Even though last night was the first time in eight seasons we really get to see the Dunder Mifflinites do real, chaotically productive office work, the main plot of “The Incentive” was overshadowed by what I can only describe as an old, tired feeling from all the cast members. I don’t know guys, is it just me or has Dwight lost his flicker? Has Kelly lost her sass? Don’t you get depressed just looking at Jim these days, in any situation? The only character who doesn’t seem worn out is Robert California, whose mastermind plans are the only thing driving the show forward right now. Andy is a close second, but he can’t commit self-sacrifice between Robert and the others every week. One of Robert’s lines sums up this episode well: “There’s something about an underdog that really inspires the unexceptional.”
“The Incentive” begins with Kevin annoying everyone in the office by talking like Cookie Monster. Kevin says that it saves time to talk with less words (Did he say “see world” or “Seaworld”? We’ll never know.). More amused than annoyed, Oscar comments that Kevin’s behavior is “an ironic statement of our expectations of him - a funhouse image of our model of Kevin,” a line that made me feel like they were scolding me for finding this video hilarious. While there are a few smaller plotlines thrown in (Angela calling Child Protective Services on Pam for drinking herbal tea while pregnant; Darryl hooking up with his ex-wife in his office; Dwight waiting for Andy’s demise), the episode mostly follows Andy as he tries to get the office to double their sales numbers as per Robert’s demand (“The era of personal service is back!” Robert says). Andy institutes a points/prize system that escalates to him agreeing to “run naked through the parking lot with a doughnut on my ding-dong” for 1000 points, and he’ll let them tattoo whatever they want on his ass for 5000 points. Something about this even pulled Stanley into gear (“You’ve got to unleash the power of the Pyramid!”), and for a solid few minutes we saw The Office look like…an office, where people work, dialogue overlaps, and phones are balanced on shoulders while important file folders are passed on to accounting employees.
Last night’s episode was so similar to last week’s season premiere – Robert devises a plan, the plan divides the office, Andy intervenes for the office by humiliating himself, Robert smiles from an evil lair somewhere – and the only real difference is that Andy is rewarded with a douche-chill moment of love and appreciation from his employees at the end. Sure, he got the office to meet their sales goal in a single day, but is it really worth a Nard Dog tattoo on his ass?
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.