‘The Office’: Is Andy a Better Manager Than Michael?

Ed Helms on The Office (NBC)

Ed Helms on The Office (NBC)

If you’re a fan of “The Office,” you’re probably still trying to figure out what to make of the show, now four weeks into its eighth season. With Michael Scott (Steve Carell) out of the picture and Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) installed as the new regional manager of Dunder Mifflin Sabre’s Scranton outpost — reporting to CEO Robert California (James Spader) — the show seems to be humming along with some reasonably funny episodes that focus on everyone in the branch.

But something seems off, doesn’t it? While the show has been funny, it feels a bit adrift. It might be because, with Andy as manager, it doesn’t seem like the show is treading any new ground. Of all the characters at the Scranton branch the producers of the show could have “promoted” to manager, Andy was the safest choice. But he was the most disappointing choice, for a number of reasons:

He’s got the same issues Michael had. Andy may be a bit more self-aware than Michael was, a touch more mature, and a bit more competent (the Cornell degree has to count for something, right?), but as we saw in last night’s “Garden Party” episode, Andy suffers from the same issues his predecessor did. In the episode, he threw a garden party to celebrate his promotion, not only to impress California, but to impress his parents (Stephen Collins, Dee Wallace), who threw a similar party to honor Andy’s younger, more successful brother Walter (Josh Groban).We knew that, when Andy was a salesman, he was always trying too hard to show his co-workers that he was worldly and good at his job, and now we know where it comes from.

In a key scene, Andy tells his dad that he threw the party to impress him, and his dad replied by wondering why he needed his approval just because “you got a manager job at a rinky-dink paper company in Scranton,” which was conveniently broadcast to the team over the Halperts’ baby monitor. So they all now understand why Andy tries so hard all the time. But didn’t the crew spend the last eight years trying to manage the man-child that was in the boss’ office? It seems like putting another guy like that there means things will just be the same.

Watch Thursday’s “Garden Party”:

[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/tv/The-Office/7370/2153506714/Garden-Party/embed 580 476]

The crew liked Andy before he became manager. One of the most gratifying aspects of the show when Carell was there was that, despite that fact that Scott was petulant, inappropriate and reckless, the staff grew from disliking him to tolerating him to genuinely caring for him. That transition isn’t really there with Andy; the staff already liked him. So when moments like the crew banding together to throw a post-garden-party barbecue happen, they seem schmaltzier and not as earned as equally sentimental moments that happened last year, like when the gang watched Michael propose to Holly.

Robert California would have made a fantastic boss. He’d be fantastic in the comedic sense, because Spader’s force of personality would have created a very haughty, BS-disguised-as-philosophy foil for everyone on the staff. Yes, Spader is basically playing a somewhat more laid back version of Alan Shore from “Boston Legal,” but that kind of presence is what makes Spader so good. It would have been such a left turn from Michael — or even previous short-time bosses like Deangelo Vickers (Will Ferrell) and Charles Miner (Idris Elba) — that it would have forced the writers to figure out some fresh angles to the characters. Some would kiss up to him, some would be suspicious of him, and others would just be fascinated by him. It makes us wonder if Spader didn’t want to commit to an entire season, which is why he became this floating, Scranton-based CEO that just pops in to goose Andy when needed. You don’t get Spader on your show to underutilize him like that.

There’s no redemption story anymore. Even the show’s most ardent fans have to admit that Michael’s story of growth and finding love was pretty much the only thing they had to hang their hats on as far as story was concerned. Once Jim and Pam got married, there really wasn’t any other story that held as much interest for viewers. Just as the flirtation between Andy and Erin felt like Jim and Pam Lite, this path to redemption that Andy seems to be on now feels like a lot of been there, done that. Yes, the show can continue to exist just being a funny, silly show about a bunch of people in an office. But without the driving story in the background, what made it special to its fans isn’t there anymore, and that’s a shame.

So, is Andy doing a better job as boss than Michael? Right now, it feels like nothing has really changed around the office, either for the characters or the show in general, which isn’t really Andy’s — or Helms’ — fault, but if “more of the same” was what we were going to get from the writers, then the selection of the new boss shouldn’t have been hyped up so much.

Then again, maybe we’re being to harsh on the ol’ NardDog. It’s only been four weeks; maybe by the end of the season we’ll see that Andy was the right choice for the Scranton branch — and the show — all along.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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