“I can’t…not touch it…”
It’s been five weeks since the last new episode of The Office, and it looks like the break was just what the show needed to get out of its mid-season rut. In “Trivia,” Robert California tells Andy to double the office’s sales growth, which he tries to do by buying stockpiles of Dunder Mifflin paper with his own money. When that falls short of the quota, he asks Oscar to make an accounting error (Kevin offers to do it, but Andy tells him he needs a “real accountant”), but Oscar has plans to go to Philadelphia for trivia night with his buddies. After Andy finds out that the winning trivia team gets one thousand dollars, he packs up all the Dunder Mifflinites and heads down to Philly to take the cash prize and solve the sales growth problem.
This episode kept it simple, and for a show with such a scattered cast and revolving door of guest stars, simplicity seems to be the key to an effective Office episode these days. Getting the crew out of the office and over to a Philly gay bar’s trivia night helped the little details flow, like when Andy tells Jim, Darryl, and Ryan what TV channels they’d all be (Jim is ESPN, Darryl is ESPN Classic, Ryan is MSNBC, and Andy is a combo of E, TLC, and Oxygen) or the names of the other competing trivia teams (the Queerenstein Bears, Two Broke Dorks, Jason So-Gay-Kiss). The Dunder crew divide themselves into three teams: the Dunder Mifflin A-Team (Andy, Darryl, Jim, Ryan), the DM Back-Ups (Phyllis, Creed, Stanley, Angela), and the Einsteins AKA the “just here to have fun” team (Kelly, Erin, Kevin, and Meredith). Stanley ditches early into the game, and Ryan leaves soon after he’s caught cheating on his smartphone (“I…I can’t not have my phone…I’m sorry…”).
The game narrows down until only two teams are left – Oscar and his team Aesop’s Foibles and, despite Andy’s expectations, the Einsteins, thanks to either their collective coincidental knowledge or a streak of beginner’s luck. Oscar ends up getting the last question wrong, and Kevin wins the game for the Einsteins. He tells the camera, “A fluke is one of the most common fish in the sea. So if you go fishing for a fluke, chances are you just might catch one.”
While everyone else is in Philadelphia, Dwight ventures down to the Sabre headquarters in Florida to meet with Robert California about an open managerial position. Like Robert, Gabe works in both the Florida and Scranton offices, and in Florida he works as an office manager, or as he puts it, “I am the toilet of this office. I flush away annoying problems so others can keep their hands clean.” “You know Gabe, you could’ve gone with a garbage disposal, an incinerator, or an eraser, and instead you chose toilet,” Dwight responds. “God bless you. You are an American classic.”
Robert says he’s too busy to meet Dwight so he’ll have to meet with Bill, the Sabre COO, but it turns out that it’s just another Robert California mind game – he tells Gabe over the phone to eventually tell Dwight that Bill can’t meet him either. Dwight catches on and twists Gabe’s arm (literally) until he takes him to Robert’s condo, where they find Robert in the middle of his monthly in-home “cardiovascular workout” with a wrestler (“I could go to the gym three times a week, or I could wrestle Stu once a month”). Dwight pours on the power sales pitch for the job, and Robert avoids telling him he’s just not Florida Sabre material by dissing Florida as “America’s basement” and playing Wizard of Oz by giving Dwight one of his grandfather’s war medals: “For acts of courage. For excellence. It’s a tribute one man gives to another.” “This is a job interview,” Dwight finally decides, “not a flea market!”
The Office uncovered a magic chemistry by isolating Robert, Dwight, and Gabe from the others that allowed Dwight’s alpha-male haywire energy to bump up against California’s evasive mind games without distraction, and it highlighted the distinct weirdness in all three of them that felt diluted for the first half of this season. Whether it was Gabe’s way of justifying the tasks at his job to Dwight, Dwight performing his I’m-right-for-the-job pitch in front of a sweaty and disinterested Robert, or Robert trying to talk Dwight out of working in Florida because “alligators are dinosaurs, you know that right?”, there was a special energy – maybe being free of Andy’s mealy-mouthed simpering – that allowed for some real-guy bonding to occur without all the touchy-feely nonsense, and when Robert tells Dwight that they’ll be a future job opening that’s more suited for him, it’s enough of an affirmation of honor to satisfy him in the same way haggling delis to lower their bagel prices keeps Gabe feeling enough empowerment to keep scraping for more. It’s a lot like Andy, too – but it’s clear from the trivia night results that while Andy isn’t great at judging the skills of others, he’s still good at getting everyone together to reach a common goal, especially when money (and the approval of Robert California – or anyone for that matter) is on the line.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.