Earlier this week NBC announced that James Spader will not be returning as Robert California to its struggling Thursday night darling “The Office.” I say goodbye and good riddance.
When he first showed up in Scranton at the end of last season to interview for the branch manager job, Spader portrayed California as some kind of managerial amalgamation of Randle McMurphy, Yoda, and a non-homicidal Joker. When it was announced he would be joining the cast I was pretty excited to see how this new boss would change the dynamic of the branch.
Sadly, when he showed up in September, Spader toned California down from 11 to about a 3. While still somewhat eccentric, California was more just another straight man who seemed to be wryly and condescendingly amused with the idiocy that surrounded the branch. The bad news: Jim was already that guy, and a guy we already had a pretty deep connection with. So while there were some entertaining moments where California provided a slight twist on the WTF factor, his own eccentricities played against credibility of his judgmental stance on Scranton.
His character never really worked in the grand scheme of the show, which at this point is pretty large given the number of seasons and the complex web of interpersonal relationships at Dunder Mifflin. And that misfit status dragged the show down, not a lot, but in a season where things have been rough, more hurdles are not needed. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these past two weeks have been the best two episodes of the season and Mr. California is nowhere to be seen (despite cameras in Scranton and Sabre HQ in Tallahassee).
It was an interesting idea, but Robert California just didn’t pan out.