‘The Office’ – ‘The Incentive’: Tattoo you

A quick review of last night’s “The Office” coming up just as soon as I scat about the good part…

I’m of two minds on “The Incentive.” Even more blatantly than last week’s premiere, it signaled that the writers intend to use Andy as a slightly kinder, gentler Michael Scott. The details may change, and maybe a few personality quirks – Andy doesn’t have Michael’s sales genius but isn’t as initially off-putting as Michael so often was – but they did this episode in broad strokes a whole lot of times during the Carell years. Robert California showed up briefly to trigger the plot, but he wasn’t any more prominent than Jo, David Wallace, Jan, etc. would have been in the Michael version of this episode. So if anyone was hoping that Carell’s departure, James Spader’s arrival, etc. might liven up the show this late in its lifespan, it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case. This isn’t “Cheers” replacing Diane with Rebecca (a very different character who altered the show’s overall dynamic); this is more like Andy as the second Darin on “Bewitched.”

But on the other hand, “The Incentive” was a good example of this type of episode. I liked seeing the office staff commit too enthusiastically to Andy’s plan (Stanley acting out-of-character is great so long as it’s properly set up, as it was here), and the last couple of scenes outside the tattoo parlor (Jim and Andy, and then Andy seeing the Nard-Dog tattoo) were effectively sweet. I had a few issues on the margins – the Kevin teaser was hilarious, but then his panic about having to play receptionist featured too much of Kevin being that cartoonish in a single episode, and the Darryl subplot didn’t so much end as stop – but overall I found it much more satisfying than the premiere. Had they built this exact episode around Michael, say, early last season, I wouldn’t have worried about the show repeating itself at all.

So the question is how often they can recycle Michael-style plots with Andy Bernard at the center of them. They’ve been doing this show for a long time now, and at times the only way to liven up a comedy this old is with a significant cast change to shake up the formula. And it seems “The Office” wants to keep doing business as usual. It worked well this week, but can they do multiple seasons this way without it seeming tired? We’ll see.

What did everybody else think?

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