True to form, the latest episode of "The Office" continues to build on the tired trend of Andy's incessant hyperactive desperation to please the ever-shifting Robert California,
This time, Boss Bernard is feeling the heat on his promise to double his paper sales in the current quarter, for which he's still $800 short. Shockingly, none of his employees actually want to buy any of the paper they're selling, and with Andy unable to afford any more on his own dime (cut to a shot of his car, brimming with boxes), a fatal urgency sets in.
After trying - and failing - to convince Oscar to taint the books, Andy learns of a trivia night at a bar in Philadelphia that Oscar frequents, with a $1000 prize for the winner. Naturally, the boss sees his chance to balance the books, and decides to take everyone in the office along to bolster his chances of winning. One catch: it's a gay bar.
To better their chances, Andy divides everyone into three teams – the A team, consisting of Andy, Jim, Darryl and Ryan; the B team, consisting of Stanley, Phyllis, Creed and Angela; and the “just for fun” team, which is essentially the idiots' table, consisting of Erin, Kelly, Kevin and Meredith. Oscar already has his own team, and is less than enthused to see his co-workers edging in on his fun.
In true sitcom fashion, the disregarded "just for fun" team beats out everyone else, including the other two teams from Scranton. Kevin, who had been belittled and written off as a buffoon for much of the episode (and the entire run of the show, if we're being honest) locks the final question, winning the $1000. Make no mistake, however - with the possible exception of Kelly, he's by far the most numb-skulled character in rotation.
Dwight, meanwhile, has been chasing his own destiny down to Florida, where he expects to interview for a managerial position in Sabre HQ. Robert mentioned something in passing a while back that he took as a hard opening opportunity, and Dwight ran like the wind after the management slot. It's at Sabre's HQ that we find Gabe, seemingly working a reception desk.
It's actually an "office manager" position, a dubious claim that Gabe doesn't help with his description: "I am the toilet of this office. I flush away annoying problems so others can keep their hands clean." Dwight's response was deliciously devious: "You know Gabe, you could've gone with a garbage disposal, an incinerator, or an eraser, and instead you chose toilet. God bless you. You are an American classic."
In a fitting twist of fate, Robert avoids Dwight like a contagious infection, forcing Dwight to conduct his presentation to Gabe, who has been instructed to respond positively - but noncommittally. Decoding the ruse, Dwight ends up essentially kidnapping Gabe and forcing him to share the location of Robert’s condo. It's here that the two interrupt Robert's living room wrestling exercises (a "cardiovascular workout" - "I could go to the gym three times a week, or I could wrestle Stu once a month"), and Dwight pursues his potential promotion even further.
Robert offers Dwight an old medal from his junk drawer instead of a job, and to his credit Dwight refuses. This is a job interview," Dwight declares, "not a flea market!" To spare Dwight's feelings, and possibly avoid being murdered by the overzealous worker, Robert explains that he'll try him out if anything right for him comes up, but the current position just isn't the one.
While the formula was the same at the core (Andy's quest to win Robert's approval), this week's "Office" return was a refreshing turn of events and change of scenery for the show. The cast remains solid, and the series isn't beyond repair - but to do so convincingly they're going to have to find a permanent use for Robert California that doesn't centralize its energy on making Andy uncomfortable. A bit more of an emotional investment in the material will help, but ultimately tying up the loose ends are what's keeping the core fans wary on the post-Carell version of "The Office".
CraveOnline Rating: 7.5 out of 10