Spoilers for last night’s The Office:
Sigh. I feel obligated, since we’re in the final stretch to Steve Carell’s departure from The Office in two weeks, to say something about “Training Day.” But God, I found Will Ferrell’s guest spot disappointing. My problem was not so much with Ferrell himself as with Deangelo Vickers, whose name is by far the best thing about the character.
The thing is, I think I can see the kernel of the idea of Deangelo, and it’ a potentially fruitful one: basically, he’s Michael, except he’s also kind of a prick. (And how is that different from Michael? Because Michael will be selfish out of lack of impulse control or hurtful obliviously, whereas Deangelo will be insulting intentionally and shows kind of a mean streak.)
But he was introduced in such a way that his personality just seemed to change depending on the requirements of the scene. The cold open—a bonehead misunderstanding even by Michael Scott standards—establishes him as a good-natured idiot. He then shows up in the office, still good-natured but not so idiotic. Then the good nature disappears suddenly (for instance, as he turns suddenly cold on Pam and Jim).
Now there are very good, potentially fruitful ways of doing that characterization (and Will Ferrell is good at playing comic characters with a mean streak). Maybe he comes off nice calculatedly but likes to keep people off-balance, for instance—but that’s undercut by that cold open, which establishes him as a dim bulb who doesn’t seem capable of being cunning that way. Maybe too the revelation that this guy will make you appreciate Michael’s basic decency could come more gradually (it worked with Idris Elba’s story arc, for instance), but Ferrell is not going to be around long enough for that. So instead the episode played like Carell getting the chance to riff with another talented comic, who was playing two or three different characters.
Deangelo did occasionally pay dividends, though, in the way he brought out the anxieties of everyone else in the office striving to impress him. The Andy subplot was gold; his turning to slapstick to live up to his mislabeling as “the funny guy”—”I guess this is what my life is now”—was vintage dark Office humor. (And there were nice little touches. When he started a racist joke and couldn’t think of an ending, the typical thing would be to have Andy cringe when confronted by Darryl. Instead, and more in character, he pleads for Darryl to help him come up with a punchline.) Other nice small moments: Erin’s Sophie’s Choice at the switchboard (“I’m so sorry”), Kevin’s toupee and seeing Stanley turn ingratiating for once in his life.
But I’m just going to hope the show pulls it together for Michael Scott’s sendoff. And for now, I’ll try to pay little attention to the guy who’s just passing through.