Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

michael scott Archive

Sunday

15

March 2015

3

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Character Study: Robert California

Written by , Posted in Blog, features, Pop Culture

This is a new feature on the site where I talk about television characters that join shows after they’ve already premiered. These can be ones with starring roles or recurring characters just so long as they weren’t there from the beginning. To nominate a character, please use the comment section.

Many critics wanted The Office to end with Steve Carell’s departure in season seven. I was not among them. The supporting cast was talented enough to survive the loss of its lead. Furthermore, Michael Scott had run his course as a character and was holding back the rest of the ensemble. How many more seasons could be predominated by episodes revolving around Michael’s obliviousness or lack of social life?

James Spader was the one silver lining in the otherwise disastrous season seven finale. I liked the concept behind “Search Committee,” but it was too disjointed and failed to live up to the hype it received for its star studded line up of guests. Seeing Warren Buffet and Ray Romano was nice, but Spader’s Robert California was the only character who truly looked like he belonged at the helm of Dunder Mifflin Scranton (of the rest, only Will Arnett and Catherine Tate were courted by NBC. Arnett was unavailable due to obligations to Up All Night, which was cancelled soon afterwards. Tate didn’t test well with American audiences, though she would join the cast halfway through season eight).

Bringing Spader on board was a no brainer. His energy was completely different from Carrell and he well positioned to bring life back into The Office. Except for one problem.

He wasn’t made Regional Manager.

The Robert California that showed up in the season eight premiere “The List” was much different than the enigma we saw in “Search Committee.” He lacked the domineering nature that Spader appeared to be channeling from his earlier film Secretary. Part of this made sense. While California carried a few scenes with that act in “Search Committee,” he would need to tone it down a bit to get through a twenty four episode season.

Problem was, the toned down Robert didn’t really last. His eccentricities started to pop up, but they weren’t really mesmerizing at all and bore little resemblance to the character’s first appearance. Seeing Robert try to start an office orgy in “Pool Party” was just weird.

This is where the choice to make Robert CEO came to hurt the show. For all intents and purposes, Andy Bernard replaced Michael Scott. Robert California came aboard as an additional Creed Bratton, only with a spot in the opening credits. He wasn’t always involved in the action. Most of the time, he was just there, being creepy.

There were also times where he wasn’t even in the episode at all. California was absent from “Lotto” and then missed a five-episode stretch from “Jury Duty” to “Test the Store.” By the time he’d come back for good, it was the beginning of the end as his war with Andy started, which would ultimately lead to his departure.

It was never clear California what was supposed to do. The dominating man who left Gabe, Jim, and Toby speechless in his interview was gone. In his place was a drifter who wanted to fool around distracting the office.

Andy’s failures as manager exacerbated the problem. It’s not hard to see why NBC wanted Helms for the job as his success with The Hangover mirrored Carrell’s with The 40 Year Old Virgin, but his character was better suited for a supporting role. Andy was already a polarizing character, but this made him almost universally deplorable.

California on the other hand, could’ve maintained the office’s feng shui as manager. He didn’t necessarily have to be the lead that Carrell was, but the confusing nature of his presence often threw off the whole show. Later comments by Paul Lieberstein suggest that California’s arc was only supposed to last one season.

That just leaves one question. What was the arc? In terms of plot, nothing really happened until the season’s penultimate episode “Turf War,” when Robert started acting erratic and Sabre’s money problems became apparent. Andy rushed in with David Wallace and California slithered away. That’s sort of it.

Failed potential seems to accurately summarize Spader’s time on the show. Which is a shame. Boston Legal is one of my favorite shows of all time. Spader is getting rave reviews for The Blacklist and will be the villain in the upcoming Avengers movie. All this tells you is that it season eight didn’t have to be terrible.

It’s clear that Spader was only sort of committed to the role, which sunk it right from the get go. Season eight could’ve blown a few of the previous seasons out of the water. It didn’t, mostly because the talent involved simply decided not to.

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Sunday

22

February 2015

1

COMMENTS

Parks and Recreation Surpassed The Office Through The Strength Of Its Supporting Cast

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

I’m sure some of you regard the title of my article as blasphemy. There are plenty of reasons to think that. In terms of mainstream popularity, The Office wins. It’s hard to envision Parks and Recreation even existing without The Office. P&R was supposed to be a spinoff of The Office for much of its development. Greg Daniels, who co-created P&R, was the driving force in adapting The Office from its British counterpart. The two share much DNA, which makes comparisons inevitable.

Which isn’t entirely fair. Though both are workplace comedies, The Office was literally about an office, while P&R was afforded the opportunity to explore Pawnee in a way that The Office never really got to do with Scranton. Utilizing the whole city allowed P&R to greatly expand its cast of recurring characters and develop its culture in a way made impossible by focusing on one set. It seems unfair to compare the two on these grounds, as The Office could never really have its own pit or Lil Sebastian.

It wouldn’t be unfair to compare the two shows using Michael Scott and Leslie Knope, but I’m reluctant to do that on the grounds that Steve Carrell and Amy Poehler are both so talented that a stalemate is inevitable. Both leads were incredibly strong and shared some similarities. From a stylistic standpoint, Knope was afforded more room to grow since P&R wasn’t tethered to her shortcomings to the extent The Office was to Scott’s naivety and lack of friends.

Where can we compare them and see some differences? Simple. Parks and Recreation’s supporting cast isn’t just superior to The Office’s. It’s not even close. Now you might think this is unfair to say since The Office had double the regular cast members and that’s certainly something to consider, but The Office also had close to eighty more episodes. Not so unfair.

Parks and Recreation invested in all of its characters. The best example of this is Gary/Jerry/Larry/Terry/Garry Gergich, who matches up reasonably well with Office tertiary characters like Kevin Malone and Toby Flenderson. Jerry is often the butt of the joke, but the show takes extreme caution to make sure Jerry always has victories to call his own. Jerry is the only character with a consistent spouse for the duration of the show (though she doesn’t appear until season five). Gayle is attractive and doesn’t mock Jerry like the Parks department. It’s also hinted that he’s quite well endowed. Donna’s success with both her career and romantic life also go to show how dedicated P&R was to fully developing all of its characters.

The only tertiary character on The Office to get this kind of caring treatment is Phyllis Lapin-Vance. Victories for Kevin and Meredith were few and far between, while other characters like Stanley and Creed rarely factor into the plot at all. There’s rarely an episode of Parks and Recreation that doesn’t give all its characters something to do.

If you look at The Office’s main supporting cast compared to P&R’s, it’s once again not even close. Even if you took out Ron Swanson, quite possibly the greatest character in either series, it’s hard to say that Tom, April, Ann, Ben, Chris, and Andy, and don’t romp Jim, Pam, Dwight, Andy, …and Ryan!

You could take Leslie out of the equation and still have a great episode. The Office tried to do that with Scott’s departure and people hated seasons eight and nine (I actually didn’t, but more on that in another article). I’m not saying P&R could have survived without Leslie, but the show didn’t live or die solely by her shenanigans.

Which isn’t to say that The Office didn’t have a strong supporting cast. I think the Jim/Pam romance is a little overrated to say the least, but Dwight remains one of the best comedic TV characters of all time. Andy was annoying and terrible, which does drag things down a bit, but others like Oscar and Angela did grow to the point where they wouldn’t have been out of place in the opening credits.

I figured I’d mention Mark Brendanawicz now, just to say I did. He wasn’t awful, but P&R didn’t hit its stride until he left. Moving on.

The supporting cast of P&R are endearing because they were allowed to thrive without being constantly overshadowed by the lead character. Ron could have paternal relationships with April, Andy, and to a lesser extent, Tom and Ann. Ben could be flabbergasted by April and Andy’s immaturity. Chris could have a meltdown about his sessions with Dr. Richard Nygard with just about anyone and it would work.

Any combination of P&R characters could result in comedy gold. You might be quick to say the same about The Office and that’s true. The difference is that P&R did take advantage of those opportunities far more than The Office ever cared to (though it cared more about this once Carrell left).

Obviously these are two great shows, but P&R stands above The Office. It might not be far that P&R had a guy like Rob Lowe as one its more minor characters, but that doesn’t change the fact that P&R consistently rewarded its talent with material to work with.

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