THE OFFICE 8.05 ‘Spooked’

The Office takes an unfortunate turn, banking on plotlines it hasn't invested enough energy into.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud

 

"Fear plays an interesting role in our lives. How dare we let it motivate us! How dare we let it into our decision making, into our livelihoods, into our relationships. It's funny, isn't it? We take a day a year to dress up in costume and celebrate fear." — Robert California on our relationship with fear

 

What's happening here? It seems as if the writers for the entire NBC Thursday night lineup phoned it in this week, with totally forgettable holiday-themed episodes across the board. The latest Halloween episode of "The Office," wherein Andy is once again so desperate to win the praises of CEO Robert California that he nitpicks the fun right out of the holiday.

Sure, there were all kinds of great costume one-offs, including Dwight's weapon-neutered Starcraft nerd outfit, Creed's undiscussed Bin Laden costume, Meredith & Kelly's dueling Kate Middletons, etc. But when the plot centers yet again on Andy's insecurities and singular focus on winning the approval of Robert, it's nearly impossible to find enthusiasm to follow the same story path we've been on since Steve Carell left.

Andy recruits Erin to organize the party, and she does a great job of decorating the office. But when Robert arrives with his snarky & unimpressed son in tow, Mr. Bernard blows a gasket. As a result, Erin attempts to make the party more “adult” – with the unsolicited help of Angela and Phyllis, who delight in tearing down her decorations. Gabe seals the "mature audiences" deal with a VHS viewing of the "cinema of the unsettling" – which is essentially just a series of unnervingly disturbing imagery on tape.

As Robert’s son plays Starcraft with Dwight, we learn that Jim is disappointed that his wife believes in ghosts. Pretty compelling, right? We're on the edge of our seats when she counters that he doesn't wash his team jersey all through the playoffs – that he watches on TV. This isEmmy stuff, folks! How could Carell have left this behind?

Seriously though. We used to look excitedly forward to seeing how the chemistry between Jim & Pam would unfold, and now we're left watching them nitpick – with zero cinematic gravity – over their silly superstitions. What we'd been led to believe was a substitute romantic side-plot has shown itself to be a glacial dud – Andy and Erin just cannot get it together. The writers have decided to subscribe Andy to a seemingly fake relationship with a (we're pretty sure) nonexistent woman, because… why? Because Andy's the boss now, and Erin's just the receptionist? Robert was in the room, after all, when Erin confronted Andy on what she thought was her impending termination.

But the conversation went nowhere.

We get the point – or what seems to be the point: Andy's protecting his love for Erin by lying about having a girlfriend, a la the "we can't be together because I'm the boss" schtick we've been watching unfold with Leslie Knope on "Parks and Recreation" for the past few weeks. But guess what? Neither Andy or Erin has the gravity of character to pull anywhere near the emotional interest of Leslie & Ben from "Parks & Rec" – let alone Jim and Pam in their heyday.

In the end, Robert incorporates the fears of each office worker for a story meant to bring everyone back together on the same page. It's a nice little bow on a mess of an episode that indicates we may have been giving a little too much advance credit to the post-Carell world of Dunder Mifflin. If they can't get the story away from Andy's pathetic supplication to the boss and add a little weight to the romantic line with Erin, we're in for an ugly demise of NBC's former cornerstone comedy.

CraveOnline Rating: 4 out of 10