Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate) certainly didn’t help matters.

Nellie is tasked with running the special project that has sent Dwight, Jim, Cathy, Erin, Ryan, and Stanley to Tallahassee. Of course, they can’t create the Sabre retail stores on their own, and are joined by other employees, chief among them Todd Packer (David Koechner).

These days, The Office feels like The Simpsons (and not in a good way). Both shows have gone from being at least partly rooted in reality to caricatures of their former selves. That is, once upon a time this storyline would have probably revolved around the Scranton group’s difficult time dealing with their new wacky boss, and Dwight be at his sycophantic best but still act semi-realistically. In Tallahassee; however, Dwight’s craziness reached a completely new level – he battled through Appendicitis in order to impress Nellie. Of course, this was actually quite funny, but I expect more from The Office. Unlike 30 Rock or Community, I don’t expect it to be a joke machine, but rather a funny show rooted in some form of realism. Dwight is seemingly no longer realistic. I know you could make an argument that Dwight was never particularly true-to-life, but this felt out of character, even for him.

Fortunately, there were enough laugh-out-loud moments in this episode to make up for that, as well as the start of some great new friendships (Ryan and Erin, Stanley and Jim), and a nice B-story involving Andy’s love for reception work. This episode really signified what the show has become; not great, but funny enough to not be completely terrible, either. That’s why I’m giving it a B.