It's not very often that you see Mad Men and The Office in the same sentence, but the two share a common gripe: Sometimes you just want to see them work because you can only suspend your belief so far that a company can make any money with so much chicanery afoot. But at least on Mad Men there are several work-related storylines that we'd rather see more of when the alternative is cutting back to the characters' depressing home lives. The actual job at The Office seems increasingly like a poor excuse for these idiots to hang out together.
But I'm getting uppity and that's only because "The Boat" was such a weak episode. This season of The Office hasn't been perfect, it's still offered a bit of intrigue, a few returns to form, and some good set-up for the future. Sadly, "The Boat" purported to have those things but managed to fall flat on every one. And it all started with Andy.
Why can't the writers get Andy right? He's been either too Michael Scott or too bitchy all season long, and "The Boat" revealed yet another side of him that I don't necessarily think fits the character. That's not to say Andy Bernard can't be competent or impulsive, but he's doing it in a way that's very un-Andy, boring and lacking in comedic delivery. I've said this several times in the past few weeks, usually in not-so-polite terms, but I wonder if the show realizes that Andy is not a lead character.
Andy Bernard is a quirky side character who struggles to anchor The Office. The series keeps attempting to show us different facets of a man who shouldn't be as nuanced as he is because it blows up the character's established personality rather than enhancing it. Rather than feeling like we're getting to see different sides of Andy, it feels like we're witnessing a schizophrenic break.
So which Andy did we get this week? One who, just a few weeks ago, made a grand, romantic gesture to reinvigorate the Andy/Erin love story but didn't even consider asking Erin if she wanted to go to the Bahamas with him? We never know whether we'll get the level-headed, reactionary character or the one who is nothing more than an antagonistic bucket of bile. I harp on how Andy has become so unlikeable, but let's also consider how no episode this season (and maybe even last season, too) has gotten it right with him.
The other major character disappointment so far this season is Kevin, and there aren't many episodes that have demonstrated this better than "The Boat." Kevin has become too simple, too juvenile, too cartoonish to be on this show, which is saying a lot for a cast built on simple and cartoonish. His settling-in to the absurdly juvenile wouldn't be so bad if the writers didn't give us the glimmer of hope that Kevin is somehow of his wits and not just a pudgy, taller-than-average child. That last little bit where he covered for Oscar was almost like, "Oh, Kevin might NOT be Lenny from Of Mice and Men, just stupider"... until he revealed that it was an accident, a slip-up on his part, and continued to giggle about Angela's situation. Don't fool me into believing you wrote about this character with care and then rip the rug out from under me. That's rude.
The only win for the episode was the slow-burn prank opportunity with Dwight, but even that started clumsy. It wasn't until Jim raced into the breakroom, pleading with Dwight about the stock prices, that the thing was remotely interesting (Kevin eating a snack with his clothes off was also a good moment). The prank went from terribly basic to almost blue (allowing Dwight to be convinced to take his clothes off at work simultaneously qualified as incredibly low-brow and demanded a suspension of disbelief that he would do something like that and not catch on) to emotionally complicated. The twists and turns in the arc were appreciated but I just wished that we didn't have to suffer Jim's "maybe he doesn't have to know" catalyst, and I wonder if the flubbed beginning of the C-plot lowered the bar enough that everything that followed simply looked smarter by comparison. I suppose we'll never know for sure.
The biggest issue I had with this episode is that it reminded us of the dark times of The Office, the reason we're so happy that the mercy of finality is coming for this series. An episode like this would've been pretty common in Season 8 and we've been hoping for (and usually getting) better in Season 9. "The Boat" felt like a step backward, despite setting up some important stories for the rest of the season (Erin and Pete, anyone?). It was so bland that Jim and Pam seemed lively. And that's pinochle-with-your-grandma bland.
– More breaking the fourth wall this week with Oscar pulling the camera crew aside in a plea to treat his senatorial romance with dignity and respect. It was a bit of a stretch for Oscar to assume anything about the content of a documentary from which no one has (supposedly) seen any of the footage, let alone any cobbled-together segments. How does he know what they producers would show or how tasteless they would be? I don't mind Kevin finding out or Oscar feeling the way he does, but pleading with the crew felt, again, clumsy.
– "He wanted a little Mexican brought in."
– Meredith: the foreshadowing tool via sexual predation since 2005.
– How the show has been setting up the Erin and Pete is interesting. Erin's language for describing her situation with Andy has been full of double entendre, with positive delivery of negative feelings. The example in this week's episode was Erin calling out how "juvenile" her boyfriend is. Backhanded compliments seem to be how she communicates her unhappiness. It hasn't exactly been subtle, but it hasn't necessarily been unclever, either. And Erin actually going with Pete to Poor Richard's was a nice nod to Jim and Pam's early days, particularly since Andy wasn't around to make sure Erin didn't go (like Roy would have done with Pam).
– I wish the "I have to go to the bathroom" montage had worked for me. I really, honestly do.
– Did anyone feel like the scenes in this episode felt really short, particularly in the first act? The rapidfire switching between plots contributed to a lack of investment in any of the stories. Things smoothed out as the episode continued, but the rocky start made it difficult to settle in.
– Andy: rit-dit-dit-da-douche.
CreedWatch: Creed's only line was the Dr. Laura one, which pretty much closes the case on why this episode was so terrible.