When the episode “Special Project” ended, I was excited about the future of The Office for the first time all season. It felt like things were actually going to start happening, rather than the show's spending nearly half the season trying to convince us that new regional manager Andy Bernard needed to win over his co-workers. (He didn’t have to; they already liked him – I don’t want to think about the painful “Gettysburg” ever again.) To refresh your memory: in “Special Project,” which aired February 9, Andy tells Dwight that he needs to pick a team to go down to Tallahassee, Florida with him, to help launch a Sabre retail store. The selectees: Jim, Stanley, Ryan, Erin, and new girl Cathy, who, as revealed in the episode’s tag, is shown to have a major crush on Jim, and is actively trying to break up his marriage with Pam.
It came out of the blue, and many people, myself included, were hoping for something reminiscent of the Michael Scott Paper Company arc that gave the show new life a few years back. Well, in short: it was no Michael Scott Paper Company. In fact, now that it's mostly finished (the last episode ended with Andy rushing down to Florida to win Erin, but everyone else is back), I can't help but feel disappointed in the end results. Here are five reasons why The Office didn't take as much advantage of the Florida story as they could have.
1. Ultimately, Did Anything Happen?
The biggest reveal out of the Florida arc is that Dwight was named Vice President. OK. Fine, whatever. He’s going to get a spin-off soon, and The Office needs to find a satisfying way to transition him to his next show. There are two things that bug me here, though: 1) The thing that brought him to Florida was a TERRIBLE IDEA, and 2) He let someone else take the fall for him. The aforementioned TERRIBLE IDEA was to open a chain of Sabre retail stores that would sell the Pyramid and other Sabre-licensed projects, all of which are seemingly designed to be inferior to Apple’s. (It’s worth noting that the idea was originally commissioned by Jo Bennett, but we didn’t know that until later, and Dwight was still the one taking charge.) Robert California had every intention of firing the VP behind the idea (which itself didn’t make much sense – why shut down an entire project after a successful in-store opening, even if the gadgets were garbage? Sabre, as a company, is terribly managed). But while Jim stops Dwight from entering the conference room where California is waiting to hand him a pink slip, Todd Packer steps into the VP role – and is abruptly canned. Packer’s a shitty human being, but that doesn’t mean he deserved to take the blame for Dwight’s innovation of sorts. That’s more a plot peeve, though; what really bugs me is that Dwight returns to Scranton at episode’s end, seemingly without his Vice President gig anymore. (I think? It’s actually a little vague, but that’s a whole other issue.) So, what did we learn from the Florida arc? Dwight became VP, put his weight behind a bad idea, Dwight let the VP power go to his head (not unlike when he was named Interim Regional Manager in season seven’s “Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager”), Dwight got fired, and Dwight returned back to Scranton, a broken man. Again.
2. Cathy’s Cheating Heart
There’s a great essay waiting to be read about Jim Halpert, one which can’t be written until after The Office ends (or Jim dies, if Dwight snaps). Has any protagonist gone from universally beloved to generally hated as sharply as Jim has over these past few seasons? But I digress. Cathy trying to sleep with Jim was the thing that I was most excited about in the post-“Special Project" episodes. It’s not that I wanted her to (I love Pam and hate cheaters), but at least it was something DIFFERENT, and difference is something The Office dearly needs after nearly 200 episodes. The scenes with Cathy in Jim’s room were effective, and I like the way Jim brought in Dwight to save him (which ends with the adorable tag of the two of them eating ice cream together in bed – the biggest development to come out of Florida might be their relationship, and how they need each other to function; Jim would be bored without Dwight, and Dwight needs someone to constantly test him. That’s one of the reasons why I’m not looking forward to the spin-off). But it felt like the writers could have gone further. Do you really set up an arc about Jim, whose relationship with Pam was the thing everyone talked about when they talked about The Office for its first four seasons, potentially cheating on his wife, with Replacement Pam (Cathy), and only give it 10 minutes of screen-time? Let's say they did kiss: it wouldn’t have been such a terrible plot development. It would have added some drama to the show, and assuming the news came out, it would have allowed Jenna Fischer to actually do something again – she’s arguably the show’s best actress, but hasn’t been able to show off her chops in forever, even before Baby #2. Plus, there's also the issue of Cathy being written as a bad person because she went after a married man, while Jim was the hero for going after an engaged woman. Like I said, there's going to be a great essay someday.
3. Too Much Time and Effort Spent on Andy and Erin
Erin is my favorite character on The Office right now. If NBC gave her a spin-off instead of Dwight, I would totally watch it. Her hipster dancing in front of a bunch of homeless people is one of the greatest things ever (only a slight exaggeration). I also enjoy Andy, though his character was a lot stronger when he was a salesman; his particular style of exaggerated comedy works better in the background, rather than in the foreground. That being said: when it comes to Andy and Erin, and their will they/won’t they relationship, I just don’t care as much as I used to. Let’s say, for instance, in Thursday’s episode, Andy makes his way down to Florida, and the two share an emotional kiss. Would you really care? Or, more accurately: would you care as much as the first time they kissed, back in season six’s “New Leads”? Or care as much as the first time The Office did this same plot, with Jim and Pam? (Plus, there’s another potential romantic relationship with Daryl and Val.) Either put them together (yes), or don't (no) — just make a decision finally.
4. Don’t Go Back to Scranton
It’s not often that in an Office episode with two locations, the Scranton story is the B-plot. But it was routinely so throughout the Florida arc, and it just showed how much the show is struggling without Michael Scott. In “Test the Store,” just as the Sabre store opening story was gaining momentum, the show cut back to Scranton, where the remaining Dunder Mifflin employees were in the conference room receiving self-defense classes from Toby after a young girl punched Andy in the face. This was bothersome not only because it felt way too similar to “The Injury,” when Michael burned his foot on the George Foreman grill, but also because it further proved that the Nard Dog can’t command a room the way his predecessor could. I suppose this says more about the show in general than it does about the Florida arc, but it was especially transparent these past few weeks.
5. The Arc Only Felt “Successful” Because It Manipulated Us to Feel That Way
I mentioned above how idiotic the Sabre Store idea was. It was a dumb idea. Well, by the end of “Last Day in Florida,” everyone, led by Robert California's finally seeing through the bullshit, realizes the same thing, and the project is shut down. That gives some sense of closure to the story, and the viewer is supposed to feel relieved that things are going to go back to normal and Sabre has regained its business logic. BUT: the only reason we felt relief was because the whole idea was so preposterous. It’s a story-telling trick, like a movie making us root for the girl to pick the normal guy because the other guy is such an obvious jerk to her.
Things weren’t all bad in the Florida stories, though: Erin and Florida Stanley were revelatory; Kevin got to rap about cookies; Ryan fleeing the Pyramid presentation was a nice character touch; Jim and Dwight had a nice bonding moment in the hallway; and again, Florida Stanley, who kept a slice of pizza in his Pyramid case. It's just disappointing that the show could have done more, and didn't.
Josh Kurp didn't discuss Nellie much, because he was distracted by the Goat of Dover.