The Office: Season 8, Episode 2
The Incentive
Michael Richardson
Last week I suggested that the Office has just become nothing more than comfort food, slipping slowly into mediocre plot lines and broad humor that every fan could enjoy, if not look forward to. If you showed your stodgy aunt an early episode of the Office, its dark sensibility would have been too tall a hurdle for the average viewer. I don't think anybody would have predicted its massive mainstream success back then, but those people couldn't foresee what it had eventually turned into. It hasn't gotten slightly broader - hell, you could say that about the very best comedies. It has broadened to such massive proportions that the story doesn't even matter. Look at Kevin in the intro vignette. In the beginning of the show he was a little slow. Now he's actually mentally handicapped. Something went horribly wrong, and this is emblematic of that problem.

The plot this week - in order to impress the new boss, Andy tries to incentivize his employees to double their sales. The problem, of course, is that Andy is not particularly inspiring. Ed Helms has made a modest career out of paying the oblivious, emasculated man and Andy is the distillation of that character. He devises a plan with a point system, where sales turn into points and those can be redeemed for stuffed animals or a vibrator. Those prizes don't go over very well, so Andy jokingly offers up to get a tattoo on his ass of whatever the office wants. A mad frenzy of sales occurs, and by the end of the episode they're in the tattoo parlor. All this is for a lesson that the whole office really loves Andy, and instead of making him get a horrible tattoo, they make him get an adorable tattoo. If that makes you sleep better, people, fine by me.

The logic of the show is still all messed up. The office is not fond of Andy, thinking him a bit of an idiot except for the times he is absolutely beloved. This must be a hold over from the Michael Scott years, particularly the latter seasons where people's affection for Michael seemingly depended on a coin toss. The office wants to demean Andy by forcing him to get a tattoo, but they enjoy it when he takes his pants off at the parlor (let's ignore the sexual harassment aspect). Jim is a huge asshole in this episode, essentially forcing Andy to get a tattoo, organizing the whole thing. Seriously, that's not a prank, that's body mutilation. I do not expect everything to be justified in a wacky comedy, but alongside Kevin's terrible mental deficiencies these sorts of inconsistencies just make the show seem lazy.

It's become clear to me that, even after all of the guessing and the speculation, Andy was always the obvious choice for the manager position. The reason is that the same stories that worked for Michael Scott will also work for Andy. Their naivety is the same; their inability to relate is the same; their need to be loved is the same. The minor differences are key, and good writers could take advantage of them. Maybe they could actually write a satisfying plotline, encompassing Andy's shaky start into a glorious example of middle-manager expertise. I'm slightly optimistic that they can change the basic plotlines enough to fit a new character, but it seems to me that this method is here to stay - plug in the Nard-Dog for Scott, and call it a day. Expect a season of retreads, slow plots and a whole lot of earnestness, people, because I'm sure that's what we're guessing.

Grade: C-



"Yeah, C-Span. Cocker Spaniel. Spaniel because of your Spanish heritage and cocker because, er"¦"

"John Irving, complete works, 25 points."

Nice touch: the classic fund raising thermometer is shaped like a pair of legs and a buttocks.

I also enjoyed the list of tattoos Pam prepared.

"Invest in softer cotton, sir."
Tags: The Office
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