The Office is back! Season eight had its premiere today, beginning with an episode entitled, “The List.” How would the show look in its post-Michael Scott Era (even if he was mentioned in one joke, but it was a really funny one)?
Of course, the big question headed into the season was who the knew boss would be. In the beginning, we were told that James Spader’s character, with the most excellent name of Robert California, got the job, but was so disenchanted with it immediately that he drove down to Florida and convinced Jo to give him her job as CEO. So now, he’s the big man on top, but who will manage the Scranton branch? That would be Andy Bernard.
I guess the first thing to do is to discuss the concept of Andy as a boss. Last season, it seemed like the show was trying at times to promote Andy as the new Michael, and that didn’t really work for me. However, just because Andy is the new boss, doesn’t mean he’s the new Michael. He can remain a key part of the ensemble. He won’t necessarily get more screentime. As such, I think this can work. The character has potential for humor in the job. He certainly seems unqualified, which helps in terms of comedic potential. However, it is also something different. Michael was a good salesman who was bad with people and was generally unliked. Andy, meanwhile, is a bad salesman, but he’s a nice guy and people seem to like him. More to the point, he’s not confident in his new position, going as far as to declare Dwight his “enforcer.” Michael was always confident. It’s a different dynamic, which is a good thing. Plus, Andy and Dwight usually make a funny pairing.
All this information was given during a cold open that heavily involved planking. It is a recurring joke, particularly in season openers, that the gang in Scranton are behind the times when it comes to trends. As such, it makes sense that they would just be getting into planking. Did they do much with it? Not really. Dwight started throwing people around which was kind of funny. Erin got a funny joke about not understanding it, but being glad to be a part of it. At the very least, it wasn’t completely without value.
Also, Pam is pregnant! Jenna Fischer herself got pregnant, and so the show had to work around that. Fortunately, since she’s married on the show now, they can just have her be pregnant as a character. I’m not concerned about this like I was the first time Pam was with child. They didn’t trot the baby out too much, and they didn’t focus on it too much or get precious about it. However, Angela is also pregnant via her closeted male gay State Senator boyfriend. I presume Angela Kinsey is also pregnant in real life. She was pregnant once before, but they had to hide that. Now, they can let it be known. Women be pregnant in Scranton!
There is really only one storyline in this episode, and it involves the titular list. The gang are trying to get a sense of Robert, and trying to get on his good side, even if it means getting in awkward conversations with him. Much like with Deangelo, the show is sort of revolving around Robert in this episode, only it doesn’t feel gimmicky and the character actually has some sort of depth to it. Erin is the “lucky” recepient of a conversation this time, where she learns a valuable lesson about not having to mention waking up when telling somebody about your day. Andy calls Robert into his office to try and make some strides with him, and Robert accidentally leaves his notebook at Erin’s desk.
Erin picks up the notebook, and finds a list of everybody’s names in two columns. She shows Pam, Pam shows Jim, and then everybody is concerned. Pam decides to copy the notebook so they can decipher it, and even shows it to Andy, since he’s now the boss and has to deal with these things. He brings it up with Robert, who claims he was just doodling in his own way, but then he moves Andy from one side of the list to the other.
In the funniest part of this storyline, they turn to Dwight’s extensive volumes of lists he’s made to try and figure out what it may be, but none of them, even the one about who would eat who, line up. In a less funny part, the two groups line up across from each other, and then Dwight orders his group to attack. It was too silly. Anyway, with tensions and nerves running high, one of the groups, the one with Dwight, Jim, Oscar, and others, get invited out to lunch. The other group, with folks like Andy, Erin, and Pam, is not. Naturally, this concerns the uninvited group, so Andy tries to buck their spirits in the best way he knows how: With a pizza party!
At the lunch, after a humorous diatribe from Robert against Elmo, we find out that this group he considers to be the “winners” which the other group are the “losers.” This makes people like Jim uncomfortable, while others, like Dwight and Kevin, are quite happy about it. In fact, Kevin even sends the “losers” group a derogatory text message, which pretty much also validates the worst fears of the group. Pam takes it particularly hard. She got an excellent little monologue to deliver that may have been the highlight of the episode, and Andy and his pizza could not console them.
This new dynamic causes problems in the office, and Andy decides he needs to try and put a stop to it. He confronts Robert about the situation, and he unapologetically spells it out. His philosophy is simple: He’s a straight shooter, and he’s hoping that his “winners” prove him right and his “losers” prove him wrong. This still doesn’t satisfy Andy, who goes in and makes a list of his own where everybody, except Gabe, is a winner. Hey, remember Gabe? Also, remember Jordan? She wasn’t in this episode I’m pretty sure. What a great addition to the cast she made. Andy also gets Robert to agree to a half day on the Friday before Columbus Day weekend, which evidently they already got.
There was also a running, I guess you can call it a gag, about how much Pam was crying. She repeatedly watched that commerical where that dog is worried about his bone and cried during it. In the closer to the episode, Jim left her a note where only she, and their two kids are in the winners list. They got a couple funny jokes out of this, and Fischer had a particularly good episode this week. She’s always been very good as Pam, but she got a lot to work with this time around.
All in all, I feel this was a good episode. It was driven by Robert, but it wasn’t too focused on him. Spader’s is pretty much perfect for this particular character, so that’s a plus. Andy as boss worked for at least this episode. The story wasn’t all that interesting, and not a lot was drawn out of it, but it sufficed. There was some really funny stuff, but it wasn’t particularly hilarious. Still, this wasn’t like any other season premiere. Not since the pilot episode has The Office had to do something this challenging. They had to basically rebrand and repackage the show. Overall, I think they were successful. At the very least, I’m not worried about this new, Michael Scott-less, Robert California-ful, world. After all, any show with a character named Robert California can’t be that bad. “The List” was pretty low key for a season opener, but the show still managed to do enough to start off season eight reasonably well.