Season 8: Funny but too much repetition in the plotting and feels like it is flapping a bit in regards direction.
Once The Office US got its own voice it quickly became really enjoyable indeed; the first season was a mistaken attempt to simply repeat the UK original but the second season saw it hit its mark and become its own beast. Later seasons saw it become more of a regular sitcom but it retained enough of its comedic strengths to stay funny. The eighth season manages to keep some of the comedy and the overall approach of asides and smart dialogue but unfortunately it mostly does it within the frame of plots that don't live up to the standard we have come to expect.
Ironically the problem with the majority of them is that the plots are often trying so hard to be classic Office that they end up repeating old plots and character arches whether they work or not. It doesn't start out this way though and indeed Robert California adds a wonderfully enjoyable new element to the show that maybe could have been used as a fresh core to the show. Unfortunately, although he is kept and remains good value, he is moved to one side to install Andy as the manager and essentially make him into a Michael Scott character. Once this is done we get a whirlwind tour through the previous seasons in regards repeating Scott's story through Andy; the winning over of staff, the being a jerk but yet also a decent guy, the dealing with corporate threats to the office, the challenges of a competing manager, branching out on his own, acting impulsively in the name of love, and so on. Not all of it is bad but for sure it is hard to escape that fact that the writers are not dealing well with the exit of Michael and have instead just decided to recreate him and try and keep going the way things were.
It isn't just this core character though, there are lots of retreads but sadly a lot of them are clumsy or exaggerated to try and generate energy to add freshness. There are many examples of this; Dwight and Angela again, Ryan and Kelly again are two straight repeats, but more telling is the attempts to repeat plot structures with new characters. So, I liked the "wouldn't they be good together" flirting of Darryl and the unavailable Val, but it still felt like a plot thread written because the show knows that office romances have been good material before so they try to force this one rather than letting it happen. The nature of the supporting characters means there are plenty of options for asides and comedy and often the show is still very funny, but the side-characters are perhaps a bit too pushed to be bigger and noisier than before and not all of the material is as good for them as it was in the past.
In terms of additions, Robert California works but Nellie Bertram simply does not. OK she is the exaggerated randomness that the show often loves, but with it she is unlikable, grating and tends to be annoying random rather than fun random. Tate is an acquired taste and I must confess it is not one I often seem to have I have liked her in some things but here she simply doesn't work as a character or in terms of material, so her performance may be dedicated to delivery, but it is still a delivery of a weak product. The other cast members are better but often struggle with the material as well because, although they are doing good work, there is an air of them doing it with weaker material and when they have in the cast. There is also a sense that they are being asked to do more than their characters are suited to considering that this is a show that was best when the support cast were sparingly and well used.
The eighth season of this show is still quite funny and it has enough energy to it to carry it through its problems but there are problems. The loss of the central character offered the chance for freshness but instead everyone is moved to fill his gap whether they fit or not The material mostly feels recycled with new characters or repeated versions of what has gone before. The dialogue and the performances continue to be good but the overall writing and plotting is weaker and if the ninth season continues the direction of this season then it probably doesn't have too much life left in it.
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