I may step on some critics’ toes for this statement, but I believe film will always be at least a little more respectable than television. It’s not because film attracts an inherently higher caliber of actor or is inherently better at creating strong characters, only that film has a stronger obligation to the creation of a proper story. Barring the tendency to churn out sequel after sequel of a profitable blockbuster, films are made with the understanding that they have to come to a satisfying conclusion in order to tell a good story. Characters have to change, as do circumstances and overall tone. Something has to happen between beginning and end. Television, on the other hand, is less subservient to the inevitable end. The temptation is always there to set up another season, to keep the viewers coming back to see the things they’ve loved since the beginning of the show. This is the impetus of the reset button, that tendency to end every televised plot arc with a return to the status quo. TV shows, especially long-running, episodic ones, change at a glacial pace, if at all. The thing that has made The Office‘s Florida arc interesting is the possibility that it might just change things in a meaningful way. That’s why “Last Day in Florida” is a disappointing episode even if it’s not terribly flawed on its own.
The A-plot is fairly simple: Robert California has always hated the Sabre store idea but felt compelled to see it through because Jo, the original CEO, endorsed it, giving it good will with the company brass. Now that the store has been tested, he can deem it a failure and move on. The problem, of course, is that he has to pass the blame to an expendable employee. In this case, Dwight is on the chopping block. The episode doesn’t directly explain how Nellie isn’t in the crosshairs as well, but it has been established in the past that she has friends in high places and her job title (president of special projects) could potentially connect her to other parts of the company where she’s more useful. Dwight doesn’t know he’s taking the fall and won’t listen to Jim when Robert confides in the latter about his plans. Cue an extended bit of physical comedy as Jim literally wrestles with Dwight to keep him from entering the Meeting of Doom.
The logic at play here is fairly flawed, as it hinges on Nellie naming Todd Packer the VP when Dwight doesn’t show at the meeting. I’d like to think Jim would be smart enough to know this, or at least that the writers would take the time to explain Jim’s irrationality by underlining his weird, co-dependent relationship with Dwight. Ah, but that’s a small concern in light of the larger disappointment that is the inevitable return to business as usual. Packer takes the fall, Dwight is disappointed but still employed and everyone but Erin goes back to Scranton. Heck, even Ryan is back in town despite his dramatic, soul-searching exit last week.
The Office showrunner Paul Lieberstein recently gave an interview that shed some light on the show’s troubled 8th season. As much as I, as a fan and a critic, wanted the Florida arc to be about shaking up the staleness of the series, it seems that it was always more about spinning its wheels in an exotic locale. Lieberstein had little more than faint praise for Season 8 and focused on promises for Season 9. Though there’s still one more episode left in the Florida arc, it’s going to be about Andy’s quest to get Erin back from the nice old lady who’s currently employing her. It might be fun, even if it’s entirely rote, but it’s almost guaranteed to not be a big change. The most we’d lose is Ellie Kemper, which wouldn’t be a change for the better. More likely than not, Erin comes back with Andy and nothing really changes.
Perhaps it’s my last lingering shreds of hope and good will, but I’m still willing to give The Office a chance to do something interesting. That said, I’m fairly certain (and apparently so is Paul Lieberstein) that Season 8 isn’t where it’s going to happen. Florida could have been great, and at times it was, but it didn’t actually give The Office the shot in the arm it desperately needs.