One of the most persistent complaints leveed at The Office in the past few seasons has been the inconsistency of its characterization, with a character like Kevin standing as an example of this. There seems to be no agreement among the show’s writers how smart Kevin actually is, which creates the sense that the character becomes whatever the writers need him to be; winning “Dallas: The Board Game” requires him to show some shrewd tactics, but the Kevin we see in most episodes wouldn’t be able to read the instructions.
In making these complaints, many have often mentioned the character of Andy, although he raises a different question I wouldn’t necessarily connect with inconsistency. While Kevin tends to shift from episode-to-episode, Andy has followed a more linear path: After being introduced as an antagonist with anger management issues, Andy was turned into a sadsack romantic pretty quickly, to the point where only the most devoted viewers even remember that version of the character.
Some read this development as a betrayal of the character, a neutering of someone who could have proven disruptive in ways that introduced real stakes into Dunder Mifflin. Others read it as a natural progression of the character, an evolution made possible through the long-form serialization the show purports to. While I hate to be too cynical, I would argue the latter sounds like a great excuse for the former; regardless of the end result, the writers clearly wanted to go in a different direction with Andy, and that meant steering clear of his anger.
“Angry Andy,” as its title so subtly alludes to, features The Office unearthing the past to convince us that the anger we thought was gone was actually always bubbling up under the surface, calmed only by Erin’s touch. It’s more of a callback than any sort of real shift in Andy’s character, though, a convenient justification for his meltdown and eventual resignation from his post at Dunder Mifflin. It also does nothing to rescue an increasingly bizarre storyline in which Nellie’s hostile takeover is actually successful, a circumstance that I continue to find more and more confounding.
I won’t dwell on the question too much, but let’s just state it simply: Nellie waltzing into Scranton and stealing Andy’s job is completely and utterly ridiculous. Full stop. There is no circumstance in which this could actually happen, and the argument the episode makes—that Robert is too turned on by Nellie to push her out of the position—only increases the sense of absurdity here. There was no point in this episode where I felt like I could safely remove myself from under the umbrella of this ludicrous narrative, which is the exact opposite effect that an ongoing narrative is supposed to create. Instead of serving as a reliable structure that audiences can relate with as other storylines play out around it (such as Ryan and Kelly’s ongoing relationship in “Angry Andy”), it becomes a constant liability.
It doesn’t help that “Angry Andy” didn’t actually get any really funny or interesting material out of Andy’s return. The anger proved mostly familiar (with Darryl’s “He really doesn’t like that wall” moment too on-the-nose to draw the laugh intended for the act break), and the whole impotence runner was a limp excuse—yes, I went there—to create a generic conference room situation. The discussion of memorable erections was more stupid than funny, and outside of a few smaller moments that those circumstances can create (like Creed and Robert jinxing in their attempt to inquire further regarding Nellie’s penchant for taking older men as lovers) there just wasn’t anything there to compel me into taking this storyline seriously (which I do consider an issue of some importance with the show).
Of course, the show is arguing that we’re not supposed to take this situation seriously: the CEO of the company refuses to get involved become of his desire to have sex with Nellie and then revels in the pointless conference room session, the HR rep refuses to fix anything because “HR is a joke,” and everybody else just goes along with it because someone actually standing up and saying something would call attention to the fact that any rational human being would have stood up and pointed out how ridiculous this was. They would be immediately inquiring as to other employment opportunities where there wouldn’t be the concern of someone claiming squatter’s rights on your job, and yet instead they sit there acting as though this is entirely normal.
What’s frustrating is that I actually thought the Ryan and Kelly storyline was well done here. Although I could have done with less whiny, selfish Pam, the actual material from Ryan was some of B.J. Novak’s best work in a long time (perhaps dating back to ”Whupf.com”), nicely capturing the smarminess of the character while also creating something affecting. The show has really just let their relationship play out in the background, with no real clarity on whether they’re dating, and so the renewed focus (even if it required some awkward exposition regarding the new boyfriend) was welcome. Their conclusion, Kelly choosing her new boyfriend but still making out with Ryan, was the sort of screwed up situation that The Office does well, in that it relies on two people whose judgment is questionable and who bring out their respective self-destructive behaviors.
I would like to imagine a circumstance in which the feud between Nellie and Andy could be on the same level, but it’s completely off the mark. Nellie’s character remains poorly defined, her motivations still unclear despite last week’s attempt to provide her with a sympathetic back story, and even when he’s punching a wall Andy lacks the kind of dynamic character necessary to get this storyline to resonate for me.
While comparing him to Michael Scott feels like a low blow, I nonetheless think it’s appropriate here. At the end of “Did I Stutter?”, Michael Scott stood up to subordination. He put his foot down, refused to allow Stanley to undermine his authority, and it meant something for him to lose control in that moment. When Andy Bernard first punched that wall back in the third season, it also felt like a moment where we learned something about that character, something that was then erased when the show chose to go in another direction. While “Angry Andy” goes so far as to show us flashbacks to that earlier moment, it’s a failed association: Instead of adding complexity to Andy’s character, it adds another layer of contrivance to this ridiculous storyline, one that threatens any more subtle adjustments being made in order to help the show limp across the finish line at the end of the year.
- You likely saw word here and elsewhere that The Office is allegedly considering a dramatic reboot, which would prove incredibly fascinating to me. I continue to believe that the show’s biggest problems this year stem from resisting a reboot or a more dramatic retooling, and if a few contract negotiations force their hand, this has the potential to be a far more interesting show next season.
- Another week, another fun, simple, observational cold open. The show would be in much better shape right now if the writers just turned those into episodes — I’d much rather watch people awkwardly try to force small talk with Phyllis as the A-Story companion to Ryan and Kelly than anything to do with Nellie or Andy.
- Always nice to see Sendhil Ramamurthy getting post-Heroes work, and this counts as corporate synergy given his role on Covert Affairs, and his casting suggests the love triangle might actually play out over time. However, speaking of played out, the show has done enough love triangles that it’s getting a bit tired, and Mindy Kaling’s definite exit—reboot or no reboot, her pilot’s probably getting picked up—complicates things a bit.
- There was a nice moment in the meeting where Darryl tried to help Andy out by suggesting his impotence wasn’t a big deal — it was a sweet moment that would have been better if Darryl had stood up, punched Robert in the face, and then started forcibly moving Nellie’s things out of Andy’s office. That’s what a real friend would do.
- Favorite Ryan line, without taking into account his beautiful poetry: “That’s your opinion, and it’s her opinion, but it’s not my opinion.”