When The Office last aired in May, much fuss was made over who would replace the departing Steve Carell and his indelible character, the well-intentioned goofball boss Michael Scott. Shortly after last season ended, we learned that James Spader would be joining the cast as Robert California, CEO of the company that owns Dunder-Mifflin, where Scott was a regional manager. (SPOILER ALERT) Now, after a summer of speculation, we learned in Thursday's season premiere that Ed Helms' Andy Bernard will replace Michael Scott as the office's new regional manager. Does the Carell-less show work?
The Office is still "capable of delivering the funny": Spader infuses Dunder-Mifflin with a darkly comic dynamic, says James Poniewozik at TIME. He "seems to be in a dysfunctional boyfriend relationship with the entire office." Indeed, on Thursday, much of the office scrambled to decipher the meaning of his mysterious list dividing employees into two columns — presumably winners and losers. That was "an ingenious way" to preview how he unsettles the office. Andy's promotion also works, with his lack of self-assurance providing a different type of managerial comedy than Michael Scott's "overweening confidence" did.
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Actually, it didn't work at all: If the season premiere of The Office were classified on Robert California's winners and losers list, says Sheila Marikar at ABC News, "it was a loser." Carell's absence was obviously felt, particularly when misguided attempts to replace his "that's what she said" catchphrase with "in your butt" fell totally flat. But worse, the storyline was lame, and squandered any potential for Spader-led reinvigoration. "Half-baked jokes and saccharine subplots" are no way to convince viewers that a Carell-less Office can carry on.
It was flawed — but shows promise: The episode proves that it made sense to "promote" both Andy and Robert California, says Chris Plante at New York. Individually, they embody two different aspects of Michael Scott: "Andy, the lovable, dopy half, and California the destructive, conflict-creating half." Other major shifts were evident, too, with the comedy less rooted in the show's wacky characters and more in pop culture references and unrealistic physical comedy. (Exhibit A: Dwight's strange amped-up shenanigans). The result was an episode that felt transitory — but with enough energy to maybe pull that transition off.
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