‘The Office’ Recap: Andy and Nellie Swap Places

S8:E19 Tonight’s episode of The Office — which, fun fact, was directed by Rainn Wilson — was rather predictable, somewhat inconsequential, a bit silly and representative of perhaps a slight step back. One of the storylines, the Erin-and-Andy saga, feels like a total carbon copy of the Jim/Pam version that sucked us all in years ago. The other half of the episode, involving Nellie Bertram, contained a few funny bits but overall came across as borderline aimless and seems like a transparent setup for audiences.

“I really wish I could come into work today, but … super-sick.” –Andy

Last week, those of us who loyally watched until the very end saw Andy announce to the camera that he’d be going to Tallahassee, Fla., to get Erin, who, remember, had told him she’d be staying there to take care of an old lady she’d befriended named Irene. Sure enough, tonight’s episode finds Andy in Tallahassee — or near it; he overshot by about 200 miles by using his heart-map (he eventually shows arrives at her doorstep in a package, literally) — trying to coax her into going back to Scranton with him, maybe as a couple again. But Irene is very skeptical, especially since Andy is still “technically” dating Jessica. Awkwardness ensues, as do earnest lines like “Andy, you broke my heart. We’re just not meant to be.” It doesn’t take long for Irene to come around on Andy, who is, after all, “a good boy” risking his job for Erin. And wouldn’t you know it — just as Andy has given up on Erin and starting his car to head back to Scranton, she screams and chases after him. They kiss and leave together, much to, well, absolutely no one’s surprise.

“If the seat is open, the job is open.” -Nellie

When Andy finally returns (with Erin) to Scranton, though, it might not be a pretty situation for him: The very morning that he went AWOL in search of Erin, Nellie Bertram (returning guest star Catherine Tate), onetime candidate to replace Michael Scott and more recently the scorned president of special projects, showed up at the Scranton office, saw an opening in the form of Andy’s office and chair, and took it. What starts off as an apparent joke quickly becomes serious, because although we viewers knew about Andy’s whereabouts, no one in the office did, including Robert California. And not only is he unhappy about Andy’s sudden MIA status (although he claims to be sick), but the rest of the office, initially very wary of Nellie’s presence, begins to come around when she promises raises all around. (For Pam, it’s the promise of naps.) Jim, in disbelief over everyone’s betrayal of Andy and their gullibility about the raises, is the last remaining staunch holdout. His office-mates don’t make it easy for him, either: They all start to cheer on Nellie and her promises. That’s when Robert just so happens to enter the room, and, seeing that Nellie has apparently rallied the troops, joins in applauding her … and perhaps secretly deciding to replace the absent manager, Andy, with her?

OK, so maybe the intro was a little hard on this episode, which, on second thought, might not’ve been a complete dud. Still, though, there’s no denying the similarities between Erin/Andy and Jim/Pam (and the predictability. Good God!), all the way down to the line “We haven’t loved each other at the same time” — which was uttered tonight and was the big problem between Jim and Pam before they DID love each other at the same time. A lot of other parallels can be made, too, and it almost seems as though the writers have run out of steam and are content to recycle stories. Speaking of running out of steam, the Nellie character (not the actress, who’s superb) seems to have run her course, and while tonight’s episode hints at possible repercussions for Andy (who, yes, needs to be replaced as manager) and thus semi-permance for Nellie, playing another game of Managerial Musical Chairs isn’t really exciting for viewers anymore. It’s more manipulative.