Before the season began, James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter wrote a piece revealing The Office’s approach to Steve Carell’s exit. While the second half of the season will focus explicitly on Michael Scott’s departure from Dunder Mifflin, the first half of the season will feature a series of “What if…” scenarios: multiple characters will be given a tryout of sorts, as we can imagine what the show would be like if they were its star.
Accordingly, “Andy’s Play” is (in theory) a test of whether or not the show could survive with Andy as its center, and I’d say the results are inconclusive. I think it makes sense for Andy to be the first character to get this treatment: Helms is theoretically enough of a star to carry the show, and his character has been relegated to the sidelines ever since he broke up with Angela. It’s a character that seems to have lost some of its edge, as well, his romance with Erin having channeled his idiosyncrasies into a somewhat neutered space.
“Andy’s Play” does a better job with Andy’s character than last season, at least from my perspective, returning him to a sad space where he is a talented and decent person who struggles to get people’s respect. Andy’s musical talent has never been contested, but the office has never been the space for it; however, now that he has properly channeled his talent into a role in a community production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the other employees are full of excuses, and not one of them take the time to send a good-natured “break a leg” to his email account. They, in other words, are uninterested in a world where Andy is the star of the show, convinced that he is simply a supporting player in their lives.
In terms of proving that Helms could anchor the series, the episode is a failure: this has nothing to do with Helms's performance, as he is really quite great in the episode, and instead has more to do with the fact that it still doesn’t actually allow Andy to be the center of the story. Once the entire office shockingly chooses to attend the play despite their initial lack of interest, the episode becomes about Jim and Pam getting out while being parents, Dwight and Angela’s contractual arrangement, and Michael’s bitterness about being passed over for the title role (for Darryl’s plumber, no less). When we get to the episode-ending montage, Andy provides the soundtrack — Macy Gray’s “I Try” — while Jim and Pam get their moment in their car, and Dwight and Angela consider the romantic potential of their agreement. Combine with the amount of time Michael gets in the story, and the episode does little to elevate Andy’s character in any real fashion.
However, in terms of providing entertainment, I think the episode worked quite well. While his character may not have become truly central, Ed Helms is a darn fine showman, and the overall production value on the Sweeney Todd performance helped the episode quite a bit — that it was solid enough to avoid becoming a joke, and simple enough to keep from being a distraction, allowed the episode to justify its focus on the audience. I didn’t find any of the audience stories enormously compelling, but they did their job: we were due to some insight of how Jim and Pam are handling parenthood, and last week’s was woefully inadequate in terms of explaining what is going on with Dwight and Angela. In the latter case, the material is somewhat reductive of previous seasons, but those crazy kids deserve to be together, and seeing Angela actively seduce Dwight was a nice companion for Dwight being seduced by the power of musical theatre (as he became progressively more engaged with the performance, even bragging to his neighbor).
And, perhaps more importantly, there were some brilliant individual moments built into it. I loved how Jim and Pam tried to steal some seats closer to the stage (and that we didn’t see them make the decision to do so), just as I enjoyed the way that Michael’s bottle of wine got passed from employee to employee; I adored Darryl preaching on the importance of the overture; and, I laughed a great deal at Creed phoning in his review. These details made the performance space feel like part of the series’ existing universe, allowing it to comfortably settle into the season as a whole.
As for its eponymous character, “Andy’s Play” leaves him without his lady’s love but with the appreciation of his co-workers. I doubt that Andy’s position in the office will be dramatically changed by this conclusion, but I do think this is a nice note for the character. A part of his personality which was once a source of pure annoyance —to the characters, anyways, as it’s been a highlight for me going back to the Pig Latin Rainbow Connection — became a source of pride, and there was an earnestness to the conclusion which seemed a fitting tribute to Andy.
Sure, it probably doesn’t make sense that the entire office would go to his play despite not initially planning on it, and the chances of everyone coming together for a performance of a song which conveniently ties together the various story threads are less than slim, but “Andy’s Play” was otherwise honest and charming, and that’s what I’m looking for at this point.
- There was some discussion on Twitter (you can follow me @Memles, if you’re so inclined) about Erin’s relative intelligence: @BenjaminBirdie suggested that last week’s disposable camera joke crossed a line, arguing that “no one could be that stupid and remember to inhale as well as exhale.” In retrospect, he’s probably right, and this week’s “Did you write this?” was probably more on point. She is ignorant and naïve as opposed to stupid, and the show does need to be careful to strike a balance.
- I also approve of Erin’s efforts to break into the Babysitter’s Club — the right balance, I think.
- Michael’s bitterness, followed by his self-consciousness over having booed Darryl’s plumber, was ultimately the least impressive element of the episode, as it didn’t really go anywhere — that said, the Law & Order audition in the coda lived up to my expectations when first introduced, so it wasn’t all a wash for the character.
- “Women cannot resist a man singing showtunes. It’s so powerful even a lot of men can’t resist a man singing showtunes.”
- “It’s fun to hear Andy sing, in the appropriate setting.”
- “All that singing got in the way of some perfectly good murders.”