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The Office Storylines That Wound Up Going Nowhere

"The Office" is one of the biggest shows to ever air on television — and we're not just talking about its incredible, chart-topping popularity, or the size of its enduring fan base. The show is just plain big. It spans nine seasons, encompasses over 200 episodes, and juggles a massive cast that stays remarkably consistent throughout the entire show.

Unsurprisingly, "The Office" boasts a gargantuan number of storylines. There's obviously the central arc, which follows the Dunder Mifflin Scranton office's destiny. But many other tales branch off from that main narrative over time. Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) find each other and start a life together. Dwight (Rainn Wilson) chases the manager position while running his family farm. Kelly (Mindy Kaling) and Ryan (B.J. Novak) get together and break up precisely 9,578,241.5 times. Michael Scott (Steve Carell) embraces his employees like a family ... until love unexpectedly walks into his life, via the loathed HR department. 

All these little stories add up to a very special show. And yet, even a serie as air-tight as "The Office" still has plenty of storylines that don't wind up going anywhere. Today, we've taking a look at the fizzled narrative threads of "The Office," in all their inglorious forgetfulness.

The whole Cathy thing

One storyline that never really makes much sense is the tale of Cathy Simms (Lindsey Broad). The character starts out as a temporary replacement for Pam as she goes on maternity leave, and for those first few seconds, her presence makes sense. But it doesn't take long for Cathy to feel superfluous, out of place, and just plain annoying. To top things off, she develops an attraction to her new co-worker, Jim — yes, the same Jim who's married to the woman Cathy is filling in for. The situation gets cranked up a notch when Cathy and Jim are both chosen for the team tasked with opening the Florida Sabre store.

Cathy tries to seduce Jim in his Florida hotel room, resorting to increasingly overt tactics like using his shower and waiting in bed for him. But she fails miserably when Jim stays loyal to Pam and uses Dwight as a weapon to fend her off. After that, we see Cathy a couple more times, but eventually, she just disappears without further explanation. This is a unique double-header dud of a storyline: Not only is Cathy's character so unimportant we don't even need closure, her time on the show doesn't serve much of a purpose. All she does is randomly put everyone on edge for a few episodes.

Michael Scott's family

Michael Scott's family is a mysterious story element that hangs around the show's edges. We know he grew up with his mother, who never receives a name, and eventually his stepdad, Jeff. We also know he was very unhappy when they got hitched. But beyond that, very little is revealed.

Despite this scant approach to detail, members of Michael's extended family actually make quite a few appearances over the course of "The Office." Michael calls his mom at multiple points, including the time he tells her he's gotten fake-engaged to Holly Flax (Amy Ryan) – we even hear an actress portraying her over the phone. We also see a Scott family member in the flesh when Michael hires his nephew, Luke Cooper (Evan Peters). Of course, the infamous assistant doesn't work out, and leaves the show in a huff after literally getting spanked.

All of these little moments are individually intriguing. And yet, when you put them all together, none of them really go anywhere. This leaves the boss' personal affairs surprisingly foggy, considering how much he loves to butt into everyone else's business.

Todd Packer's stuttering storylines

Our next dead-end storyline centers around a fairly minor character: Todd Packer (David Koechner). Despite his general irrelevance, Packer shows up early and often throughout the show. In fact, he's on the other end of a phone call in the pilot episode. He makes scattered appearances after that, which makes sense, as he's a traveling salesman.

We end up learning quite a bit about Todd Packer through his occasional interludes into the office. He has a daughter and an ex-wife, who surely deserve our pity. He also has a huge appetite for inappropriate jokes and out-of-line behavior. At various points, Packer leaves disgusting gifts in Michael's office, sexually harasses almost everyone he encounters, and offers truly terrible advice. Eventually, we see him ask Michael for a desk job and get picked to be part of the Sabre store project. Things go badly, and he gets his revenge by giving the Scranton branch drug-laced cupcakes.

In spite of all these appearances, Packer is still stuck somewhere between important and irrelevant. If he was just a filler character designed for jokes, that would be one thing, but his recurring appearances mean he genuinely impacts the plot. And yet, at the end of the day, his own storyline ends up being little more than a boorish footnote.

Danny Cordray's weird disappearance

In the beginning "The Office" had very little in the way of splashy casting. Most of the main cast members were early in their acting careers when the show began, and big names were thin on the ground. In fact, as Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey revealed on the "Office Ladies" podcast, the show initially had a strict rule against stunt-casting. As the show gained momentum, however, it started to bring in hot-shot actors for small roles. One such talent was Timothy Olyphant, who plays the dashing Danny Cordray in two episodes of Season 7. Cordray is a top traveling salesman for Osprey Paper — until Michael convinces him to come work for Dunder Mifflin.

Once he's on the premises, Cordray immediately gets in on the action. His charming smile captures everyone's attention, and there's even a whole story about how he and Pam went on a date once. But then, he just disappears. Sure, he wins a Dundie at the end of the season, and there's even a deleted scene of him receiving his award, but apart from that, we just don't see any more of Mr. Cordray. Did he just not fit in? Could they not get Olyphant to come back? We guess that's just what happens sometimes, when you opt for stunt-casting.

The Scranton Strangler

The Scranton Strangler's reign of terror is one of the most vivid subplots of the entire show. A little over halfway through the series, his name starts getting dropped. Dwight mentions him multiple times and even dresses as the Strangler for Halloween one year. Andy frames the newspaper published the day Cece is born, which bears the ghoulish headline, "Scranton strangler strikes again."

In Season 7, the Strangler is caught, and HR sad sack Toby Flenderson (Paul Lieberstein) is chosen to be on the jury. This leads to a critical story development: Holly is brought in to take his place while he's gone. When that happens, Michael wins her back, and the rest is history.

But what about the Strangler? He's put away, but Toby continues to be haunted by the trial's verdict. He even visits the Stranger in prison, and is assaulted by him. That might seem to be a definitive answer, but the time spent on Toby's doubt implies otherwise. Some fans posit that Toby himself is the Strangler. The setup is there, the shoe fits — but in fact, the Stranger story is simply dropped. Sure, the show thinks it gives us closure, but fans think otherwise.

Dwight's extended family

Dwight Schrute is very proud of his family, home, and upbringing. The venerable Schrute Farms is mentioned early on in the show, and before it's over, we end up getting a good look at both its exterior and interior. Dwight's cousin Mose (Michael Schur) makes frequent appearances — each one weirder than the last. In Season 9, we meet Dwight's brother, Jeb (Thomas Middleditch), and sister, Fannie (Majandra Delfino). We also see several of his cousins and other relatives in various episodes over time. 

Things in the Schrute family are so busy that at one point, there was serious talk about creating a Schrute Farms spin-off series. Season 9's "The Farm" is actually its backdoor pilot. But that spin-off never came to pass, which means we don't get closure regarding Dwight's family members, or the plot points "The Farm" introduces. What happens to the farm Aunt Shirley leaves Dwight and his siblings? Does Fannie decide to move back home? We'll never know.

The senator's missing son

Senator Robert Lipton (Jack Coleman) — sorry, state senator — acts as a love interest for Angela in public ... and Oscar (Oscar Nunez) in private. Eventually, Lipton comes out as gay, and ends up losing both his wife and Oscar in the process. The entire messy affair turns out well, though, as it forges a genuine bond between Angela and Oscar. But there's one little loose end that never gets addressed: Lipton's son. No, not the child he thinks he has with Angela. We're talking about his other offspring. You remember — the one who doesn't ever get a name? Yeah, we thought you wouldn't.

We meet Lipton at Dwight's Hay Festival in Season 7's "WUPHF.com." The charming senator brings his son to the event and bonds with Angela. While the senator and Angela's story starts from there, though, it turns out that this is also the spot where the mysterious Lipton Jr.'s story ends. We never see the boy again. Maybe he just dodges the documentary cameras really well? Maybe he was just some publicity stunt on the part of the senator? Did he hire an actor to play his son to boost his parental street cred? Based on how he uses Oscar for his political machinations later on, we know he's capable of some pretty sleazy moves. Still, this kid is an enduring mystery.

Darryl and Val's relationship

Darryl Philbin (Craig Robinson) starts out as the head of the warehouse, but partway through the series, he moves into an office "upstairs." There, he's able to get much more involved in the day-to-day comedy of the show. Later, he joins Athlead, and ends up moving to Austin. 

Though Darryl is incredibly good at compartmentalizing his work and personal life, the latter does eventually become part of his storyline. We know that he's divorced. He also hooks up with Kelly for a while. And then there's Val (Ameenah Kaplan). While the first two storylines help move the larger story forward, Darryl's time with Val ends up falling flat. In fact, one could say it goes nowhere.

Significant time is spent in building up a relationship between Darryl and Val. Val's boyfriend even confronts Darryl at one point, which pushes him to admit his feelings. The two finally hook up at the very end of Season 8 ... but the relationship doesn't even make it to the following season's midpoint before Darryl casually torpedoes it. That's an awful lot of buildup to end in a dud.

Dwight's paternity test

The last episode of Season 8 revolves around the free family portrait studio Dwight sets up in the building. This is cute, but it has an ulterior motive: Dwight is trying to get a DNA sample from Angela's son Phillip, to see if he's his biological father. This results in a high-speed race to the hospital, where Dwight deposits a diaper with the doctors.

This is all very exciting and cliff hanger-y, as fans are forced to wait until the opening scene of the next season to hear the results. It turns out that Phillip actually isn't Dwight's son ... or, at least, the test is negative. Okay, thus goes life. Except, wait, what's that? Phillip is Dwight's son? It's true: Angela admits it in Season 9's "A.A.R.M."

So what the heck is going on with the test? Maybe Angela messes with the results. Maybe it's a false negative. The problem is, we don't get any kind of explanation. All we learn is that the test says no, but later on, Angela says yes. Whether Dwight's paternity test is an overlooked loose end, a plot point the show forgets to explain, or something in between, we're confused.

Erin's foster brother

Erin (Ellie Kemper) and Andy's (Ed Helms) relationship is one of the great sour notes of the show. After spending multiple seasons bringing the two love birds together, the entire thing fizzles when Andy becomes the boss. This isn't a bad thing unto itself: The storyline helps move the characters forward in interesting ways. But it does introduce a few confusing details.

Consider Erin's foster brother. In Season 6's "St. Patrick's Day," Erin and Andy go on their first date. This ends up being at Erin's house, since she's sick. Andy's arrival on her doorstep sets the tone for a potentially romantic time ... until it's revealed that Erin still lives with her foster brother, Reed (Sean Davis).

Throughout the episode, the two foster siblings display an uncomfortable degree of closeness. It's so bad, Andy ends up having to compete for Erin's affections with her non-related relative. But then, Reed never shows up again, despite his apparent attachment to Erin. The whole thing feels unnecessary, and Reed's short-lived existence does nothing to help the story.

Nellie Bertram's wandering story

Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate) is one of the hidden gems of "The Office." In the wake of Michael's departure, Nellie restores a sense of organic goofiness to the series. When we meet her, she's applying for the regional manager position (a job she later steals) without any luck. After she's rejected, she lands on her feet down in Tallahassee, where she comes up with the idea for a Sabre store and spearheads its implementation. After that idea crashes and burns, Nellie ends up back in Scranton, where she fills Andy's empty manager chair.

Eventually, Andy gets his job back. Nellie sticks around, but her importance fades significantly. And that's where we have a bit of a beef. Nellie plays a prominent role throughout the rest of the series, but when push comes to shove, she seems like a different character after Andy ousts her. Her truly bizarre behavior gets toned down, the insatiable ambition that drives her disappears, and she accepts poor treatment, like being surrounded by trash cans. Everything about her changes, to the point that her original characterization feels like a dropped plot thread.

Ryan Howard's entire story arc

Ryan Howard is one of the show's staples. His story arc shoots all the way up to the C-suite before it crashes into bowling alley employee status. If Ryan's career could be summed up in a single phrase, it would be "dumpster fire."

And yet, he remains an integral part of the show. For a long time, this is made possible through the ridiculously loyal, fanboy-ish attention he gets from Michael Scott. After Michael makes his exit, though, Ryan remains in the mix — but his storyline suffers. He goes with the team down to Florida, and even puts together a killer presentation (though he flakes at the last second, forcing Jim to deliver it.) But his interest in work lessens beyond that, and he seems to adopt a new pretentious outfit, interest, or hobby every episode. In Season 9's "New Guys," he moves to Ohio to follow Kelly and her new husband.

That's the last we see of him until the series finale, when Ryan convinces Kelly to run off into the sunset with him. He abandons his infant son in the process, who is promptly claimed by Nellie. The end! After a handful of highs and a plethora of lows, Ryan's tale ...  sputters into pointlessness. It's entertaining stuff, but also weirdly lacking for a character who's been there since Season 1.

The co-manager era

Season 6 is chock-full of exciting stuff. Jim and Pam get married and have their first kid. Michael dates Pam's mom, Helene (Linda Purl) before unceremoniously dumping her. Dunder Mifflin goes bankrupt and is bought out by Sabre.

It's hard to believe this is also the season where Michael and Jim become co-managers for several months. This period is easy to forget because the entire experiment ends up going nowhere fast. After Jim tries to set up a situation which will get Michael promoted so he can take his place, the two characters end up splitting managerial responsibilities. This creates some fun times, but Sabre boss Jo Bennett (Kathy Bates) soon points out that both men are each doing half a job. 

After a brief switcheroo, in which Jim becomes manager and Michael becomes a salesman, they realize they're unfit for their new positions and  swap back. Order is restored to the universe, leaving us with a lingering question: What the heck just happened? The co-manager storyline doesn't accomplish anything — both Jim and Michael end up right back where they started. You could lift the entire storyline out of the series without any real problems. No wonder it's so easily overshadowed by the season's other events.

Finding a new manager

The first seven seasons of "The Office" are stabilized by Michael Scott's (mostly) consistent leadership. He might be bumbling, but he anchors the story with his dependable presence. It's no surprise, then, that when Michael finally leaves for a new life with Holly in Colorado, the proverbial apple cart is upset. The show offers a solution that is both entertaining and confusing: A long, complex search for a new manager. 

First, Dealgelo Vickers (Will Ferrell) is brought in, but he only lasts for a few episodes before he's downed by a basketball hoop. Next, Dwight Schrute takes the helm, only to lose it when he discharges a gun in the office. After that, Creed (Creed Bratton) is given the bump to acting manager while Jo Bennett sets up a search committee to find a long-term solution to the whole fiasco.

This leads to the Season 7 finale, which sees a parade of stunt-casting march through the office. These prospective managers are played by Jim Carrey, Ray Romano, and even Warren Buffett, among other talents. But after all that, we end up with James Spader's disturbing Robert California as CEO, and Andy Bernard as the new manager. Sure, the cameos are fun, but can we really believe they'd put that much elbow grease into the search process just to go with Andy, of all people?

Andy's promotion to manager

Andy's promotion to manager starts off on the wrong foot. He's full of self-doubt, as there are many more qualified candidates being interviewed. But he ends up failing upwards all the same, and for a while, things work out. Andy does his level best to keep Robert California happy while also earning the trust and loyalty of the employees who were his peers not long before.

But as Season 8 turns into Season 9, the entire "Andy as the manager" schtick starts to wear a little thin — for the audience and the character. Andy's imploding family only adds to his responsibilities. Eventually, he abandons his job for months to sail his family's boat to the Bahamas, messes up his relationship with Erin, and ditches his position entirely to pursue performing.

In the midst of these disasters, Andy's managerial story arc gets left behind. Let's recap: An exhaustive search process happens in Season 7, Andy ends up with the job, and then, some two years later, he just ... drops it. It's depressing, to say the least, and makes you wonder why the show bothers to put Andy in the position in the first place. He doesn't really learn much from it — his family's sudden crisis causes way more growth. It feels like the writers gave him the gig, but never figured out where to go with it. We call that a dead-end storyline.

Pam's art career

Pam's art skills come up fairly early in the series, but it isn't until Season 5 that they peak. She heads off to the Pratt Institute to become a bona fide professional artist, but after she fails a class, necessitating a longer stay, she opts to return to Scranton instead. Her ambitions for a career in the arts are left behind in the Big Apple.

Pam is still an artist, of course, and her desire to leave Pratt is sensible: As she tells Jim, she doesn't actually like graphic design, which is mostly about "logos." She also continues to work as a painter, albeit sporadically, eventually creating a mural in the warehouse. But beyond that, her artistic goals are shuttered. This is a weirdly abrupt ending to a major storyline. Sure, Pam doesn't like graphic design — but that isn't the only way to pursue art professionally. It's hard to believe she's comfortable giving up on a major, driving dream after one bump in the road, yet that's exactly what happens.

Fortunately, we do get a bit of a storyline resolution after the fact. A "Where are they now?" feature on the NBC website informs us that Pam "merged her mural business with a local art gallery in Austin." It adds that she's "currently on an artist retreat in New Mexico." Nice job, Pammy.