In a memorable moment of the musical Guys and Dolls, two gamblers are talking when suddenly, to prove a point, the smooth Sky Masterson bets the less smooth Nathan Detroit that he can’t remember what color his own tie is. It’s a humiliating moment for Nathan, since Sky is right — Nathan has no idea what color tie he’s wearing and loses out on a sizable amount of money. The Office has never reminded me of Guys and Dolls … until the cold open this week.
After working with Stanley for many years, no one in the office can remember whether or not he has a mustache. Rather than being ashamed of this, it becomes a lively debate and finally, just as Stanley is about to come into the office, they all vote. It turns out Stanley does have a mustache, half of them are wrong, Stanley scowls, and then the credits begin. A slight drama, but a funny one, and one that perfectly encapsulates the particular point of view of The Office, in which there are no smooth Sky Mastersons, just a room full of Nathan Detroits, none ashamed that they don’t know what color ties they’re wearing.
After the break, Robert California dresses Pam down for watching a YouTube music video on her computer, saying that 9 to 10 a.m. is the hour of greatest productivity. Then Nellie bursts in. It’s 9:50 a.m. When California asks her why she was late, she blames the snooze alarm, and then when he presses, she launches into a speech about what a crap place Scranton is, and how much she hates what appear to be the Irish people all around her. Though she peppers her speech with “no offense,” Oscar kindly informs her that her speech is actually really offensive. Ever the gentleman, California says that Nellie must be stressed and decides that the office should throw her a party that afternoon, and that Jim and Dwight will help her move into her apartment.
Meanwhile, Andy and Erin are on a fun-fest road trip to go break up with Jessica. In scenes shot like a car commercial, they are full of excitement for their new life together as they head to Jessica’s family’s cabin so that Andy can tell her that it’s over. Andy is feeling hopeful because one of their practice breakup conversations lasted less than two minutes.
There is unrest in the office about having to throw a party for Nellie. Everyone decides to throw a bad party as a prank. This absorbs everyone’s attention and as usual, no one does any work all day. At Nellie’s house, Dwight and Jim are feeling oppressed by having to move Nellie’s boxes, but they learn a few things about her. For one, she says she hates magicians, shuddering at the thought of them “pulling funnies out of body crevices.” When Pam calls Jim to tell him their plan to throw a bad prank party, Jim tells her to get a magician.
But that’s before he and Dwight come across a shoebox full of Nellie’s secret things that turn out to be pictures of her and her ex-boyfriend. When they are caught, she tells them a sad story. The photos are of Benjamin, her magician ex-boyfriend, who left her after ten years for the waitress at their favorite restaurant. After that, she couldn’t afford their apartment, and it was a long way down to where she is now, in Scranton.
Jim frantically calls Pam and tells her to cancel the magician. When she goes back to her cohorts, however, they won’t budge. The mean party will continue! Desperate, Pam suggests a code name for Nellie. The angry officemates decide that they will use “Pam,” as their code name for Nellie, a decision that results in everyone saying awful things about “Pam,” but nice things about Nellie. When the magician arrives, he is undermined by and Pam and angrily rants and storms out. California is worried that it’s been what it appears to be, the worst party ever, but Nellie beams and declares it “great.”
Erin and Andy finally arrive at Jessica’s family’s cabin and realize that they are interrupting a bachelorette party, but get roped into staying. After the bride-to-be starts bursting balloons with the names of her exes on them, one of which Andy intervenes on behalf of, Jessica’s friends hug Andy and tell him that he’s “one of the good ones.” Finally Andy thinks he needs to get this over with, so he brings Jessica into the kitchen. When she responds “you’re breaking up with me?” all the eyes of the bachelorette party turn on him. Jessica accuses him of leaving her for Erin, even though Andy said she was “not relationship material.” Andy, flustered, denies that Erin has anything to do with it and claims that he’s actually gay. Jessica’s gay friend immediately says that he knew it, and after a moment of denial, Jessica agrees that she can kind of see it. Andy is a little thrown — but Jessica says she forgives him, it wasn’t that serious anyway, just leave her alone.
Back in the car, the vibes are not nearly as cheery. Erin’s feelings are hurt, and Andy may realize that he just made a fool of himself. So he swings the car back around and goes back into that bachelorette party, where he screams that he loves Erin. The bachelorette yells that he’s ruining her party. Andy and Erin are off again, buffoons perhaps, but happy ones.
Their story line underscores how weak by comparison their courtship story is to the heartfelt one between Jim and Pam. When Jim and Pam were in their love triangle, people talked about it at their own offices because as comedic as it all was, their stories were fully grounded in the drama of reality. When Erin gets back into the car with Andy after he tells the bachelorettes that he’s gay, I was hoping that we would finally get a chance to see some real emotion from her. What The Office does best is underscore the absurdities of daily life by letting real drama arise from ridiculous circumstances. It would have been wonderful to see Erin really tell him how she felt in the car. We have been waiting for a scene like that, but she didn’t deliver it. It was Andy who decided to turn the car around of his own volition. Despite the charms of Ellie Kemper, which are numerous, the love story can’t really take off because Erin has no real agency. Andy’s antiheroic return to the bachelorette party could have been classic Office, but his love feels facile, since the object of it is so unarticulated.