'The Office' season premiere: Goin' to California

the-office-s8-premiere.jpg"Life is long. Opinions change." -- Robert California

The new CEO's words of semi-reassurance to the Scranton employees at the end of "The Office's" season premiere will be ones I try to keep in mind going forward. Because while James Spader is a very interesting addition to the show, I'm less sure about the new man in charge at the branch.

(That's your signal for a pretty big spoiler coming. So if you haven't seen the episode yet, go elsewhere.)

That man is one Andrew Bernard, and it's a decision I'm not yet sure about. Andy has frequently come off as Michael Scott Lite for much of his time on "The Office" (and certainly post-anger management training), and on first blush it feels like the show is trying to keep that same dynamic of the branch manager being a guy that everyone (more or less) likes but doesn't necessarily respect.

So can the writers and Ed Helms differentiate Andy's basically smart-but-spineless character enough from Steve Carell's often childish (or childlike) Michael? They haven't yet.

The premiere, "The List," centers on Robert leaving his notebook at Erin's desk, and the staff trying to discover what a list he's made -- half the office on one side, half on the other -- might mean. We find out that the left side contains people he thinks are winners (Jim, Dwight, Angela, Oscar and Kevin, among others), the right side losers (Pam, Kelly, Erin, Stanley and, after he bungles an approach to ask about it, Andy).

Other than perhaps being more outwardly angry at not being a "left-sider," it's hard to imagine Michael playing the quandary of Robert's list much differently. And that could be a problem. If the show wants to move forward without Michael, it can't keep reminding us of him in the actions of his direct replacement. The writers have shown an ability to course-correct in the past, so I'm hopeful, but it's not quite there yet.

As for the other new boss? This could work. Spader is a much different actor than "The Office" could ever have, and Robert California is a much different character than anyone on the show has ever come up against. Jo, whom Robert replaced as CEO, was very smart and very direct, but she wasn't around all that much. Robert is very smart, direct when it suits him -- and around a lot (not sure it was explicitly stated in the episode, but showrunner Paul Lieberstein has said Robert has family in Scranton, hence his frequent presence there).

Watching everyone try to adapt to that could be a lot of fun -- it will be a genuine challenge for these characters to keep up with Robert after years of not just Michael Scott but also a corporate culture (pre-Sabre, anyway) that encouraged mediocrity. It feels like there's a lot of possibility there, and through that maybe Andy will find his footing as well.

Other notes on "The List":

  • Wow, that was a lot of over-the-summer information dropped in the pre-credits sequence. We have one marriage (Angela), two pregnancies (Pam and Angela), a very elaborate routine for Dwight to channel his rage at Andy getting the manager job, and Stanley's new "shove it up your butt" bit.
  • The choice of this insurance ad as the thing that triggers Pam's tears could not be more perfect. There have never been tears in my house over the ad, but it has never failed to elicit at least an "awww."
  • We applaud "The Office's" anti-planking stance. We don't get it either.
  • Quote of the night comes from Kevin, in response to Robert's observation that Elmo reflects a narcissistic culture: "What I like about Elmo is the tickling."

What did you think of "The Office's" season premiere? Are you happy with the choice of the new branch manager? 
Photo/Video credit: NBC
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