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Sunday, 7 of March of 2021

The Office – “Nepotism”

“That’s why they call me the Bart Simpson of Scranton.”

Dwight gets a little out of hand during the "Nepotism" cold open.

Do it, Dwight. Do it.

Jerry Seinfeld gave an interview to Time where he mentioned a few episodes he wished he’d done before the end, including an all-Claymation episode and an episode featuring all the secondary characters with the main character story happening in the background. It appears to me that The Office, hearing the death knell with the exit of Steve Carrel (even if BJ Novak just got a 2-year extension), is ready to go full-steam ahead on a train already barreling out of control from its roots, no regrets in the caboose. The cold open to season 7 is a lip-synched, fourth-wall-breaking (although the genre lends to fourth-wall-breaking anyway) sequence with all the people from Scranton branch involved in a choreographed single-take through the office.

Obviously, this is one of the largest demonstrations of how the US series has defined itself from the UK series, straying way far away from social commentary on work environments to celebrating its own quirky characters. I was almost excited about there being a ground-breaking moment when Andy addresses the camera crew (one that has typically stayed uninvolved with its subjects, save for ratting out Dwight and Angela to Pam in “Email Surveillance”) but then I realized that he says “Toby” not “Tony.” Otherwise, the opening feels out of place for the characters. As a long-time watcher of the The Office, the sequence warmed my heart but this felt like an act by the cast, not the people of the Scranton branch. Except for Dwight. But maybe Rainn Wilson is that awkward and extreme in person.

The episode overall was mediocre, making it better than most of last season. The A-plot of Michael hiring his inept nephew to work at the branch was pretty plain and resulted in Michael doing something completely out of character (spanking the kid). Do you think he would strike a person, let alone a young man he thinks of as a child? It doesn’t add up.

Now, you might be thinking that character motivation in a sit-com like The Office shouldn’t really be an important factor to think about. The characters are going to do nutty things; that’s just genre expectation. But those nutty things are supposed to come out of flaws within that character. Things that happen to Doug Heffernan on King of Queens result from his sense of masculine entitlement, desperate attempts to keep a stasis within his marriage, and/or being a “Fat Sajak.” George Costanza ruins relationships with his never ending quest to strike a balance between himself and the girl that will have him. Michael Scott is afraid of confrontation, especially a physical altercation. I understand he is willing to do aggressive things when overly-stressed or after dragging something out for a long time (think back to when Jo was keeping everyone late last season) but to bend the kid over and spank him repeatedly (not just once) is bizarre not just for comedic effect but bizarre for him as a character. Strikingly unnatural, like they’re willing to crowbar any situation in here now, no matter if the character would do it or not.

Things I like: Jim pulling pranks on Dwight again and Pam accidentally thwarting him. I say all the time that this show has redefined the problem of solving a major story arc and never quite finding anything to fill the hole. “Jim and Pam Syndrome” should go down somewhere as something to look out for in future television criticism. While I don’t think The Office will ever quite fill the vacuum that reconciled story left, I do like some of these little interactions when they actually cause a problem. When Jim bought his parents house and Pam loved the idea, there was no drama there. Pam solving a tiff between them is sweet and opened up the door for Dwight to vamp a bit. Also: Dwight Schrute is still the best character on the show. By light years.

Thing to look out for: Gabe dating Erin to Andy’s chagrin is riding dangerously close to a Jump the Shark moment. Last season, I discussed how Andy and Erin’s involvement felt like a desperate attempt to recapture what was lost between Jim and Pam (awkward non-dating) but never approached Jump the Shark status. Jump the Shark is a very specific thing in my eyes. It’s not only when a show goes downhill but it’s when they rehash and old storyline that worked in order to maintain, like Fonzi jumping the sharks mirrors Fonzi jumping the cars. If Gabe and Erin’s relationship goes further (engagement) and Andy is left waiting for his shot, that’ll be it.

I really think this is the beginning of the end for The Office. It has to be, right? They will replace Steve Carrel this season and chemistry on a program, especially this late in the game, is hard to maintain. God help us if we accept whatever transplant comes in to fill Michael Scott’s shoes. If it’s anyone but David Brent I’m not sure where the show is going to go. The show started as a clever program with quirky characters. Now it’s a broad comedy with ridiculously quirky characters. If this were a multi-camera sit-com, it would be When the Whistle Blows. How meta is that?

PS: I wrote less on this than I did on Life Unexpected. The nuance here is gone.

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