On the bright side, my worst fears went unrealized. I love Will Ferrell, and I’ve watched — in several cases, multiple times — Old School, Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Blades of Glory. Ferrell is phenomenal at what he does, which is to play larger-than-life caricatures whose narrative arcs neatly travel from cocksure/happy-go-lucky man-child to depressive failure to mature survivor, after finally confronting and conquering some innate (and ridiculously obvious to everyone but himself) personality flaw. (This, incidentally, is part of the reason Old School was so hilarious: the flaw, in that case, was his wife. She was properly disposed of in short order.)
The Office wisely sidestepped such theatrics. Ferrell is hardly a man known for his subtleties (his outstanding turn in Stranger than Fiction notwithstanding). And yet it was obvious that a continuation of his one-dimensional film roles, condensed into a twenty-minute teleplay format on a show known more for its situational humor than outsized personalities, simply wouldn’t work.
So the writers went with a subdued version instead. One problem with this approach, however, is that Ferrell’s surprisingly low-key character wasn’t that funny. This is, perhaps, forgivable. Given the fact that we already know he’ll be sticking around for another three episodes, hitting a home run on the opening pitch isn’t mandatory.
But it helps. Far more concerning, however, is the fact that, by attempting to mold Ferrell into a somewhat relatable role, the writers wound up immediately painting him into some contradictory corners. In a sense, Ferrell was too multi-dimensional. How can a guy call an impromptu meeting while receiving a shave at the office from his private barber one moment, and then express his deep insecurities to his predecessor just minutes later? This disconnect between the public and private personas is indeed a significant portion of Michael Scott’s story as well, but in his case the reasons for this were thoughtfully portrayed over the course of years, and dozens of episodes. In the case of Will Ferrell, we immediately gain access to both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and end up (at least somewhat) discounting both.
Regardless of any potential misgivings, I’ll be watching next week’s epsiode anyway. I just hope the writers manage to make Will Ferrell’s character a bit more coherent than they did on the first try.