There were moments in this final season of The Office where it felt like the show was back on familiar ground. Unfortunately, all of them seemed to come when Ed Helms was off filming Hangover 3: Time to Hang It Up, or whatever they’ve decided to call it. I understand that they wanted to cash in on Ed Helms’ newfound star power from the Hangover movies but the roads they took his character down continue to baffle me. Ever since Andy took the reins from Michael Scott he’s been on a downward spiral from a likable character to an insufferable jerk. Michael Scott did some horrible things (Scott’s Tots anyone?) but, for the most part, they came from a good place. He saw his coworkers as family and he wanted to entertain them. He used inappropriate and terribly offensive jokes to accomplish this but at least he never did it with malice. With Andy Bernard though, it’s almost as if they want us to actively despise him. He has treated Erin terribly, was insulting and rude to Nellie, and he forced the entire office to cover for his 3 month booze cruise around the world. None of this was funny. I don’t even think it was supposed to be. When he returned, the entire office turned against him as he blindly antagonized everyone. It was almost as if the writing staff was winking at the audience and saying, “Yeah, we know he ruins everything.”
It’s a shame. The show is telling some genuinely interesting stories this season that shined while Andy was away. In particular, the struggles of the Halpert marriage have felt genuine and authentic while inserting some desperately needed conflict into the once perfect marriage. Every relationship experiences rocky patches and these two should be no exception. Unfortunately, they also decided to throw a forlorn boom mic operator into the equation which feels forced and unnecessary. Pam’s breakdown at her desk after a huge blowup with Jim was a very real moment that almost anyone who’s been in a relationship can identify with. Then, we’re thrown out of the moment to introduce a new character we’ve never seen and have no reason to care about. Many of the other storylines this season have failed to click, which mattered less when the show was generating laughs, but become glaring problems when an episode can barely register a chuckle. I was never invested in the Angela/Oscar/Senator love triangle, NBC passed on Dwight’s spinoff Beet Farm show so I assume they’ll kill off that storyline quickly, and the rest of the cast has begun to fade into the background. Erin moving from Andy to Pete has great potential but I’m terrified they’ll wind up bailing at the last minute with a “very special Andy and Erin reconciliation episode” that will feel unearned.
I will admit, I’m intrigued where they’ll decide to go as the show winds down. It could turn into an Andrew Bernard redemption story; though I think he would have to save 70 puppies from a burning building for me to ever root for him again. Jim and Pam may continue to drift apart as he spends his days in Philly while she raises two kids alone which, Boom Mic Brian aside, has the potential to carry the show to the end with interesting, relatable stories. But all the laughs the show was generating while Andy was on his spiritual quest have been sucked away by his return and replaced with cringe inducing, mean spirited “jokes” that have left me quizzically staring at the screen. I’m really hoping the show can hit its stride one last time before the end. They’ve already proven this season that they’re capable of it. Any show that’s managed to stick around as long as the The Office is bound to falter once in a while. Here’s hoping they can stick the landing.
The Office returns Thursday March 14 at 9:00pm