Going into Steve Carell’s final season as Michael Scott, The Office is in a unique position. Though last season was definitely the worst thus far and Year 7 is rarely a whirlwind resurgence for a slumping long-running comedy, Carell’s departure suggests that the series’ writers will be faced with doing some of the things that they were seemingly uninterested in last season, most notably substantial arcs that last more than an episode or two.
And while “Nepotism” does not include Holly Flax’s return to Dunder Mifflin, any additional resolution to the Sabre printer fiasco or give really any major hint that Michael wants to leave, it’s a damn strong standalone episode for a series that had trouble doing those in recent seasons so it’s all forgivable in a sense. We know that Michael is leaving, so there is an external urgency for us, but the series can’t get completely wrapped up in telling Michael’s goodbye stories in every episode, particularly from the outset.
Instead, the approach taken here, which creates a funny situation that results in Micheal doing something very bad in the workplace and facing counseling with Toby next week because of it, is something of a small step on the path to his departure. Sure, Michael has done stuff like this before, but because we know he’s leaving, there’s an additional layer of meaning that implies the story is going somewhere, and spanking his deadbeat nephew-turned-assistant in front of the entire staff is the first move towards that. This reading might be giving the writers too much credit, but it seems smart to enjoy the episode for what it was with perhaps a sliver of additional meaning instead of hating it simply because Michael didn’t come out in the first episode and say, “I’m LEAVING!”
Apart from all that, “Nepotism” is simply an enjoyable half-hour of The Office that’s often funny and delivers more realistic and likable portrayals of certain characters who lost their way last season. Dwight’s actions as the building owner are completely believable and thankfully, for those of you who thought they lost it last year, Jim and Pam are exceptionally charming in this episode. It simply seems like most people always want them to be the lovesick, younger versions of themselves who are more concerned with playing pranks, and so there’s absolutely no way those individuals could not have liked the events of this episode. Pam ruining Jim’s prank and then trying to make up for it using Kevin’s infinite knowledge of the CIRCUS board in the elevator is a lovely gag. And for people like me, who kind of like the stuffier Jim and Pam, it’s easy to buy into this prank because Dwight freaking deserves it.
While I hate to see the Nard Dawg and Erin separated, picking Gabe as her new boyfriend is a genius move. Zach Woods is awesome in the role, and anything that makes the Nard Dawg an underdog is a good play since Ed Helms plays that part of the character so well. There is some concern that the Andy-Erin thing is being played out too much, but because it’s so cute and really such a small part of each week (compared to Jim and Pam back in the day), I think I’m willing to go with it. In general, it’s nice to see that Gabe is fully ingrained into the Dunder Mifflin culture enough that he enjoys conference room meetings and the moment with he and Michael trying to share the chair is probably my favorite moment of the episode.
Oh, and the lip dub opening? I loved it. Haters like to be critical of the series when the characters take a web phenomenon and implement it too later (just like the wedding dance), but that’s the point. These people live in Scranton, PA. They’re mostly middle-aged. It’s not like they’re on StumbleUpon.com all day, every day looking for cool things to do in the office. It has to dwindle down the cultural scale people, you know this.