With the season eight premier of “The Office” in the rear-view mirror, we can now settle in with Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) as the new office manager and see how well the comedy performs without the presence of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott. So far so good, judging by a spirited debut and Thursday’s episode, “The Incentive,” which finds new CEO Robert California (James Spader) challenging Andy and his team to double sales. This requires Andy to come up with some motivational techniques, all the while wondering if he really is best-suited for the job.

The Players:

  • Director: Charles McDougal
  • Writers: Paul Lieberstein
  • Cast: Rainn Wilson, James Spader, John Krasinski, B.J. Novak, Jenna Fischer, Ed Helms, Leslie David Baker, Brian Baumgartner, Creed Bratton, Mindy Kaling, Ellie Kemper, Angela Kinsey, Paul Lieberstein, Oscar Nuñez, Craig Robinson, Phyllis Smith

Episode: “The Incentive”

After a motivational speech, new CEO Robert California challenges Andy to get the office to double their sales. After Andy promises something he wishes he could take back, everyone in the office suddenly gets motivated to sell. Also, Pam finds an unlikely pregnancy friend.

The Good:

  • “I am afraid you’ve lost my interest”: We were only served a small dose of Robert California in this episode, but he was no less effective. One of the funnier scenes was Erin asking if he’d like a cold beverage, California asks for a coffee and Erin brings a cup of cold coffee.
  • Diabolical Dwight: I like that Dwight is still annoyed because he knows he is the best man for the job of office manager. It was nice to see the wheels spinning as he plotted out how he will eventually become boss. His short outburst at Andy in the kitchen was nice, simply because you can see just how much Dwight desperately wants the job – even if he has to mask his sadness/anger with a smile.
  • Tattoo You: Andy’s tattoo my ass incentive provided a lot of laughs, with a hilarious ‘nard dog’ tattoo payoff at the conclusion.
  • Jim: Jim’s brief chat with Andy outside the tattoo parlor was touching and funny, which is Jim all the way. It was a good episode all around for John Krasinki’s Jim, very much the leader in the office, even if Andy is boss.
  • Meet the New Boss: Anytime Andy has a strong episode as office manager I am going to provide a golf clap. Ten episodes from now Ed Helms might just own the role, but for now he is doing a nice job helping to re-adjust the dynamic without Carrell’s kooky Michael Scott around.

The Bad (but not that bad):

  • Cold Open/Kevin: It wasn’t bottom of the barrel, but it felt slight. Just Kevin being Kevin saved it, but not a memorable open to the episode.
  • Pam and Angela, Pregnant: Pam is pregnant. Angela is pregnant. You figure there is going to be some funny moments involving this expecting duo, but not tonight. Angela’s gentle digs in the season opener worked great, but her asking Pam to be her walking buddy really went nowhere, even if the bulk of the storyline came in the closing moments.
  • Darryl: I’m still not sure where the Darryl/ex-wife sub-plot is headed, if anywhere, but it felt out of place here, even if it did provide Darryl the chance to sing a few lines.


Not a bad follow-up to last week’s season debut. Ed Helms, who is working hard to make the role of boss his own, had some nice moments – both honest and humorous. The main storyline of Andy needing to incentivize the staff in order to double sales was funny and strong enough to carry the episode, helped along by the always top-shelf cast ensemble.

Two episodes in and it looks like “The Office” and sounds like “The Office”, but clearly the show is delicately trying to reinvent itself post-Carrell. It’s working for the most part because aside from the addition of James Spader, who appears to be relishing his new role, it’s the same foundation we’ve enjoyed all these years – great writing and great cast. I think it’s only when we see Andy as boss, in the corner office, (trying to) lead the way, that the show feels different. Not in a bad way, it’s just different. If that feeling ever completely changes remains to be seen.

Rating: 7/10

“The Office” airs on NBC at 9pm (ET/PT) on Thursday nights.

What did you think of last night’s episode?