There was some talk in the comments last week that giving the first episode without Michael Scott a negative review was tantamount to writing the show off in the post-Carell era, but I found this strange.
The problem with last week’s episode was that it didn’t give us anything to write off: it was too busy wrapping up the useless Deangelo arc to offer insight into how the show’s rhythms would work in the absence of Michael Scott. In truth, I’m perfectly willing to give the show a chance without Carell, and I will not make any judgment on this matter until early next season when a new boss is officially hired and the show has a chance to adjust properly. Sure, I wanted something more from the first post-Carell outing than an awkward and tonally deaf farewell to an inconsistent caricature, but that doesn’t mean that the show has been forever banished.
In fact, much of “Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager” demonstrated that the show is perfectly capable of being funny without Carell, and that there are certainly elements here which could contribute to a solid comedy series. Mind you, the episode also fizzled towards its conclusion, but it lost momentum more than it lost goodwill, which is a step in the right direction for the show. The show is still trapped in a transition period, going through the motions, but the absence of an obnoxious guest figure (at least in a prominent role) made this a more pleasant experience overall.
The episode is basically a piece of wish fulfillment: what would happen if Dwight became Manager, the job he wanted in the first place? It was actually established in a fun fashion, with Jim’s decision to pass on the job unwittingly leading to his sworn enemy stepping into the position and establishing a tyrannical rule. However, the choice to jump forward a week really highlighted the exaggerated nature of it all: while things like the vending machines (which pushed them to purchase from his coffee stand in the lobby) seemed logical, details like the security camera at the coffee pot or the oil painting felt like they were pushing things too far. I feel the show would be better letting Dwight be indulgent without being authoritarian: His James Bond villain-esque office décor was quite enjoyable, but the show was so quick to rush into the rebellion that they threw away any subtlety to Dwight’s management style until it suited them to reference it at episode’s end.
However, asking for subtlety around Dwight Schrute seems like a lost cause at this point, and the scenario that broke out amidst the mid-episode chaos was actually quite funny. Dwight’s paranoia offered some nice moments (his treatment of Jordan, for example), and the gun scenario went far better than I had imagined based on the promos (which really shouldn’t have raised the specter of Dwight actually shooting someone, given that there’s legitimate concern the show could stoop to that level at this point in time). Andy and Darryl’s trip to the hospital had some nice bookend jokes, Creed walking off to dispose of the gun was delightful, and Toby’s glee at getting to use his gun violence forms was probably my favorite part of the episode. In those moments, the show was just characters we enjoy getting to play out some pretty enjoyable comic scenarios, which is precisely how the show can survive without Michael: It’s not as though there weren’t situations where a Michael-free B-Story was the most successful storyline in past episodes, so the show is absolutely capable of being successful in his absence.
The problem, though, is that the episode then falls into the same patterns that we’re used to seeing from the show, and gets dragged down by the joyless presence of Kathy Bates (who, thankfully for The Office if not television viewers in general, will still be busy with Harry’s Law next season). The episode fired its gun too early, and everything after the initial chaos just felt rote: As soon as Jo arrived, nothing seemed like it was building towards anything but his inevitable firing which would then transition into the next managerial candidate. It was the same problem with Deangelo’s exit but without the character inconsistency, meaning that the final few minutes here were dull more than they were outright unfunny. The humiliation of giving Kevin an increasingly bizarre backrub just never landed, and Jo’s presence was perfunctory to the point of insult.
The meaning of those final moments was actually fairly solid: There’s an interesting comparison to be made in terms of how Michael might have handled the situation, nicely drawn out by Dwight’s attempt to emulate his mentor by calling everyone into the conference room and playing “Gun Safety Dwight.” The argument being made is that Dwight is too Dwight to be Michael, which is a more interesting way of calling attention to Michael’s exit than the Deangelo arc ever managed. The problem was that the actual comedy of the aftermath never got to build to a real conclusion, what with the necessary discussions about the next interim manager that had to be shoehorned into things. There was something there, but by the time the show got back to Dwight and Jim’s conversation about how Dwight was really a good manager in every way but his fundamental instability, it didn’t feel as though it had been earned — it couldn’t help but make me wish that we could have just skipped the whole Deangelo ordeal, had Dwight take over last week, and let this build into a proper two-episode arc.
Even if this kept the episode from delivering a cohesive storyline, the episode never felt as though it was entirely off the mark. The material with Gabe continues to be the right level of uncomfortable (and Zach Woods continues to play it quite well), and letting Jim go back to being his mischevious self recalls days when the character didn’t seem quite so smug (although his smile after that whole “pre pre pre” run was insufferable).
I feel no spite towards this show when it just lets the characters be the characters, which is why the prospect of Creed as Acting Manager is so thrilling. It’s even sillier than making Dwight manager, and I suspect it will result in some uneven plotting not unlike what we saw at the end of this episode, but it sounds fun. Sure, I question the logic of Jo letting the employees pick their own boss (although she did hire Deangelo), but the ending held something that the end of last week’s episode did not: A sense of promise. It may not be much, but it’s more than we had last week, which makes this a nice step forward for the show.
- Shortened credits this week, but we still get Dwight adjusting what appears to be some sort of Shogun warrior figurine. I anticipate Creed's equivalent greatly.
- For those who didn’t watch the preview, you missed what looks to be something of a spoiler in the clips of the various boss candidates — I won’t discuss it here, but I’d be curious to see who caught it in the comments.
- I like the idea of Jim’s lack of ambition leading to this situation, so it makes me wonder if they’re building to Jim putting his name forward in spite of himself, discovering through interviewing countless candidates that he can do the job better than anyone else, and certainly better than he did before.
- I still am not entirely sure what it is that Jordan’s job description is, and had fully expected her to disappear between episodes. Is this a “Chekhov’s Blonde” situation?
- “You define foment.”
- “You stop me when I reach the diseased area.”
- “The Blueberry Slurpee Punch.” “He means the ice packs.”
- "It's just a social club. You know, like the French Revolution or the Black Panthers or Communism. Just a club. Guys talking."
- “I don’t believe in lunch.”
- “Dwight doesn’t trust robots to give us our messages.”
- “Gabe was a great guy who has so many wonderful qualities, but it was a challenge being touched by him.”
- “And the Piranha’s a rescue.”
- “They think that you were hired because of your good looks, which won’t last long anyway because your pale skin and severe bone structure imply you will age swiftly and poorly.”
- “My god — there is a hardwood floor under this carpeting! Why would they do that?!”
- “We really shouldn’t be without a receptionist — now, more than ever.”
- “I’ve never used the gun violence forms before!”
- “If you ruin this, I will burn this office to the ground.”
- “I don’t feel good about it, but he just kept calling himself a gunshot victim, and it got to me.”
- “You were in hysterics, and my maternal instincts kicked in.”