by Za’chary Westbrook
You had me at Ricky Gervais. And then you focused on Andy. Honestly, I’ll take a Ryan-centric episode over an Andy-centric episode. When Andy was introduced as the surrogate Dwight, I loved him. However, when the branches were merged, there was just a bit too much crazy between him and Dwight, so Andy became the soppy goofus we know today, his delusions of awesome barely existent.
That said, he is a horrible salesman and now he’s hosting a small business seminar. He’s lined up the other sales staff to present and then he plans to close the deals. However, upon actually meeting the people in the seminar, everyone bails. Andy scrambles to get new speakers and ends up with Creed, Kevin and Kelly’s phone. This is a classic Office set-up; something potentially great suddenly derails and the worst possible people for the job jump in and make it horribly awkward.
And yet, no. Kevin’s motivational speech, where he plays ‘Crazy Train’ and runs around the conference room is very promising and his gasping speech about dreams is an awesome set-up. Unfortunately, it never gets worse. Creed is non-sequitur and weird without going into creepy or scary and Kelly’s self-aggrandizing speech which leads up to her phoning one of her adjunct professors is meant to be anti-climactic but achieves that just wrong.
Andy puts the seminar on break and Dwight finds out that some of the people in the seminar have actual businesses going. So, he and the other salesmen, sans Jim, want back in. Of course, Darryl, being black and therefore all-knowing, talks Andy out of accepting their help. He then delivers a weak closer, Michael tells him to amp it up and… nope. His end speech is just as weak, but a little longer and still not awkward or weird.
With the up-coming departure of Steve Carell, it’s clear that the writers are trying to build up the minor characters in preparation, which is smart. Unfortunately, your minor characters are minor for a reason. Is Ed Helms funny? Sure. But he doesn’t have the strength to carry a story (see: any movie he’s been in). As a goofy side-kick, he’s brilliant, especially when he’s nothing but unwarrantedly cocky. However, as a self-doubting underdog who does manage to get three sales, the character is a flop. Hopefully, the writers will have learned their lesson here and won’t put us through more antic-less Andy (seriously, nothing in this episode could be called antics).
As for the sub-plots, the Scrabble game for movie selection was awesome. Erin, whose indomitable sweetness overlays violent emotional damage, is the kind of character this show is awesome for. (Andy was awesome when he was name dropping Cornell every other episode, New Andy is just bland.) Gabe, too, whose uselessness and bizarre interests make him perfect for the show’s dynamic, is a ray of awkward, uncomfortable sunshine every time you look at him. So, their Scrabble game to decide between extreme horror movie and Wall-e had real comic meat.
Asking for help from Pam drags office-genius Oscar into the game and suddenly Erin is winning until the very last move. Wa-wa-waaaa. That’s an Office plot! Not, Andy makes a seminar, but everyone bails, but it still kind of works. Is it formulaic, yup. Does that make it not funny? Nope. Episodes where Michael’s crashes a good idea and makes it awful, yet it still kind of works, were funny because they were so gruesomely horrible. Andy’s seminar, like New Andy, fails to achieve a crescendo or horror. So, when it ends well, there’s no juxtapose, no contrast and it’s just blah. Like Andy.
The Jim sub-plot, too, could’ve been hysterical. Shining the light of reality on Jim’s relative awesomeness is brilliantly awkward. At Dunder-Mifflin, Jim’s the sane and reasonable one, yet he’s still a big ball of disappointment in the big world. Yet, all we get is a handful of scenes which might have been added to get the episode up to twenty minutes. The same goes for Michael’s quest to get back in with Holly, which could’ve been great, but went by too fast to be funny.
Then, there’s the suggestion that Erin and Andy might be getting back together. Which is horrible because that would make Andy happy and the only times I want to see Andy are times when he’s in pain. Oh well, here’s hoping the writers have figured this out, too.