Friday, February 15, 2013

"The Office" - "Moving On": Lord, beer me strength

     Destined to be together. Too bad they apparently stopped
     listening to each other say stuff.
     Photo Credit: NBC

14 year old me probably never thought I would say this, but tonight's episode of "The Office" was horrible. A complete and total mess on every level.

An episode of "The Office" in the 2010s was bad? Stop the presses. Yeah, this show has been a complete mess for about three years now, but never in a way that I felt, or that made me finally realize, I needed to sit down and pen an essay about why I hate so much about the things "The Office" has chosen to be.

So Andy's back, and that sucks. You know that saying "you don't know what you've got until it's gone"? Well I guess that applies, or could be reversed and applied, to Andy's stupid three month boat trip/Ed Helms leaving to film a movie I will never see. When Andy was promoted to manager, "The Office" displayed it had completely lost any remaining shred of creativity, replacing Michael Scott with Michael Scott Jr. Then, because as mentioned, Ed Helms needed to film that movie, they shipped him and his brother off on the newly bankrupt Bernard family yacht for three months, because reasons.

From November until last week, no sign of Andy. The branch ran itself just perfectly (as Michael Scott once succinctly put it to Jan, "The same amount of work is done whether I am here or not") and nobody had to be annoyed by the same horrible plotline week after week in which Andy doesn't think the staff likes him, they push him to a ridiculous extreme like getting a tattoo on his ass (gotta love Season 8!), and then in the last minute Jim pulls him aside and tells him that they all really do like him. And then everyone apparently forgets that and they do it all again the next week.

Well now Andy has returned to manage what doesn't need managing, and that is a rather inoffensive, if not dull and lame, final season of "The Office". And he kicked things off by full cementing his status as history's greatest monster.

Remember how Andy and Erin were dating before he got on the boat? EXACTLY. NEITHER DOES ANYONE ELSE. Andy and Erin was a relationship I vaguely cared about for maybe one episode two years ago. They then immediately destroyed any common naiveties and optimism shared between those weirdos by making Erin unwilling to accept the fact that Andy was engaged to Angela (again, with how completely ridiculous and convoluted the romantic history of Angela Martin has become since she broke up with Dwight in the beginning of season 4, does anyone even remember that that was a thing?). So because Andy is a terrible person and wasn't around for so long, Erin decided to focus her attention on Pete, aka New Jim, and the two started dating in recent episodes.

Upon Andy's return, believing he and Erin were still an item, Erin realized she needed to completely break it off to be with Pete. Last week's episode: fin. But this week, because he's needlessly awful in a completely unfunny way, Andy decides the office needs two new marketing consultants! Who are those marketing consultants? Why it's our old friend Gabe from Sabre, who you might recall is Erin's ex. Also starting at Dunder Mifflin? Some woman named Alice, and would you fucking look at that, she dated Pete for about two years and things didn't end well.

Now obviously we're not supposed to like Andy Bernard. We've never been asked to - this guy has annoyed everyone in the office at some point or another; even legendary nuisance Michael Scott spent an entire day hiding from him. "The Office" is no longer the shining beacon of modern television the way it used to be, but I still believe it has some self awareness. They understand that we're not going to like Andy in this episode, and have done so with episodes before - the way people use to feel about this show, they knew the kind of reaction the fans would have to him when he spends the entirety of "Travelling Salesman" trying to sabotage Dwight. But it is so misguided how the show feels we're going to react to Andy's behaviour tonight as if we would tweet things like "Andy!!! Oh man, you really got them! Grr I'm mad! #TheOffice #FarewellSeason". This isn't an adorable game. The writers have spent years needlessly regressing Andy from "well intentioned and happy-go-lucky, if a little annoying due to his misguidedness" to "scum of the earth and proud of it, because oh look, let's introduce a new detail of backstory for him this week, like that his parents don't like him and his awesome brother is showered with attention".

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Pam is applying for a job at a real estate agency. When she arrives at the office she discovers the manager, played by Bob "Better call Saul" Odenkirk, is basically a carbon copy of Michael Scott. We know that because he annoys all of his colleagues by screwing up pop culture references, badly playing the guitar all day, and making racist insinuations. Got it? He's Michael Scott 2.0. Well, actually, apparently we don't got it, until we go to a Pam talking head and she act-breaks with "Oh my god...he's Michael Scott!" This show used to have so much respect for its audience. What happened? (other than Paul Lieberstein...)

So after a horrible interview in which Pam forces a smile at all of Michael 2.0's bad jokes, she discovers that the position she's applying for, "office manager" is just their fancy term for receptionist. Pam's been a receptionist before in perhaps the most dreary of circumstances, so she realizes this isn't for her and is on her way. Later while having a Valentine's Day dinner with Jim, she tells him all about her awful interview and Jim reassures her that she'll get it next time. But she very timidly reminds Jim that she doesn't necessarily want to (she likes the life they have in Scranton), and he flat out says that this is news to him. Apparently Jim has been comatose for the entirety of the ninth season. But why should I expect otherwise, considering beloved, nice guy Jim Halpert has also been regressed to being not only a complete idiot, but apparently the scorn of every human being he interacts with. For the next episode, I think I'll try watching Jim the way Randall Graves saw best friend Dante Hicks in his fantasy sequences in the short lived "Clerks" cartoon, and pretend that the show's former hero is sitting on the floor wearing a dunce cap and a diaper, swinging a cat by its tail and saying "I'm Dante, and I'm the biggest idiot ever!"

The hour-long episode's other dud plotline was Dwight and Angela, again for reasons I didn't bother paying attention to because it took place on Schrute Farms, taking care of Dwight's elderly Aunt Shirley for a day. Hilarious physical comedy ensues, as always with Dwight Schrute, things happen, blah blah blah. On their way out, Dwight and Angela start talking about their relationship - he wants to rekindle it, but she says she can't because of the senator, even though she now knows he's gay and had an affair with Oscar, and she's just standing by her man. They make out a bit, but she breaks it up and insists they can't happen. And then, for one final slap in the face from this excruciating episode, she walks down the stairs and bids Dwight farewell by saying "Goodnight, D."

Angela calls Dwight "D".

You might remember that Dwangela was kept almost entirely a secret before their breakup (initially, Jim and Pam were the only ones who knew - Pam found out in season 2's "Email Surveillance," and Jim caught the two making out in season 3's "The Negotiation" - his promise to never tell anyone was his way of repaying Dwight for protecting him from Roy's attack), so "D" was Angela's affectionate nickname for him, just as Dwight called her "monkey". That relationship, in that form, happened, and somewhere out there, primarily on copies of "The Office: Season 2" and "The Office: Season 3" on DVD, it still means something. And those nicknames are a part of that.

After countless episodes of Andy duelling Dwight for Angela's love, Dwight and Angela drafting a contract promising to conceive a child, the ridiculous terms of that contract including a set number of mandatory sexual encounters, and Dwight attempting to prove the child Angela gave birth to was fathered by him and not the senator, it offends me as a fan of this show, as a watcher of television, as someone who has dedicated hours upon hours to this show, not just by watching episodes but by reading Office Tally and listening to podcasts about the show and browsing other miscellaneous online content about "The Office," for the writers and all involved to think they're allowed to say that those two eras of the Dwight and Angela relationship a) are impacted by one another, and b) are in any way the same relationship, or that all of those ridiculous plots post break up are a realistic extension of the Dwangela we knew and loved in the early years of "The Office" and it's totally fine for them to (once again, regression) bring that up again as necessary. Yes, I am aware that was the worst run-on sentence in the history of writing. I'm mad, dammit.

In addition to those delightful storylines, apparently Toby, who was a juror for the Scranton Strangler trial, can't shut up about it in front of Nellie. So she suggests he go visit the guy in prison and finally get some closure (I literally have no idea what the hell was going on there, and I watch this show every week). So he goes, and the guy tries to strangles him. Ha ha. Cuz he's The Scranton Strangler. Man, that was a storyline that evolved out of a single joke that the writers asked us to care about for a while and then just completely stopped mentioning for a couple years. And by the way, just who is the identity of the mysterious Scranton Strangler? Drumroll please....duhduhduhduhdudhdudhdudhdudhdudh....NOBODY IMPORTANT! He's nobody. Darryl mentioned his name and I don't even remember what that name was. But it's not the name of anybody who counts. Congratulations, fellow remaining "Office" viewers. This is what we get after nine years.

There was also a stupid end tag, where Oscar uses the time he used to spend watching ads online by doing sit-ups instead ("ads for abs"). I would be pretty sure this was a cold open that was aborted due to containing no jokes and having no purpose (and maybe it still was, just with some minor tweaking), simply grafted on to the end to fill the hour long time slot that was sprung on the show about a week ago. Until we realized that scene existed so Oscar's pseudo Netflix/iTunes computer thing could exposit this in the episode's final seconds:

But on the other hand, no Brian the sound guy tonight. Yay?

Tonight's episode was written by Graham Wagner, and really, that pretty much sums up the journey this show taken. I have no idea who Graham Wagner is. I have no idea who Owen Ellickson is. But I do know who Jennifer Celotta is. I do know who Michael Schur is. I also know who Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky are. I know that there are references to Pam's boobs in almost every episode they wrote, and it's a funny thing to notice when rewatching the episodes they penned, or for the cast to call them out on in DVD commentaries. I'm a lover of podcasts, and one of the first I ever listened to was "The Office Alliance," in which superfans Kimberly, Melody, and Sarah broke down episodes and discussed their love for the show. Because "The Office" used to be a very special kind of TV show that deserved its own podcasts and websites. One of my favourite episodes they did was their first podcast after the WGA went on strike in November 2007 (their podcast feed is no longer online otherwise I'd link to it - if you can track them down somehow, it's "Episode 44 - Office Fans for Office Writers"). The co-hosts offered a similar sentiment to what I just said - that "The Office" was a special show, like nothing they'd ever watched before and like no TV viewing experience they'd ever had before. Never before did they know the names of every writer on staff for a show like they did with "The Office," and it was why they cared about the writers' strike and understood what was at stake for them. "Without fair pay, there are no words."

"The Office" will always be one my favourite TV shows ever, because its early seasons are just that damn good. But the show I used to look forward to every Thursday night eventually became a show I stuck with because it aired in between shows I liked a lot better like "Parks and Recreation" and "30 Rock". And I in no way blame the three co-hosts of "The Office Alliance" for, to the best of my knowledge, having stopped watching the show entirely. I've thought about ditching it too, even if that's not really something I do - like I said, I stuck with it basically because it was sandwiched between shows I liked better.

But then who would watch my TV?