When Scrubs entered its eighth season, a season that creator Bill Lawrence expected to be its last, the show took a step back from its characters and took the length of the series’ run into account. Rather than continuing the same storylines from the previous season, Lawrence had the characters confront the fact that they were now well into their medical careers, no longer the young doctors they were when the series began. The characters’ retrospection was paired with a return to the basic storylines that defined the show early in its run, a return to form for a show that had fallen off the rails.
“Roy’s Wedding” is a continuation of last week’s focus on Jim and Pam’s relationship, something that The Office let fall into a holding pattern last season. Whereas their wedding or the birth of their first child were logical milestones for a relationship that was central to the series’ early seasons, the second child felt like an afterthought, and whatever qualities made their relationship so memorable had disappeared. Last week, though, Greg Daniels’ script reiterated that the fictional camera crew/audience surrogates are there to follow Jim and Pam as much as they’re interested in the office, and Jim’s decision to enter into a partnership with his friend behind Pam’s back is the first legitimate point of tension in some time (provided you don’t count the ridiculous flirtations of the magically disappearing Kathy, which I don’t).
In “Roy’s Wedding,” the series offers a meta-commentary not unlike that seen on Scrubs, as Jim and Pam realize that they have no excitement or surprise left in their lives. Pam fully expects Roy’s wedding to be a reflection of the man she once knew, and yet Roy now appreciates finer foods, owns a sizable home after opening a gravel company, and has learned to play piano to serenade his wife. Pam expected him to stay the same because she’s stayed the same, settled into a life with Jim that she loves even if it carries no surprises. Jim and Pam spend the rest of the episode testing their relationship, which is incredibly strong on one level—not all spouses would know or remember so much about one another—but lacks spark on another.
It’s the couple’s strongest storyline in a long time, and it’s also giving the show the kind of arc structure it lacked last season; heck, it’s even retroactively giving last season meaning, with Jim and Pam’s boring storylines now becoming a period within their larger arc (which was underserved, and often outright ignored, in season eight). No matter how cynical I might be about other parts of the show, I’m too invested in Jim and Pam as characters to not respond to this new characterization, one that asks big questions the show seemed too chicken to ask over the past few years. Greg Daniels may not be launching a direct critique of the seasons following his departure from playing an active role in the day-to-day running of his series, but he’s certainly utilizing the devolution of Jim and Pam’s relationship as a launching point for its return, working to call attention to the passage of time and how it would change someone like Roy and how it hasn’t seemed to change Jim and Pam in the same way. As a viewer who has always been more invested in the dramatic side of the show than others, Jim’s decision to keep his new job a secret and the introspective (for the characters) and retrospective (for the audience) qualities of the storyline are resulting in the strongest emotional connection I’ve felt with the show since Steve Carell’s departure.
That being said, though, the episode also built some nice humor around their revelations. Jim and Pam largely remain straight man and straight woman within the office dynamic, but there’s a nice collection of character moments like Toby creepily knowing details about Pam’s childhood crushes or Oscar choking on his coffee after Angela suggests the (State) Senator still has a sense of mystery. By allowing Jim and Pam to serve as the point of dramatic interest, the rest of the characters are loosened up to simply riff off of one another, a dynamic that felt bogged down by Andy’s ascension to the leadership position last season. This storyline was designed to evoke the show’s past, but it was also written in a way to allow those qualities to shine through despite the elapsed time, building on the strong foundational elements introduced for Jim and Pam in the premiere.
Of course, the reason Jim and Pam’s storyline worked so nicely is that the show’s two largest problems were isolated in other storylines with minimal interaction. Nellie is a character without purpose, left to flail about for reasons that remain entirely unclear. I like Catherine Tate in the role, and in all honesty, I liked parts of Nellie as a character last season, but her crusade to win people over with charity is aimless. That she eventually somehow works her way into a situation where Dwight is bound by Taliban law to chop off her hand is the kind of ludicrous storyline that people who didn’t watch the episode will believe I made up, and yet despite its political overtones it’s too slight to make any sort of impact. Despite Tate’s best efforts, as I thought her performance was rather subtle and charming compared to some of her past work on the show, there just wasn’t enough substance to give Nellie a sense of purpose or identity. Whereas Jim and Pam’s storyline is offering new meaning to previous failings, Nellie’s role in the ninth season seems like a leftover idea that the writers didn’t have the heart to get rid of. The result is harmless but lifeless comedy, a C-story that just puts two characters together and believes that to be sufficient plot development.
There is more evidence of the show trying to develop something of substance in the storyline surrounding Erin’s fake news audition for Clark, but it has to contend with the insufferable new version of Andy. I had my issues with Andy’s characterization last season, which was trying too hard to fit the character into the Michael Scott-sized hole in the series, but this version is just unappealing. I’m open to arguments this is more in line with the series’ cringe humor signature, but the character isn’t cringe-worthy so much as plain unlikeable. This has always been part of Andy’s character, but for his naïve optimism to so quickly bleed away in favor of selfish opportunism has proven to be a bad case of whiplash. The show still feels like it’s in search of a happy medium between the characters different personalities, and this particular version of Andy made it difficult to imagine a scenario where I will have any interest in the character by the end of the series.
Interestingly, the storyline has a different problem of sorts when it comes to newcomers Clark and Pete. When the two actors were hired to join the cast, it was before this was definitely going to be the show’s final season, and in the wake of discussion surrounding the show rebooting itself. Here, Clark and Pete are given a fairly prominent role in the B-story, and it made me wonder what precisely we’re supposed to take from these characters. We don’t have time to get to know them in only a single season, and given the show’s interest in wrapping up the series’ larger story arcs it seems weird that the writers would be simultaneously establishing two new secondary characters.
I raise this point not because I dislike Pete and Clark, but rather because I actually sort of enjoy them, and wonder how the show is going to manage their tenuous position as it relates to the series’ narrative. Clark Duke continues his streak of characters that turn out to be creepy sexual predators, and Jake Lacey is likeable playing the second string Jim, but it feels weird for one part of the show to be invested in exploring characters’ lives when another part of the show is deploying newly introduced characters to play out the kind of stock sitcom fare the show has done a dozen times over.
“Roy’s Wedding” asks some big questions of Jim and Pam, but its interest in big answers doesn’t extend beyond their relationship. The choice to re-center the show around them makes a lot of sense, but it means that Andy’s turned into a dick to terrorize secondary storylines and Nellie’s just floating around wherever she likes until the show knows what to do with her. The show didn’t need to do much to hook me back into Jim and Pam’s future, as no degree of critical frustration could entirely break down my connection with their relationship, but it needs to do more in order to translate that newfound focus into a working foundation for the remainder of the season. The promise evident in the premiere remains intact, but the inherited roughness around the edges that kept said premiere from cohering remains something the show has to work on moving forward.
It is, of course, moving forward without me, at least in a critical capacity (and you can skip to the stray observations if you’d like to avoid a few parting thoughts). Although Erik way away this week, necessitating my return, this is no longer my beat. And as much as I was willing to see it through to the end (a sacrifice I’ve made before), I was glad when Erik chose to take over the show for its final season, and watching and reviewing this episode solidified that for me. As Jim and Pam’s storyline in the episode reflects, there comes a point in any relationship where things stop being surprising, and where the excitement is gone.
Although I remain invested in the show on some level, there are other areas where my mind can’t help but dwell on potential metaphorical self-commentary in the cold open. And while I’d be glad to explain that metaphor in which the show itself devolved from a specific workplace sitcom—the chores—into a collection of zany activities—the prizes—designed for cheap gags, I don’t think you necessarily want to read it, nor do I even really want to write it. While criticism is meant to engage with the series itself, it’s also meant to outline the critic’s relationship with that series, and after 48 reviews I imagine that my relationship with the show was pretty clear (for better or for worse) without another tortured metaphor.
However, while I may have been happy to move on, I appreciate the opportunity to offer one final thought about the series. Five years ago, we could have never imagined that The Office would be this divisive, or this low-rated. Like any show that lasts for nine seasons, its run has been uneven and draining, and the ratings would suggest that plenty of people who were fans of the show during its heyday have abandoned it.
And yet despite being marked as one of those critics who refuses to give the show a chance, I have every intention of seeing this through to the end. I’ll watch every episode, and not simply out of morbid curiosity (although some healthy curiosity is certainly a factor). No matter how much frustration or disappointment the show has offered over the past few seasons, it remains a formative piece of my engagement with television in the past decade. I still remember watching the first season-and-a-half in a marathon in my dorm room after turning on my television at 1 a.m. and stumbling across a static-addled over-the-air broadcast of “Office Olympics,” and I could list off a whole collection of memories since then. The idea of cutting off those memories before they’re over, regardless of how this season turns out, seems impossible to me.
No matter how much cynicism might flow through my veins, I have every hope that this season rewards my—and your—continued viewership and Erik’s decision to take on these final episodes.
- I was initially going to make a McNutt-style nitpick regarding the professionalism of the spinning chore wheel, but then I realized it was partly created using a repurposed Sharpie. Well played, production staff. I shouldn’t have been skeptical, though, as I have a deep and abiding love for spin-the-wheel games, having been a self-proclaimed savant at a young age. It even won me a Pavel Bure poster once.
- I appreciated that only the people who would logically know Roy—Phyllis through Bob Vance, Darryl through the warehouse—were at his wedding. I also appreciated the reminder that Val is a person who exists.
- Maybe it’s just me, but I’m pretty sure that someone who uses a silly font clearly has a plan.
- Andy on his involvement in Nellie’s charity project: “I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it for the preservation of nautical flag signaling.”
- Darryl on the logic behind his new role as Andy’s consigliere: “I’m into The Godfather because I’m a cinephile. I’m into Scarface because I’m black.”
- An earnest “Thank You” to everyone who has read or commented on my review of the show over the past two years. It’s been incredibly rewarding and enjoyable to go head-to-head about a show that people connect with personally and have strong opinions about, and I’ll admit that I’ll likely be dropping in and out of the comments as the season goes on. However, I do so not as a critic but as a viewer, so do feel free to insult my person as you would any other commenter with whom you strongly disagree. It’s only fair.