I’d like to start off by saying how honored I am to review the antepenultimate episode of The Office. I’ve never gotten to write critically about the show before, and while it has certainly been more creatively assured prior to this season, I can think of no more an exciting time to talk about The Office than as it’s winding down its last few installments. That said, I do wish I had gotten a better episode than “Livin’ The Dream” for my first and last foray into writing about this show.
What makes this especially disappointing for me is that I’ve been following Erik’s reviews all season, and while I’ve often agreed with his arguments about the season’s wobbliness, I gather that my general opinion of the ninth season is more positive than his. For example, I’ll raise my hand as a proud member of the apparent minority that loved the crew reveal at the end of “Customer Loyalty,” even though I didn’t love the way the Brian plot encroached on the story in such an abrupt and jarring way in subsequent episodes. I adored Bob Odenkirk’s Michael Scott facsimile in “Moving On.” I laughed, despite myself, at Bald Meredith circa “Lice.”
Under Greg Daniels’ restored leadership, The Office has been ballsy, if not always satisfying, and it is far funnier and more consistent than the best-forgotten eighth season, with its Robert California weirdness and its refusal to select which part of its ensemble’s well-oiled machine was the engine. Unfortunately, not much of what I’ve enjoyed about the final season of The Office was on display in “Livin’ The Dream,” which strained to fill an hour with its misshapen story, and was far too light on laughs to justify its existence beyond its strides to set up the end game.
I can’t help but wonder if I’d have the same impression of “Livin’ The Dream” if I hadn’t read that it was originally planned as a half-hour installment, then padded out to fill an hour, but I suspect I would. The Office has always been hit-or-miss with one-hour episodes; for every “Goodbye, Toby” there’s a “Dunder Mifflin Infinity.” But this episode might be the nadir for the show’s hour-long installments, simply because there’s so little spread across its doubled real estate.
The episode’s plot, if that’s the appropriate term, zooms in on Andy as he waffles on whether to keep a job at Dunder Mifflin or pursue his dream of stardom as an actor, while Jim and Pam bask in their restored season-four-era bliss, and Dwight finally ascends to DM-Scranton’s top spot. The Andy plot is perhaps weakest of the three, which is a shame, because a huge chunk of the hour was devoted to it.
Truthfully, I liked the idea behind the execution of Andy’s story, though I spent the episode wishing I was laughing more often. Specifically, I enjoyed the volume and variety of talking-head punchlines as everyone took turns puncturing Andy’s pomposity. Unfortunately, the thematic link between the confessionals curdled into homogeneity. Every character made the same joke—Andy is an idiot for quitting his job—and while the die-hard fan in me enjoyed seeing that single joke filtered through each of the characters I’ve come to love, I didn’t find that much of it funny.
Plus, the aspect of this season I’ve liked least is the bizarre direction of Andy’s character, who went from being a lovably deluded mess who became more grating the more he tried to ingratiate, to a callous, sadistic, self-absorbed asshole who, as Erik shrewdly pointed out, essentially became the season’s antagonist. Simply put, I don’t like Andy anymore, which means a substantial chunk of “Livin’ The Dream” required me to invest in the well-being of the veteran character who I’m rooting for least. Part of me hoped Andy would find the conviction to follow his dream, if only because I recall liking the show more during Andy’s nautical sojourn and thought it might be nice if he disappeared again. All that said, I got a chuckle from the occasional Andy-centric joke here, as when he explained to David Wallace the effect his preoccupation with Dunder Mifflin had on his headshot: “I came across as manic, when I was going for zany.”
I have to admit, while I’m less of a Jim and Pam ‘shipper than most Office faithfuls, it was nice to see the Halperts back in the zone after so many weeks of strife. The biggest issue with that relationship, from a narrative perspective, has always been its consistency, which I thought the season premiere wisely flicked at when Pam mentioned to the camera crew that she and Jim were boring, and there wasn’t much point in following them around anymore. The Jim and Pam story has been consistently strong this season, and that has lent the show an emotional credibility it hasn’t had since before Paul Lieberstein took the reins. But there wasn’t much happening other than the Halperts enjoying their reconciliation, and Pam overhearing Dwight’s conversation with Darryl about a travel-heavy season to shore up plans to sell Athlead. (Which… like… to whom? For what purpose? I don’t understand this company, but I won’t tug at that thread.)
But as nice as it was to see a reunited Jim and Pam, the true fan service came in Dwight’s story, which found him being appointed branch manager after years of angling for the position. The scene in which David Wallace offers Dwight the position—“Will you be the new manager?” “Where?”—was just right, including Dwight’s Tebow and his pre-made business card, in case Michael or Andy died tragically and there was a trade-show emergency. Better still were the sweet moments between Dwight, Jim, and Pam as the three of them began transparently behaving like loved ones, after a season full of changes that forced them to appreciate the relationships they had been taking for granted. It might have leaned too far toward treacle, particularly Dwight’s seemingly genuine acceptance of Jim as manager, but it’s hard to argue that a moment like that hasn’t been earned by this point.
I do have something kind to say about “Livin’ The Dream,” though, which is that while I didn’t much care for it as an episode of what was once television’s best half-hour, I also never felt like a resentful bitter-ender. Come to think of it, I’ve never felt that way about this show, even at the base of season eight’s creative troughs. I shudder to think what a 10th season of this show would look like, but I’m not at the point of wishing the thing would be over already. That’s a testament to how much goodwill The Office was able to build in its heyday, and it’s refreshing to feel appreciative of a once-great show past its prime, rather than feeling unable to remember the good times. Hopefully, the final two episodes (both an hour long) improve on “Livin’ The Dream,” but by this point, sewing up the story in an inoffensive manner might be all the fans require.
- No cold open. I’m not even sure where to start with that. I recall it being done before, but with so few episodes left, it was a downer.
- So Angela… I didn’t talk about the Angela story because I didn’t want to go into too much detail. But her life sucks now that she’s left the (state) senator: Her cats were seized, she got evicted from her apartment and is apparently a double-digit bank transfer away from indigence. I’d love for Dwight and Angela to end up together, but I wish the writers had chosen a path that didn’t involve Angela being reduced to nothing first.
- That said, an uptight gay Mexican sharing an apartment with the differently uptight schoolmarm whose ex-husband is his former lover? Um…the words “Office spin-off” usually make me break out, but THAT IS A SHOW I WOULD WATCH.
- Andy, on his post-Dunder Mifflin financial safety net: “I just applied for more overdraft protection.”
- And, on the celebrity blog Andy’s reading: “Gaga Wins MacArthur.” It’s about damn time.
- Again, I loved the variety we got with the talking heads, which was a nice touch considering how little time we have left with these characters. Stanley and Phyllis’ disagreement on the merits of Lil’ Romeo was my biggest laugh of the night.
- I know it’s been said and said again, but I must echo it myself: Ellie Kemper is really to be applauded for the stealthy way she became one of the show’s power players. Even when she doesn’t get a lot to work with, you remember all of it. Erin’s reaction to Jim and Pam’s double-date deferral was pretty amazing.
- Kevin on Andy’s dream: “Nobody is going to hire you ever. You’re too character-y to be a lead, and you’re not fat enough to be a great character actor.” That might be the last Kevin line that’s so smart it makes me question the very idea of the character. Sniffle.
- Michael Imperioli. Discuss.