The triumphant return of The Office continues with another enjoyable episode. “Andy’s Ancestry” did a lot of things right: a funny Jim/Dwight prank opener (Steve does an excellent “Jim”), writing Andy as if Ed Helms were Steve Carell, humanizing Nelly, solid contributions from the supporting cast (Creed doesn’t have any fermented mare’s milk and the new guys are excellent cheerleaders), Jim finally told Pam about his business venture, Daryl got a plot with payoff, and we all learned a valuable lesson about human trafficking – turns out it’s just amoral, not immoral.
“Demandy”’s reaction to discovering he’s related to Michelle Obama, thanks to some creative fact-finding from Nelly, is very characteristic of Andy, but also of Michael. This episode perhaps more than any other made me truly see Andy as Michael’s replacement. Andy’s comment that his news makes for “a big day” for both he and the first lady was something I could almost hear in Michael’s voice because it’s just the type of genuinely oblivious thing he would honestly feel. I also liked Andy telling Nelly to get her “wrinkly old balls” in his office. Andy’s showing a real knack for committing sexual harassment that almost nullifies itself; but I digress. Writing Andy as if he were Michael is a smart move for the series simply because it works. The loss of Steve Carell (from the series, not life) was of course a terrible blow to The Office, but the writers finally seem to understand that doesn’t mean the spirit of the character has to depart as well. Season eight was spent very self-consciously trying way too hard to sell Andy as the new branch manager and like most things, when you try to hard it just doesn’t work. Ironically, when you don’t try so hard, you tend to get what you want (I’m assuming the writers got into Daoism over the summer). The A-plot of “Andy’s Ancestry” didn’t really have a resolution, but that’s okay because it wasn’t much of a story to begin with. This is more the kind of plot that may or may not eventually contribute to Andy potentially forgiving Nelly for stealing his job last season and I’m okay with that mostly because while it just sort of ended, it also made me laugh.
This was also the case for the subplot in which Dwight taught Erin Dothraki, a fictional warrior language from Game of Thrones. Hearing Erin yalp her most fierce battle cries was very funny, but the story didn’t really go anywhere. Erin just stopped once she realized the language wasn’t real and therefore probably wouldn’t impress Andy’s family. There was a kind of ending though – Pete clearly is into Erin as he said goodbye to her in Dothraki at the end of the episode. Naturally Andy completely misinterprets this and there’s no indication of whether Erin has picked up on Pete’s affection (not that she necessarily should; we only do because we’re watching these fictional characters on a TV show), but I’ll admit I’m interested to see what happens when a character who’s been defined by his decency has to decide whether to go for the girl he likes or back down out of respect to her relationship with her boyfriend. This was an easy choice for Jim because Roy was a dick, but Andy’s way more lovable than Roy, he’s not someone we’ve been conditioned to root against, in fact, quite the opposite.
Speaking of Nelly, I didn’t really hate her so much this episode. This is admirable considering she was paired with possibly my least favorite original character on the show, Pam. Don’t get me wrong; Pam is sweet and beautiful and one half of one of the best sitcom romances on TV in many years, but she’s struggled the most to keep her footing on the field of comedy for at least the last three seasons. On the other hand, she’s also usually been dependable for delivering on the emotional side of the series even when I wasn’t particularly into the story at the time. So I suppose it’s fitting that she would help humanize Nelly and actually help make her look like someone worth hanging out with. Nelly’s presence at the office still doesn’t make a lick of sense, but the show’s obviously committed to keeping her around so at least they’re making the best of it. Admittedly I rolled my eyes a bit as soon as the “Can you teach me to drive?” trope was introduced, as this has been done to death in sitcoms, but it served its purpose by providing subtle yet constant humor during Nelly and Pam’s bonding process which also set up for a funny exchange between Nelly and Daryl at the episode’s close when Jim finally told Pam about his starting the sports marketing firm with his friend from college.
I’m so glad this portion of the Jim/Pam plot wasn’t dragged out any further as I found it infuriating from the get-go, but unfortunately it looks as though this is only the beginning of the drama for the couple as Pam expressed disappointment that Jim hadn’t told her sooner despite appearing supportive to Jim. Showrunner Greg Daniels has said he’s tried to bring back longer story arcs for this final season which I generally like, but I wish he didn’t think the only thing to do with Jim and Pam is drive a wedge between them in the attempt to make them interesting again. I miss fourth season Jim and Pam just being cute and funny together without any drama.
On the plus side, Jim’s new project may provide Daryl with an opportunity to improve his outlook on life. Apparently Daryl’s been feeling unfulfilled at his job, something that hasn’t been consistently earned, but something that has been touched on enough times throughout the series that it doesn’t feel like it’s coming out of left field. And this was built up well enough throughout the episode itself. I liked how Daryl’s dismissal of Jim’s offer to come work at his new company once he realized Pam wasn’t aware of the situation (because it’s not real if your spouse is kept in the dark, a sentiment I feel is quite true) finally prompted the young Nixon to finally own up to his wife, as he should have three episodes ago.
It’s not necessarily that these plots are that much better than the weaker ones the show has demonstrated, or even that the dialogue is suddenly better, or the performances of the various players, the ninth season’s success so far comes from a fluidity not seen in recent years, an organic component that helped make the series such a success in its second and third seasons; that and balancing the humor with the emotional beats. Two instances of using racially based foundations for punch lines never felt shoehorned or over the top. Overall “Andy’s Ancestry” just felt smooth and well-balanced. It may not be the tightest plotted episode, but the structure and humor worked well against the mostly minimal drama and it’s better than 90% of last season.
And now, my favorite moments that I couldn’t fit into the above analysis: “Hats off to you for not seeing race,” (Steve to Dwight); Daryl’s stock talking head, “That person sure has gotten him or herself into quite a predicament,” (and its use later on in the episode in response to Andy’s dilemma); Dwight fast-forwards through the nudity on Game of Thrones to get to the decapitations, Erin thinks Michelle Obama would ask her, “What is the best war to do?”; “I barely know how to turn on my computer,” (Nelly to Pam); “You’re a cocky lil’ thing, aren’t ya, Pam?” (Nelly); and finally, Dwight totally confirmed that he has relatives that were Nazis.