The Office "Livin' the Dream" Review: Good Riddance

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The Office S09E21: "Livin' the Dream"


Ding, dong, the ding-dong's dead.

Not dead but certainly, hopefully, removed. It was fun to watch an entire episode of the characters extolling everything we hate about Andy as an audience and using it as material for why Andy shouldn't go into show business. Everything from Creed and his "charisma blackhole" to Kevin's poignant and frank confession: "You're too character-y to lead and you're not fat enough to be a character actor."

Never was the problem with Andy so succinctly put. While I was lukewarm on Ed Helms being a lead or a secondary character in anything, Andy was a tertiary character on this show who was stretched and beaten into the de facto lead. I picture some sort of ancient pagan ritual performed in the writers' room as they prayed to the gods that Andy would fit into the Michael Scott-shaped hole Steve Carell left when he abandoned ship. There were probably potions, a macabre scene of blood-letting, the sacrifice of a virgin, afternoon tea, and then droning chants over the warped shell of a character. Poor Andy. The universe was always against him.

A lot happened in "Livin' the Dream," but the emphasis was on Andy's exit, and everyone in the office offered up individual punchlines on the Nard-Dawg taking off. Even his exit was similar in format to Michael's, except everyone was ready for Andy to go. They all thought hew was making a huge mistake, but by the end of it, from the tone in Phyllis's voice, they were all ready. They'd reached the point we had weeks ago.

As an audience member who'd been wishing for some kind of warehouse accident or car crash or anvil to take Andy out and end our misery, I couldn't help but feel the will-he-won't-he pressure. When David Wallace suggested that Andy could stay on as a salesman, I threw my hands in the air. "Cut him loose, Wallace!" I said. "Why are you toying with my emotions?" The entire episode was a microcosm of Andy's entire season, a compressed version for his officemates of how we've felt about him over the last 21 episodes.

There was a fear in me that he would stick around and I tried to make my peace with that, tried to justify it to myself that Andy would return to the role for which he was the most likeable. That they would slowly slide him into the background while the characters we care about—Jim and Pam, Dwight, Angela, Erin even—would edge him out and move their stories to the forefront. There was justice in putting Andy on the same tier as Nellie.

But then he talked about burning his ships like Cortez and I sighed with relief. Just a heaving relaxation from my lungs. Let this all play out. Groping Toby was kind of funny in an awkward sort of way. The middle fingers for Wallace were pretty rote. The cameras actually showed Andy, pants down, crouched over the hood of a car, ready to take a dump on it (David Wallace must not have detailed with the American flag).

Then the show walked Andy's triumphant firing back a little bit as he returned to the office (after pooping on Wallace's car) to play a tune for his exit. The Scrubs episode "My Finale" (which should've been the actual finale) is my go-to example for describing how manipulative a show can be, the frosting on that particular nostalgia cake being Peter Gabriel's cover of "The Book of Love." But there was nothing more blatantly intentional with regard to engineering weepiness and reminiscence than using a Sarah McLachlan song, especially "I Will Remember You," which is probably soundtracking a video montage of someone's senior year right now.

What it did do was return focus to the the episode's more sentimental storylines. It's interesting that a plot about a character leaving the flock would be less sentimental than all the other contained arcs. But when you're dealing with Jam and the Schrute Triangle, not to mention watching Dwght win so much while Jim loses nothing, it's hard to compete with such saccharine happenings.

And that's sadly what the Jam storyline felt like to me. Last week, I was happy to see Jim and Pam kiss and make up, but there was something hollow about their reunion this week. What's strange is that this was basically a performance from the early seasons, the sweetness of Jam and how connected they've always been. There was a callback to the air high-five, a lot of giggling, people around them emphasizing their sweetness by making gagging faces at the camera. But it was off somehow. Maybe I've been trained by the show to see their marital problems as the truth, and the turnaround was too quick for me to settle back into the Jim and Pam of old.

But Jim and Pam are supposed to be magic. Even though I'm skeptical, it doesn't surprise me that they only needed a single moment of honest, bald-faced affection to switch their heart lights back on. The entire point of their being together is to advance the idea of soulmates and destiny. No two people in the universe where Dunder-Mifflin is a paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania are more made for each other than Jim and Pam. Their obstacles are comparatively small in the face of fate. Which is why that conversation with Darryl at the end of the episode is going to lead to some new compromise where Jim gets to go talk to sports teams. Because Pam heard the sacrifice he's making in order to ensure their marriage stay healthy and, with their relationship back to fighting strength, there'll be no reason this obstacle can't be surmounted. It was a sugary dose of what Pam and Jim are supposed to be about.

All of that only makes the Schrute Triangle that much darker. While we all sort of know that Dwight and Angela are going to get it together by the end of the season, the show is making us work for it. Angela has hit sort of a rock bottom in the wake of leaving the Senator. The forceable removal of her cats (to be fair, they looked like they wanted to suck the life out of baby Phillip anyway), her struggle to make ends meet, and her existence in the shadow of a fresh-faced blonde farmgirl is the lowest we've ever seen Angela. She can no longer bother to wind herself up.

She broke down in Oscar's car as she admitted her love for Dwight and we all had to nod our heads solemnly. This is, of course, another example of how The Office likes to do relationships: Put a desired character with someone else and make another character pine meekly until they are united through the power of love. We've already discussed how Esther is kind of a nothing character, more of a face than any kind of threat (though they really were trying to sell the differences between Esther and and Angela this week, cutting from Esther's made-up and barely post-adolescent-looking face to Angela's make-up-less, wild-haired, fur-covered visage). Esther is no Roy or Gabe, two men who represented everything that was wrong for Pam and Erin, respectively. She's just not Angela.

So these are the stakes that are lifting for the final run of the season. Two more weeks of hour-long episodes left. And, with all the hope in the world, we finally got to say goodbye to Andy Bernard. Good riddance. We had the time of our lives. Oh, there's another manipulative song he could've played.


NOTES

– I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Dwight's promotion. It's the right move for the show, but I'm glad they waited until now and didn't do it back when Michael Scott left. Two seasons of Dwight being in charge would've warped his character. This way we got to watch Christopher from The Sopranos teach Dwight karate but also get the satisfaction that he'll inherit the branch he always wanted. The peace with himself that he exhibited throughout, how he'd come to terms with how he lost the manager position before and the possibility that Jim might succeed Andy, was interesting. I like how the office was happy that he got the job (as opposed to the entire office being against everything Andy decided) but am a little offput by Dwight's friendliness toward Jim and Pam. Obviously, when the show is over, you'd have to believe that Jim and Dwight will become the best of friends in the happily ever after, but the goodwill he advanced toward them was strange, was it not?

– Andy bringing up how he slept with both Erin and Angela in the same episode just gave me another reason to be glad he was leaving. Get gone, Andy.

– CreedWatch: Though I think his "charisma blackhole" joke was supposed to be part of his skewed view on people in the office (his view being different or opposite of reality most of the time), I liked it in reference to Andy, since Andy never held the show together like Michael Scott. As for Creed standing on the desk to declare himself the manager: Nice try. But it makes sense that Creed would believe that's all it took to become manager.

– Andy Buckley does a great job of portraying David Wallace in a way that shows he's fond of these lovable freaks but maintains that he's the shot of reality that really underscores how weird everyone else is. It's like a human visiting Fraggle Rock.

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