"The Office" Season 8 Premiere Recap: New Boss!
The long-awaited season premiere of "The Office" came and went on Thursday night, and it was an action-packed episode with plenty of reveals.
But with Michael Scott (Steve Carell) gone, did the show's eighth season premiere live up to the legacy that Carell left behind last May, or did it reaffirm a common belief that The Office may be on its last breaths?
The big reveal of the show, Michael Scott's replacement, was made without wasting any time. As it turns out, Robert California (James Spader) got the job from Jo's (Kathy Bates) search committee, but took one look around the office, drove down to Florida, and convinced Jo to give him her job (Bates currently stars on her own NBC show, "Harry's Law"). The regional manager's job was once again vacant, and the decision was California's to make, so he chose none other than Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) to take the spot.
As a long-time fan of The Office, the moment the reveal was made was both heartwarming and elating. Helms' character is the lovable loser who may actually be dumber than Michael Scott, if that's possible, but at the same time more educated and better suited to handle social situations. With Spader remaining as an authority figure, putting Andy in the spot allows the show to keep him as "one of the gang" while elevating him to a new level. The first episode alone dealt heavily with both Andy's potential incompetence, as well as his struggles with his new position, but also managed to redeem him by the end of it all by asserting himself to California and showing his co-workers that he can handle his job.
In the episode, the gang has to deal with a list of Robert's that separates into two columns. After much debate about what the list means, Robert invites the left side to lunch, and declares them the "winners" of the office, with the rest -- including the new boss, Andy, as well as the new pregnant (again) Pam -- as the "losers". Andy confronts Robert about this, who declares that the list is simply his first impressions of his subordinates, and that impressions change. He challenges the winners to prove him right, and the losers to prove him wrong. Andy sees an opportunity and challenges Robert to reconsider his list, going as far as to list the redeeming qualities of his fellow "losers", thus proving himself to Robert in the process.
There's no doubt going to be plenty of people who oppose Andy's new promotion, and frankly the new direction the show is seemingly taking. Frankly, I think putting Andy in the boss's chair is a breath of fresh air to a show that desperately needed it after Steve Carell left -- even if season 7 of The Office, while a little uneven, may have been its best in three years.
Andy is, in certain ways, very similar to Michael Scott. He's relatively incompetent, he's a little socially awkward and he has more than his fair of quirks. But in many ways, he's totally different. He has a Cornell education, he comes from a rich family, he can actually have normal social relationships with some people, and unlike Michael Scott, he's a terrible paper salesman. This allows the show to venture into new territory with the role of the boss, while keeping a firm base on what made the show so good for so long. Andy's learning to be the boss, and we're learning it with him, while with Michael, we just had to accept him as an authority figure.
Eight years ago, The Office debuted as essentially a vehicle for Michael Scott, and of course an attempt to monetize a popular show from the UK. But it soon became bigger than that one single, quirky character, as good as he was. We became compelled with Dwight, Pam, Jim, eventually Andy, and even the show's more minor characters. While Carell was always in a sense removed from the rest of the show's actors and characters by his sheer popularity, The Office was always an ensemble cast. The perfect choice to continue that ensemble was putting Andy at the helm, and for at least one episode, they managed to accomplish that.
If it wasn't for the plot and the new reality of Andy as the boss -- which honestly melted my heart when it was revealed -- then you had to have liked the constant stream of gags from the season premiere:
- Stanley's new thing of falsely explaining things to people, and then telling them to “shove it up your butt!” An interesting escape from an otherwise reserved character. It may be a little racist, but I think they're trying to give Stanley a a catchphrase, and I love it.
- The utter ridiculousness of the show's explanation for how James Spader now runs the company. Then again, the corporate structure of the show hasn't made sense in years, but at this point, it doesn't really matter.
- Dwight's several books listing all the characters in different situations had me on the floor. Especially the fact that the gang would resort to actually going through them to figure out what Robert's list meant.
- When the left side people and the right side people lined up, and Kevin exclaimed "attack!", and several people actually did start fighting? Incredible.
- Andy fumbling with and dropping the statue on his desk, a signature of the show's opening credits.
- Kevin yelling out "Warning!" in repetition every time Robert came into the room.
- Robert: “I’m not going to change my list, Andy, and I don’t use ballpoint pens.”
- Andy: “Kind of a medium year for women’s soccer, no?”
- Robert on doodling: “Funny how the houses are always colonials, and the penises are always circumcised, don’t you think?”
- Robert: “The complete self-absorption of Elmo is brilliantly reflective of our time.”
- Darryl trying to impress Robert: “Apt. Apt analysis, Robert.”
Finally this little gem, which may be the greatest moment in office history:
As a whole, that may have been the best that the show could have hoped for in the post-Carell era. Other than Pam mentioning Michael at the beginning, I honestly didn't think of him once. Ed Helms is a good replacement for the down-to-earth, lovable portion Michael, while James Spader more than makes up for the ridiculous and socially removed part of the character, as well as the authority figure that, at times, could be antagonistic. The writing for the episode was amazing, and the gags and laughs just kept coming, from the cold open to the credits. Time will tell whether the show can keep up this pace, but there's a new, lively energy to the show that hasn't been there in years.
The season 8 premiere of The Office gets a 9 out of 10.
Elsewhere on NBC comedy night:
Community: The season three premiere of the most underrated show on TV had Jeff possibly leaving the group, introduced several new characters, and introduced an... odder... side to Abed, if that's even possible. Click here for our full review.
Parks & Rec: Season 4 opened with Ron Swanson's beard, Jerry's giant penis, Tom "following his dreams", and Andy no longer shining shoes. Lots of resolution, lots of uneveness, but also some great writing that we've come used to with the show. Expect the season to get better once they clear out some of the cobwebs. 7 out of 10
Whitney: People weren't exactly excited for the debut of Whitney Cummings' new show (maybe because of the obvious use of laugh track), and after watching the series premiere, I can't say I blame them. Forced joke after forced joke after forced joke, awkward chemistry between uninteresting, douchey characters and a plot that was way too hard to follow. There's some potential here, but they're going to have to iron it out quickly, because people aren't going to stick around long enough for it to sort itself out if they don't. 5 out of 10