The Office: "Training Day"
C+

The Office: "Training Day"

C+

The Office

"Training Day"

Season 7, Episode 19

I do not want this review to be about Will Ferrell.

Yes, he’s a big star. Yes, he and Steve Carell have worked together before. Yes, the cold open is basically a long string of improv-esque comedy from the two actors. However, once the show moved beyond that, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t feel like “Will Ferrell visits The Office.” Although that is how NBC sold the episode and that is certainly what I feared the episode would become, in truth, this episode is about more than just the arrival of Deangelo Vickers, and I want this review of “Training Day” to reflect that.

Of course, since this review is at least partly about Deangelo Vickers, I have to say that I find the character entirely uninteresting. The problem, I think, is that Deangelo Vickers does not feel like a human being. Everything we learn about him becomes an excuse for a particular plot point: He loves the southwest so we can get the image of Darryl dressed up as a cowboy, he’s “allergic” to peanut butter so Michael can turn into a complete jerk by offering everyone peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and he has four kids so that Jim and Pam can mistake him for a kindred spirit who wants to know everything about CeCe.

Every “guest” character on a show has obviously been created for a specific purpose, but nothing about Deangelo exists for any reason other than fuelling this particular string of jokes. It feels like a character designed by pulling random story ideas from a white board and creating a single character who could inspire them all. I didn’t think the results were wholly unsuccessful: Although it isn’t quite my favorite mode for the show, I thought Andy’s struggles to keep up his desire for pratfalls was a nice bit for Ed Helms, and the entire scene with Michael and Deangelo fighting over Erin’s phone greeting had a nice comic tension to it. It is no coincidence, however, that those were the two scenes that didn’t feel like they had been arbitrarily determined by inelegantly introduced character traits. Instead, they were determined by the simple awkwardness that a new boss can cause in an office environment.

I understand, on some level, why the people in the office learn very little about the character. “Training Day” wanted to show how employees work overtime to impress a new boss, and it’s funnier if they do so based on incredibly brief glimpses of his personality. The problem, at least for me, was that we never learned anything else about him. Where did he come from? What vision might he have for Dunder Mifflin/Sabre? There were a few talking heads featuring the character, but all we learned was that he’s a bit of a dick—that might be enough for Ferrell to deliver some of his most Ferrell-esque material, but it’s not enough for me to care about this character in any capacity. The only piece of information that felt extraneous (and thus welcome) was that he appreciates baseball as much as the opera, but that’s just really dull. While I know Ferrell is only here for a short time, that's no excuse for such a generic character; even a talking head from Gabe explaining why he was hired would have made a difference.

The larger challenge of “Training Day,” however, is that it actually wants to be about Michael Scott and his reaction to being replaced before he's even out the door. As Michael watches the entire office head into the conference room for a meeting he cannot attend; we see the impact this has on his state of mind, and the final shot of Michael walking back into his office alone and the two closed doors was quite effective. And if we combine that with a fairly subtle Dwight story in which he realizes that Michael did not even attempt to pass on the office to him, the episode actually seems pretty meaningful. This is Michael Scott realizing that the entire office has abandoned him the second a new boss has arrived, and Deangelo easily receives that which Michael has to fight tooth and nail for. Michael tells the story of the cold open and gets derisive commentary, suggesting it makes him sound stupid; Deangelo, meanwhile, gets infectious (and affected) laughter. There’s a sophisticated bit of character work in that idea, as Michael is forced to watch as his entire time at Dunder Mifflin is erased as soon as a replacement is brought in.

However, “Training Day” is not sophisticated enough to make this work. In order to create this sensibility, the show creates a far-fetched scenario in which the entire office completely ignores the fact that Michael is leaving and instead becomes entirely transfixed on impressing their new boss. Just a single episode after the entire office stands in shocked silence at the very idea of Michael leaving for Colorado, all they can think about is impressing the new boss for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Do they want a raise? Do they want a friend? Few of the supporting characters are given any sense of logic for why they might be acting in this fashion, and their aggressive fawning exists solely to drive a knife into Michael’s back. Can you blame Deangelo for snapping at Jim and Pam for talking about nothing but CeCe? While a character like Kelly has a clear agenda, since everything she does is calculated in order to gain maximum attention, normally rational characters (like Jim and Pam) and normally passive characters (like Darryl) are turned into blubbering idiots for the sake of mostly cheap humor. The results sometimes brought laughter (like Darryl in the cowboy outfit), but it was enormously shallow laughter. There were stories they could have told with these characters angling for something, but the episode never bothered to tell them.

Dwight is the one character who remains loyal to Michael, and as noted, I thought that was a nice bit of subtle work for a character that has had some balance issues as of late, but even he is doing so mostly out of spite (and he does abandon Michael when he learns the truth about why he wasn’t hired as Manager). In the end, every character on the show lost any sense of the emotional complexity that the conclusion of “Garage Sale” brought to the table, and there’s something about that that just felt off. I understand that this is a comedy and that Carell still has two episodes remaining for the emotional goodbyes to arrive, but for that content to disappear almost entirely made it feel like the show’s characters had skipped a grieving period. There’s no sense of awkwardness about imagining working at Dunder Mifflin without Michael or planning any sort of farewell: As soon as Deangelo Vickers steps in that door, they become puppets in a comedy plot.

“Training Day” doesn’t struggle because of Will Ferrell: I actually thought his performance was fairly nuanced compared to what I expected, and it wasn’t as distracting as I imagined it would be (I’ll gladly eat my words on that). Instead, it struggles with the simple task of contextualizing the plot of the episode beyond a simple comic logline. Deangelo lacks depth, the other characters lack motivation, and while I fully understand the psychological turmoil they want to inflict on Michael Scott, I think they lacked the proper setup to make that seem even the least bit natural.

Although perhaps that was an unrealistic expectation. In a situation where we know Carell is leaving in two weeks and in which we’ve known Will Ferrell was arriving for what seems like months, was this ever going to feel like an organic story development? If you had asked me this question a few months ago, I might have said no, but “Garage Sale” felt real: Even though the setup was not precisely elegant, telegraphed within an inch of its life, the end result of Michael moving to Colorado with Holly so she could take care of her parents was fittingly romantic.

“Training Day” is not funny or meaningful enough to justify its own machinations, ending up in this bizarre no man’s land where Ferrell was neither goofball nor straight man, where character actions were divorced from character motivations, and where Michael Scott’s exit was heavily featured yet ultimately disrespected.

And even if Michael’s sense of ostracization was the episode’s intended function, that doesn’t make up for the fact that the show turned into an incoherent mess to get there.

Stray observations:

  • If you go back to the comments on “The Seminar,” you’ll find my pessimism about Ferrell’s casting and a discussion about whether or not he would be playing a straight man. Turns out that those inclinations were sort of right:Ffor the most part, the episode uses the character as a straight man who slowly reveals his pretentions (his hopped up peanut allergy, his disinterest in CeCe, etc.). Like I said, I’ve come around to the idea of Ferrell being on the show, but the character just does nothing for me.
  • Deangelo Vickers is a silly, silly name. I know this because it sounds even more fictional than Myles McNutt.
  • I know that I seem really down on the episode, but there were a few moments that made me laugh: Darryl’s talking head going back over his “favorite regions” comment got a chuckle, and I actually really enjoyed the cold open. Before the other employees got involved, Deangelo seemed refreshingly normal, and I do enjoy Carell and Ferrell’s chemistry. I also felt the shaving scene was well staged, even if it never went anywhere outside of Erin’s enjoyable shaving technique.
  • We get it: Angela is obsessed with her State Senator boyfriend, and Oscar knows he’s gay and has to roll his eyes every time she talks about him. We didn’t need the exact same scene played out for what feels like the fifth time.
  • “I won’t… I don’t know her.”
  • “Colorado, the Sunshine state!”
  • “I don’t want to end up like Sonny Bobo.”
  • “Everyone I know who skis is dead.”
  • “Nope, it’s not Ashton Kutcher, it’s Kevin Malone: equally handsome, equally smart.”
  • “And that is what they call a meet cute.”
  • “Dunder Mifflin, this is… oh yeah, I like it!”
  • “What do African American people call…” — any idea where Andy was going with this?
  • "Now I'm going to have to go online and look at turtles or else I'm going to be off all day."
  • "What is the Native American girl's name?"