The Andrew Review: The Office – Nepotism (s7e01)

Dwight's new duties as owner of the office building require him to rock a camel pack for hydration in the season premiere.

Season Six of The Office was, at best, hit or miss. At times the show felt schizophrenic, with stories being picked up or dropped seemingly at random. What exactly was the point of the co-managers story arc? It was unceremoniously abandoned before it had even made it off the ground. Similarly, Michael dating Pam’s mother could have been an interesting storyline, but it went from zero to sixty and back to zero in such rapid succession that the audience never really had the chance to take anything away from the characters’ interactions. To the same end, Dwight and Angela’s “love contract” had potential, but it went off the rails so rapidly and was so completely ignored and revisited at random intervals that it left us simply scratching our heads, wondering what was happening.

Additionally, we have played the “Scranton may be closing” game on the show several times in prior seasons, and the sudden presence of “Sabre” did not do much to spice things up. I love Kathy Bates, but her character just feels out of place on this show, and Gabe was little more than window dressing. Season Six was almost wholly unable to maintain any sort of momentum. Storylines were starting, stopping, and disappearing altogether at such a rapid pace for seemingly no rhyme or reason, and it kept the show from establishing any sort of rhythm. The biggest fault I have with Season Six of The Office is a lack of any sort of consistency or continuity for the season as a whole.

However, that’s not to say that there were not a number of bright spots in Season 6. Three in particular stand out. First and foremost among them is Ed Helms’ portrayal of Andy Bernard. I have to admit, I found the Andy Bernard character kind of annoying when he was first introduced, but Helms has more than earned his new featured player status with his work during Season 6. From questioning his own sexuality in “Gossip” to his hilarious take on pretending to be Pam’s husband to help get sales in “Koi Pond” to his Detective Bernard routine during “The Cover-Up,” he consistently brought the goods this past year. Andy Bernard is a character who would have been too cartoonish to ever work in the British version of the show or in earlier seasons of the American version, but he has been able to strike just the right tone these past few years and he has been an overwhelming asset to the cast.

In that same vein, the second biggest bright spot this season was the developing romance between Andy and Erin. It was decidedly easier to create a the type of romance between Jim and Pam that the audience would accept and sympathize with. Not only was the show essentially built around that relationship, but the two of them had a nice “we’re the only normal people in the office” role in the show that made the pair and their situation relatable. Andy and Erin were posed much more of a challenge. Not only are they two characters who were not around at the beginning of the series, giving us less time to grow attached to them, but they’re both much wackier and more offbeat personalities than Jim and Pam. Nevertheless, though it was dragged out at times, their courtship and dating was one of the cutest and most enjoyable parts of the last season. Andy’s craziness complimented Erin’s own weirdness and vice versa. Moreover, Andy’s “You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met” line followed by their first kiss at the end of “New Leads” ranks up there as one of the nicest moments in the show’s history.

The third bright spot is that, despite the lack of overall focus, Season 6 featured some of the best individual episodes we’ve seen in a while. “Mafia” was just wall-to-wall laughs. Oscar’s attempt at a southern accent stands out in particular, but there were so many great ridiculous moments in the episode. Moreover, in between all the comedy bits, the episode set up and resolved a nice conflict between Michael and Jim, and showed that their two differing management styles might work better together than anticipated. Also, “Secret Santa” ranks up there with all the other great Office Christmas episodes. Jim saying, “You can’t yell out ‘I need this, I need this’ as you pin down an employee on your lap” may have been the funniest line of the whole season. The dueling Santas were a treat, and Michael’s petulance was just childish enough to be entertaining without veering into annoying. There were so many threads running throughout that episode, but they were all tied up nicely, and the writers did not skimp on the comedy.

Last, but certainly not least, “Niagara” a.k.a. the one where Pam and Jim got married, was an absolute gem. I firmly believe that in the future, the fans will look back at this episode and say, “the series may as well have ended here.” Certainly, The Office has evolved into much more of an ensemble show than its British counterpart, and the series would not be as amusing or entertaining without Michael, Dwight, Angela, Andy, and the others. Nevertheless, at its core, this show has always been about Jim and Pam, and this episode was the culmination of five and a half years of developing these characters and their relationship. It was a tall order to live up to for the writers and cast, but they delivered in spades. There were little callbacks and fun moments that truly made the episode. Above all else, the story leading up to and including their marriage felt genuine to the kind of rapport these two people have shown over the past six seasons, and that alone makes it worthy of qualifying as a satisfying conclusion, or at least a momentary happy ending, for the saga of Jim and Pam.

Note: the rest of this review contains spoilers.

Season 6 did not end with much of a cliffhanger or dramatic reveal as has happened in seasons past. There were really only three quick stories from the end of last season that were poised to impact have an impact on Season 7. The first is the prospect of Michael’s former girlfriend Holly returning to Scranton. The second is Dwight now owning the building at Scranton Business Park. The third is the news that this will be Steve Carell’s last season on the show, adding intrigue as to how the writers will attempt to resolve Michael Scott’s long character arc in the ensuing twenty-two episodes.

Given that there were not a lot of loose threads leftover from Season 6, we more or less jumped right into a quality, standalone episode without a lot of baggage to unpack. The main plot involved Michael having hired his nephew, Luke, to be an assistant around the office. Unsurprisingly given who’s on his family true, Luke was not very good at his job. As a result the rest of the employees at the office came to despise him. I enjoyed this plot, as it tied into Michael’s overwhelming need to have some kind of family, and it led to some great comedic situations. I also love that it involved Oscar, yet again, having to be the voice of reason to Michael’s insanity. Oscar and Michael have a great back and forth dynamic that the show has really picked up in the last couple of years.

“He calls me the Nard-man. It’s the Nard-dog. The Nard-man is my father.”

I also enjoyed the subplot with Pam messing up one of Jim’s pranks on Dwight and attempting to make it up to him. Pam’s down-to-earth dorkiness is one of the character’s most endearing qualities and her “Dwight is about to get so Pam’d!” and “That’s why they call me the Bart Simpson of Scranton” lines fell squarely into that category. The fact that her elevator prank backfired and ended up with her getting stuck with Dwight was a great turn of events. The “use your talons” line was a personal favorite, and Dwight’s logic for peeing in the corner was also a hoot.

“Do you think they should have had open auditions for the band Hanson? What if no one named Hanson showed up?”

I would be remiss if I did not mention the cold open. The lip dub was another one of those ridiculous moments that would have felt grossly out of place in one of the earlier seasons, but you know what? It was all kinds of fun, all kinds of entertaining, and above all else it made me laugh. Time to invoke the rule of funny. I’ll let it slide.

“This is like the Blair witch hunt project.”

However, the best part of this episode was the fact that it had great gag after great gag. The extensive bit with the “don’t don’t bother Luke” was a perfect laugh out loud moment. Andy’s talking head about the anger management visualization proved why he’s been such a great addition to the main cast, and Daryl’s death stare for Luke did much the same. There are really too many funny little moments to list, but I’ll try to point out a few: Michael confusing the remedy for stepping on glass with the remedy for a jellyfish sting. Creed’s anti-Betty White, pro-Twitter agenda. Michael confusing capital and corporal punishment. Jim’s raccoon hunting supplies. The list goes on. I also loved the little details like the fact that Michael organizes the timeline of his life based on when movies came out, or Ryan looking around nervously when Michael says, “why don’t I just fire everyone who’s bad?”

In terms of new developments for this season, some seem really promising and some made me scratch my head. With regard to the latter, the kiss between Erin and Gabe was kind of shock. Are they really going to do the Jim-Pam-Roy thing with Andy, Erin, and Gabe? The characterization is different, but it still seems like ground that’s been a bit too well trodden for this show already. That said, Kelly’s newfound “intelligence” and confidence from her training program is great. “That is actually a zoning issue” was another moment where I absolutely cracked up. I really look forward to seeing where the writers (including Mindy Kaling who both writes for the show and portrays Kelly) go with that bit. Finally, the promise of six sessions of counseling between Toby and Michael has all the makings of comedy gold. The amount of time it took Michael to consider whether to go forward with the counseling or give up on his job was the icing on the cake.

Overall I really liked this episode, and I consider it an excellent way to kick off the new season. If this is the level of quality they’ll be giving us week-to-week in Season Seven, we’ll be in for quite a treat. Here’s hoping they can keep this momentum rolling throughout Steve Carell’s last year on the show.

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