It is difficult to know whether or not it was intentional, but the cold open to tonight’s episode of The Office felt particularly meaningful. As the entire staff gets excited over a balloon that has been floating in the warehouse for months, if not years, the employees all begin to think about what has changed between when the balloon first drifted up into the rafters and the moment it slowly wilts to the ground. It turns out that almost all of their memories of that period are negative, and eventually they revel in destroying the balloon.
I’ll leave it up to you to read into this metaphor as you see fit, but I will say that the show is on dangerous ground referring to temporality in such a fashion. Part of me wonders if the cold open was actually a stab at establishing a thematic contrast with Nellie’s sudden and hurricane-esque arrival at the Scranton branch as “Get The Girl” begins, which is something I’d like to see the show explore more. However, by calling attention to the relative lack of excitement within the office setting and capturing the aimlessness of the characters, the show also sets up the expectation that all of this is going to change, and I am somewhat skeptical that Nellie Bertram is the solution to this problem.
She is, however, being presented as a solution. I’ve been ambivalent about Catherine Tate’s presentation on the show to this point, but “Get The Girl” was one of those cases where I feel the need to bracket off Tate herself from the character she plays. At this point, honestly, all of my reservations are about the latter rather than the former; while Tate has a strong presence that I believe could work on this show, the situations created for Nellie as a character within this episode place her in a precarious and ultimately unsustainable position. The hostile takeover approach wasn’t funny enough to justify creating a scenario in which a person’s job is stolen away in a hostile takeover after taking a single sick day (which wasn’t actually a sick day of course, but would be something any employee would be entitled to given that Robert would have no reason to believe Andy was lying. But I digress.).
While I do think this scenario is ridiculous—and thus would welcome you to return to any number of recent reviews or comment threads in which we discuss the show’s slowly evaporating relationship to a recognizable reality—the more important problem is how it positions Nellie and Robert California as characters. Quite simply, neither character acts like a real person in this episode. Although he’s less important to the episode, and to the long run of the series given Spader’s pending exit, Robert’s behavior in this episode nonetheless struck me as strange. It’s not exactly out of character for Robert to allow the office to devolve into a Darwinist experiment, per se, but now that we’ve spent almost an entire season with the character and gained no greater insight into his motivations, this limits the impact of his engagement here. His angle is that he just wants to fuck with people, effectively, and for me “Get The Girl” was the point at which that stopped being novel.
In the case of Nellie, however, here is someone that could be around into a ninth season, and yet the show immediately places her into the series as a blind antagonist without any sense of what drives her to these actions. As a conflict, I actually found it quite functional, and I appreciate Tate’s commitment to the character’s attempts to win over the various employees with raises and various other perks. Considered as a series of two-hander sequences, I felt Tate acquitted herself quite well within the various performance reviews, demonstrating a decent degree of chemistry with various cast members.
The problem is that I felt none of that with Nellie as a character. Tate’s relationship with the actors might be strong, but Nellie’s relationship with the employees is so broadly drawn (first as antagonistic, then as cozy) that it leaves her with little room to work with. Past authority figures have followed a trajectory of reasonable to crazy, slowly changed by the circumstances in the Scranton branch and eventually driven out (or insane) by the madness within (see: Jan, Charles Miner). With Nellie and Robert California, however, they’re coming in with the dials already up to 11, and while there are some short-term comic returns there seems to me to be very little in the way of long-term reward. The characters are stop gap solutions, time fillers who can offers a few funny jokes and a couple of compelling scenes while the show searches for a more meaningful direction for the future.
“Get The Girl” does not feel like the beginning of that direction given what we see in Scranton. As has been the case all season, particular gags worked well: Dwight declaring spatial anarchy and trying to steal Darryl’s desk (while Creed steals his own) was an easy highlight in the episode, and the brief conference-room sequence suggested Tate could work in those contexts as well. This episode wasn’t introducing us to Nellie, a character who I thought was decently (re-)introduced in Florida with occasional moments of nuance to balance out the crazy, but it was introducing her to Scranton, and the intensity of that introduction made things more eventful, but did little to heighten my engagement with the characters or the circumstances Nellie puts herself in (by force).
Speaking of force, “Get The Girl” refers to Andy’s trip to Florida to win back Erin, a trip that is quickly defined as romantic despite the potential for a platonic retrieval at the end of last week’s episode. I’m not surprised that it was a romantic trip, mind you, as we’ve been talking about the return to this relationship throughout the season. However, I was disappointed that the show chose to create a scenario where Andy declares his love without even breaking up with his girlfriend, a decision that is briefly raised as a problem only to be swept under the rug. It’s a complicated situation, and the episode’s efforts to address this are but a brief interlude before being wished away by true love’s kiss.
I’m not buying this relationship. I’d say it’s unfair to compare the pair to Jim and Pam, but the show is so clearly reaching for that comparison that I’m more than happy to oblige. That scene by the bird bath as Andy and Erin discuss their broken hearts, and the sense that they might just be two ships crossing in the night, was not only a cliché in terms of television in general, but also a cliché for the show itself given how similar it was to a season-two/three scene between Jim and Pam.
The difference, however, is that Jim and Pam were two grounded people whose romance was the spark that brought them to life, the kind of spark that an audience can get behind. Andy and Erin, meanwhile, are two people who often verge on the ridiculous, whose personalities veer between well-meaning strivers and whimsical simpletons. I might be more attached to Andy and Erin if their own personalities were influencing this story, and that their reunion would have felt like something distinctive to this couple. Instead, it’s a generic romantic storyline surrounded by some uneven character-specific jokes, which isn’t sufficient to sell me on this relationship as a cornerstone of the series.
To be fair to “Get The Girl,” this is a table-setting episode. Nellie’s attempt to claim the job of manager is more about Andy’s return and the subsequent battle than about this single episode, and I liked the coda in which Nellie surveys her domain (with the way she’d changed Andy’s nameplate being particularly clever). I retain any judgment of where her arc goes from this point, and am not close to the point of writing off Tate given that I feel she could work well in this environment.
The problem, however, is that the other side of the episode shouldn’t have felt like table-setting, and yet it did. Rather than celebrating the culmination of months of buildup toward the moment when Erin would kiss Andy as his Prius blocks traffic, that moment felt like checking off a box, finally getting to the point where these two characters can move on to something more compelling.
- I loved that little moment where Erin speaks to her neighbor Alonso as she picks up the paper from the front lawn, and yet he drives away before she can continue the conversation. I love Ellie Kemper when she’s allowed to tap into the sadness in Erin, and the idea of even a small unrequited friendship (which is not outright antagonism so much as different expectations) breaks my heart. While the content didn’t land based on the lack of purpose surrounding it, Kemper did a fine job with Erin standing up for herself earlier in the episode.
- Not sure why the producers chose to use some absolutely terrible green screen for Erin’s talking head outside of the house, but it’s obnoxious. Had they lost that set, and yet wanted to add an additional talking head?
- One thing about the broader parts of the show remaining a disappointment is that the little moments stand out a bit more: Toby accidentally calling himself Tony is simple, and ultimately meaningless, but I got a kick out of it.
- Not to get too etymological, but why exactly was “Chumbo” a combination of Dumbo and Jumbo in addition to chubby? It feels like the former two terms offer the exact same contribution to the word’s construction, so I’m not sure what Jim was going on about. And yes, I think about these things. Yes, seriously.
- My apologies that this was a bit later than usual, but I had an engagement earlier this evening, and I presume that most of you had more pressing issues to discuss anyways?