'The Office': 'Angry Andy' returns, but how long will he stick around?

ed-helms-the-office-s8.jpgEven as "The Office" was putting forth one of its better episodes of the season Thursday night (April 19), it was hard not to think about what could be a very different show in the fall.

That was partly an accident of timing -- "Angry Andy" aired on the heels of stories about Ed Helms and other cast members not having contracts for next season. It really feels, though, as the show is trying to prepare us for several of these characters not being here next season.

Even with the ratings struggles "The Office" has had lately, another season seems pretty likely. But both the on-screen storytelling and the off-screen business realities of the show seem to be taking us toward a very different Dunder Mifflin.

As for particulars of the episode, it was fantastic to see the show rediscover Andy's anger problem, and it did so in a way that didn't feel at all arbitrary. Chances are that if you returned from time off to find out your position had been taken over and your boss wouldn't return it because he wants to sleep with the new person, and then the entire office discussed your sexual issues in a meeting, you'd be rather upset too.

Speaking of that meeting: It's been a good long time since "The Office" has done anything that cringe-inducing, and even if it was more unrealistic than most of the scarily inappropriate things that have taken place in that conference, we applaud the willingness to make us cover our eyes again, something that didn't happen much even in the latter part of the Michael Scott era.

(Also, maybe the funniest line in the scene wasn't related to sex at all. When Erin appeals to Toby for help shutting down the discussion, he replies, "HR is a joke. I can't do anything about anything." That, ladies and gents, is impotence.)

The Ryan and Kelly B-story also made for a nice encapsulation of that on-again-off-again-infinity relationship, from Ryan's incomparable d-baggery to Kelly's powerlessness against having the drama in her life that only being with such a tool can bring. We do, however, kind of feel bad for Jim and Pam's pediatrician (played by former "Heroes" and current "Covert Affairs" regular Sendhil Ramamurthy).

Both stories, though, highlighted characters who could well be gone from the show next season. Mindy Kaling created and is starring in a pilot for FOX that's seen as having a pretty good chance at a pickup. Helms and B.J. Novak (along with Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski) don't yet have contracts for next season. With Andy now fired and Ryan and Kelly progressing to the next weird stage of their relationship, it feels like the writers are gearing up for a few sendoffs.

Maybe a heavy retooling will be good for the show. Clearly, an episode like "Angry Andy" shows "The Office" can still operate at a pretty high level, and perhaps an infusion of new actors (if it comes to that) would provide some fresh energy. We'll most likely stick around for at least a while to see how it all shakes out, but we're preparing to say our goodbyes too.

What did you think of "Angry Andy"? Does it feel like "The Office" is starting to let go of some of its characters?
Photo/Video credit: NBC