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The Office Recap: The Play’s the Thing

Last week, we asked whether Erin was an unconvincing rube or another of the office’s charming oddballs. The question this week is whether the unfinished business of Andy and Erin can replace the now-settled story line of Jim and Pam.

The episode opens with Andy and Scranton’s Loose Group theater singing “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” a “viral marketing” campaign designed to woo an audience for the local company’s production about the demon barber of Fleet Street. Seeing the prop razors, a defensive Dwight whips out his hunting knife while an excited Erin asks, “Oh my God, did you write this?” Andy, dressed in the character of naïve sailor Anthony Hope, tells her it’s Stephen Sondheim. Of course, she has no idea who that is. From previous episodes, we know that Erin’s childhood was somewhat traumatic, a detail often used for awkward laughs — like when she admits to Michael that she hides in her hair if she’s upset or when her foster brother creepily hits on her. But there are two castes of characters on this show, the main ones being Michael, Jim, Pam, Dwight, and Andy, and the funnier ones being everybody else, primarily Kelly, Darryl, Meredith, Ryan, etc. It’s not clear if Erin can drum up enough interest to be in the first group. Her quirks might be more amusing when sparsely displayed, like those of the perfectly underused Creed.

But when Andy invites Erin, and the rest of the office, to the play, his goal is to win her back from the episode-absent Gabe. Andy-centric plots are not our favorite, though this setup allowed the genuine comedy to come from the attendees. When a bored Kelly asks Ryan for the time, he pulls out his iPad, swiping the screen to reveal an enormous analog watch. This is the most showy-yet-appropriate Apple product placement since Modern Family’s “Game Changer,” and the joke — tech-obsessed Ryan using his new toy like an old-fashioned watch — felt believable. The second (!) Apple gimmick felt less so but was still funny: the signature chirp of Andy’s iPhone interrupts a scene, prompting him to pretend it’s a bird that he has to silence by saying, “He’s gone to sleep now. I’ve closed his beak.” Dwight, who hasn’t been to the theater since “a cat sat on his lap,” thought “all that singing got in the way of some perfectly good murders.” And reporter Creed called in his review with accurate local-paper-ese: “Unfortunately, the real terror comes from the vocal performances.” The less hilarious subplot belonged to Michael, who disrupted the show with balloons and boos after being overlooked for a part (despite having recited an entire episode of Law & Order during his audition).

Unfortunately for Andy, Erin misses most of the performance, deciding at the last minute to “get into the babysitting game” by staying home with young Halpert. She eventually shows up (finally, a Baby CeCe sighting), though not for long. A phone call from a soup-needing Gabe summons her home, leaving a deflated Andy in her wake.

Musicals set people’s wants and desires to song, and everybody in this episode wants something. Angela wants Dwight to see her as more than just a hole in her punch card (according to item 7-C, Clause 2 of their procreation papers, it’s okay for Dwight to develop feelings for her). Michael wants the spotlight. Jim and Pam want a break from their baby. Darryl wants to enjoy the show. And Andy wants Erin. But if you can’t always get what you want, you can get what you need, which is the support of friends. It’s kinda touching when the Dunder Mifflin Sabrites gather backstage to lift Andy’s spirits by goading him into an encore. Cut to Ed Helms singing “I try to say good-bye and I choke/I try to walk away and I stumble” (even Dwight knows the words to this Macy Gray song), and it’s possible to see this as a nod to the departing Steve Carell — cute, but corny enough to keep us from caring too much just yet.

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC