S8:E14 Tonight’s episode of The Office … oh, where to begin? After last week’s promising leap forward, the series took a giant step back. Pam is back from maternity, Dwight is in charge of assembling a team to take a trip to Sabre headquarters in Tallahassee, Florida, for a “special project,” and, oh yeah, this was The Office’s Valentine’s Day episode! Typically that is cause for celebration, as the writers tend to devote an entire episode to the holiday and all of Dunder Mifflin’s romances, both secretive and out in the open — oftentimes to hilarious results. Not tonight, though. V-Day accounts for but a few scenes; it’s more or less ignored for a storyline that seems empty but that we can only hope leads down a very interesting road paved with actual developments. And soon!
“You will be assembling a team to go to Tallahassee for three weeks to develop and launch a chain of Sabre stores.” -Andy, to Dwight
And now to the aforementioned storyline that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere but that might and hopefully will next episode: Andy tells Dwight that he’s been “promoted” and must head down to Sabre’s headquarters in Tallahassee, Florida, where he and a team are to, as Ryan puts it, help the company set up “its own Apple store.” Pretty much the rest of the episode — at least as it relates to this particular story arc — is dedicated to the team that Dwight picks for the Florida trip; it couldn’t be more different from Andy’s picks of Daryl, Phyllis, Kathy, Kevin and Kelly. Needless to say, Dwight is not pleased (would have been with any group of five), but even more upset is the rest of the office for not being chosen for they see as a sunny vacation under the guise of work. So Andy and Dwight give everyone 30 minutes to come up with and present the reasons they deserve to go to Florida. Meanwhile, Jim is texting back and forth with Robert California, who has already requested his presence and that he “bring the golf clubs.” Jim has no interest in the trip, because he wants to stay and help out Pam, who just returned from maternity leave (more on that below), but ultimately, he can’t say no to the boss, and much to the devastation of Dwight, is automatically penciled in for the trip. The others: Kathy, Stanley, Ryan and Erin. Dwight sets up a special-project orientation in the conference room to basically try and dissuade them from going to Florida (by implementing tactics like raising the temperature, pasting posters of cockroaches and releasing mosquitoes into the room, all to mimic the conditions down South), only to find out that the five might actually have some good ideas to contribute.
“Look who’s back reporting for duty.” -Jim
For all intents and purposes, two side-stories are crammed into one other storyline during tonight’s episode. First up is Pam’s return from maternity leave, which is announced by Jim and greeted by warmish welcomes from her co-workers … and overshadowed by another mom returning to work: Angela! Fresh off (as in four days removed from) giving birth to what is apparently Dwight’s “giant monster baby,” Angela is back and looking better than ever, back to her normal weight and extremely small frame. She steals Pam’s return-to-work thunder and makes her look bad, and out of shape, in the process. That’s the opening scene, and pretty much the only time this storyline is referenced. Also barely present, storywise, is Valentine’s Day, which, again, usually accounts for an Office special but tonight only musters a few scenes. First, there’s a return to the Andy-Erin drama, er, awkwardness, when Andy points out to Erin that heart pin on his lapel was given to him by his girlfriend, Jessica, and then again when Erin volunteers to go to Florida with a hint of sadness as her motive. Then there’s Daryl, who’s smitten with warehouse gal Val but doesn’t quite know how to show it. When she knits him a beanie, he thinks she feels the same way and goes to get her a gift, only to discover that she did the same for the rest of the warehouse guys. His hopes are further dashed when he intercepts a call for Val that appears to be coming from her boyfriend. In the end, though, it turns out that Val feels the same way as Daryl and the call was merely a decoy to test the waters, so to speak.
Ouch, Office writers — this one hurt a bit. Again, we were all cautiously optimistic after the relative success of last week, but this might’ve brought us back to Square One. And we’re talking about the same old culprits: The story goes absolutely nowhere, and ditto the jokes, or attempts thereof. As previously mentioned, positively nothing happened in tonight’s episode, but we can only hope and presume that it’ll have major implications down the road, hopefully next week (will Dwight stay in Tallahassee? Will Erin meet someone else? Will Jim meet someone else??); tonight, though, reverted to the trend of almost appearing as though it was a one-off episode. And the jokes! There’s been such a marked decline in quality. Once upon a time on this show, comedy was born out of reality, and the gags were dry, subtle. But nowadays, it’s all loud and borderline laugh-track-worthy. Perhaps never has it been more glaring than with Daryl, who tonight was delivering straightforward one-liners that seemed written for another show! The Office — and the office — desperately needs a Michael Scott-return cameo.