The Office: “Lotto”

It makes sense, as I’ve noted before, why the writers of The Office would elevate Andy to the boss’s chair. Harder to determine was what hyper-competent Robert California saw in the Nard-Dog from a business, rather than comedic, perspective. For all of Michael Scott’s failings as a boss, the show established early and regularly that he was also a hell of a salesman, which explains how he rode the Peter Principle to the top job in Scranton. But Andy’s always been a lackluster salesman, not particularly popular or inspiring, with seemingly no qualities to recommend him for leadership.

Last week in “The Incentive” (which I did not have time to cover), we got our answer. As Robert explained, “There’s something about an underdog that really inspires the unexceptional.” The result was a decidedly Michael-esque story in which the staff rallies around the boss first in a show of mockery and then in one of support.

It had a sweet enough payoff if you still retain affection for these characters, but otherwise mostly went through familiar motions. That episode suggested an eighth season content to coast on viewers’ remaining emotional investment, rather than attempt to build and nurture that investment further.

The Office: "Lotto" - Ed Helms, Craig Robinson

“Lotto,” on the other hand, presents a different and more promising possibility for the season. Darryl’s career frustrations, a combination of malaise and resentment at being passed over for the branch manager job, manifest in just the right balance of honest emotion and deadpan silliness about taco air and adult-onset soy allergies. Andy’s kick-in-the-ass response sizing up why Darryl wasn’t promoted—he let his ambitions stagnate, and Jo noticed—was astute, and an important sign that the Ivy League alum is capable of some insight now and then.

There’s a way forward for season eight that could get a lot of promising material out of Andy gradually growing into the manager role. Unlike Michael, he isn’t fully confident in his own management style yet. Acknowledge that, rather than try to fit him into a Michael-shaped hole and rehash old stories. Let him have his own failures and, yes, his own successes—and not just fleeting and accidental ones either, but genuine bursts of competence. That will generate new arcs, new conflicts, new character dimensions.

Other notes:

  • The staff pooling together to play the lottery lead to several entertaining talking heads (Kelly’s and Toby’s FTW), but I might have liked to see it get more room to breathe as a B story. It seems like they dropped it halfway through and left a lot of potentially humorous material by the wayside, probably because there wasn’t room for both that and the warehouse shenanigans in the same episode.
  • Speaking of the warehouse, I found that batch of silliness generally amusing: Kevin’s predictable but nicely executed pratfall in the background, Erin grunting and flinging the box askew, their hand-in-the-cookie-jar expressions when they’re caught laying the grease, “Señor Loadenstein.”
  • Between this episode and the season premiere, the writers have clearly figured out that Ellie Kemper with a smudge of dirt on her face is totes adorbs.
  • “I’m going to get in my car. When I start dying, I will honk three times. That means: save the dog.”
  • “We’re looking at at least one suicide, and one weird sex thing.”
  • “I’m a barista in your fantasy?” “Well, in your fantasy we’re Stephen King characters.”
  • “I decided to just stay home, eat a bunch of tacos in my basement.”
  • “Taco air is heavy. It settles at the lowest point.”
  • “I suspect our Darryl is inside of Fat Darryl.”
  • “Who gets a soy allergy at 35? And why is soy in everything?”
  • “Theirs is more of a physical intelligence. Like baboons or elephants.”
  • “The Flenderson Files: bum-bum-bum.”

Originally published at The Vast Wasteland, Oct. 9, 2011.

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