A review of last night's "The Office" coming up just as soon as I summarize the plot of my series of young adult novels...

Oy.

I really want to give "The Office" a mulligan for this one. The sense I get is that Will Ferrell was more or less forced on the show, and you could see the last couple of episodes struggling to keep Deangelo out of the way so we could focus on Michael's farewell. So if you just want to pretend that this episode doesn't count, and that the post-Carell era begins for real next week - and that it's not fair to begin the instant "Toldja so!"s about how the show should have ended when Carell left, not until we see at least an episode or two not driven by stunt-casting - then I won't blame you.

But this? This was not good.

Deangelo gets his fourth personality in four episodes, perhaps with shades of earlier ones (particularly his first appearance), but still suggesting that at no point was there any kind of plan for this guy beyond, "Hey, it's Will Ferrell; he'll make it funny." Two weeks ago, Deangelo suffered from crippling stage fright in circumstances where he wasn't making a formal work presentation; here, he can't wait to mime an elaborate juggling routine - that just went on and on and on and on - for the entire staff. Last week, he seemed grossly incompetent, unqualified and borderline crazy, and even Jim could tell something was wrong; yet here Jim was defending Deangelo's sexist, elitist, obnoxious inner circle gatherings to Pam by insisting Deangelo is really good at his job.

Even within the context of "The Inner Circle," I never felt like the writing was committing to a point of view on the character. Had it been the story of the staff trying to deal with an utter lunatic being given the captain's wheel, that might have worked. And it might have worked if Deangelo had seemed relatively normal throughout his tenure, slowly revealing little cracks in his persona that only Pam noticed and the others refused to believe until it was too late. This was neither fish nor fowl, and pretty much all of it(*) was uncomfortable to watch. And the resolution to the whole thing was, like the end of the Todd Packer episode, a case of the punishment not coming close to fitting the crime; Deangelo was a sexist and a bully, but sending him off by apparently giving him brain damage was cringe-worthy, not funny.

(*) A couple of small exceptions: I liked Dwight, having rediscovered his loyalty to Michael, and still resenting that he didn't get the job, adamantly refusing to suck up to Deangelo. And much as I hated most of the inner circle stuff, Kevin's glee at finally being one of the cool kids was amusingly-played by Brian Baumgartner.

And like I said last week, the fact that the writers so clearly had no idea what to do with Ferrell doesn't fill me with confidence for whatever guest stars turn up in the final episodes - nor do I feel especially great right now about the idea of an outside character coming in as the permanent new regional manager. The show may not have wanted Ferrell, but at some point they should have figured out something good to do with him. If the new boss gets hired in the same way - pick an actor, worry about a character later - this will be another, longer-term mess. If, on the other hand, the writers come up with a character first, then find an actor to fit the part (tweaking the role a bit as needed to fit their choice), then we'll see. But a repeat of the Deangelo experience will just prove everyone right who didn't want to see the show continue without Michael.

Some other thoughts: 

• Kind of funny to see how quickly the show was able to throw together a new main title sequence - and one that'll have to be changed again next week to remove Deangelo - given how long it took "House" to ditch its opening credits featuring Jennifer Morrison so prominently. In terms of credit order, they just bumped everybody up one spot this week; if the show comes back next year and a veteran character other than Dwight is the boss, I wonder if that actor will get first billing, or they'll keep it this way based on seniority.

• I really disliked the Kelly/Ryan subplot. The current iteration of Ryan is such an ass that he can be funny in small doses, but anything beyond that becomes unpleasant. Had the goal of that story been for Kelly to finally wash her hands of him once and for all, that might have worked, but we came right up to the edge of that and then the story just... stopped.

What did everybody else think?