Robert California

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Robert California
The Office character
James-spader-as-robert-california-in-the-office.jpg
James Spader as Robert California.
First appearance "Search Committee"
Last appearance "Free Family Portrait Studio"
Created by Paul Lieberstein
Portrayed by James Spader
Information
Nickname(s) "RC"
"The fucking lizard king"
Aliases Bob Kazamakis
Occupation Manager of Dunder Mifflin Scranton Branch (former);
CEO of Sabre (former)
Family Bert (son)
Gretchen (sister)
Spouse(s) Susan (ex-wife)
Two other unnamed ex-spouses

Robert California, also known as Bob Kazamakis, is a fictional character on the U.S. comedy television series, The Office. In the eighth season, he was hired as Regional Manager of the Dunder Mifflin Scranton branch, a position which was formerly held by Michael Scott for the majority of the series, but Robert managed to convince Jo Bennett to appoint him CEO in her place. In the eighth season finale, Robert departs from the company after David Wallace purchases Dunder Mifflin.

California is portrayed by James Spader. He is an original character and has no counterpart on the original British version of the series.

Biography[edit]

Robert California is the former CEO of Dunder Mifflin/Sabre. An enigmatic individual, he was often inspiring, and intimidating, to the staff in the Scranton branch office, especially so to Regional Manager, Andy Bernard.

Robert has been married three times, with his third wife, Susan, leaving him after the events of "Mrs. California".[1] In a talking-head interview from that episode, Susan states (when referring to the staff's instructed dislike of her), that the last time she was employed, she "hated the boss' wife" as well, revealing that the woman she is referring to was one of Robert's ex-spouses. This would mean that she and Robert met while she was under his employment at one time, and that the two possibly began their relationship while he was still married.[1] Robert also has a young son, named Bert.[2] It is unknown if Robert fathered him with Susan.

The Sabre Corporation website implies that Robert may be of partial Native American descent,[3] which could be the reason why he so strongly dislikes Christopher Columbus.[4] In "Turf War", it is revealed that "Robert California" is not his real name,[5] and in the next episode, he introduces himself to David Wallace as "Bob Kazamakis", although it is unknown whether "Kazamakis" is his actual last name or simply another alias.[6]

Robert appears to typically manipulate situations in a duplicitous fashion, as seen in the episodes "Mrs. California",[1] "Trivia",[7] and most greatly in "Last Day in Florida", when he privately admits to Jim Halpert that the newly opened Sabre store was a poor concept, and that he only approved it because Jo Bennet wanted it, but pretending, at a high-level meeting, that the store was a brilliant idea, and using newly appointed Vice President Todd Packer as a scapegoat for the store's failure, stating that Packer executed it poorly.[8]

He has been shown to have somewhat of a fascination with the PBS program Sesame Street (which he refers to as "The Street").[4][9] In "Garden Party", he reveals that his body has become acclimated to Southern Italy, despite the fact that he has never even been there.[10] During "Trivia", it is shown that he uses a monthly wrestling meet instead of exercising.[7] He also dislikes The Black Eyed Peas, stating "It's rock and roll for people who don't like rock and roll; it's rap for people who don't like rap; it's pop for people who don't like pop".[11]

Upon meeting her in "Last Day in Florida", Robert develops a deep attraction to Nellie Bertram,[8] and, as such, allowed her to get away with her irrational and unprofessional behavior. While she would often imply to him that she was attracted to him, in "Turf War", this is revealed to be nothing more than a mere manipulation tactic, as she reveals to Pam that she is, in fact, repulsed by Robert.[5]

Throughout his appearances, Robert has been shown to have an innumerable amount of unhealthily salacious appetites and beliefs (once proclaiming that "Everything... is sex" – even calling this opinion of his a "universal truth").[9] He has displayed a need for intercourse regularly, as shown in "Christmas Wishes", when he becomes depressed after being deprived of it for only ten days.[11] On more than one occasion, Robert has attempted to convince the staff to engage in group sex with him; in the episode "Pool Party", after he becomes inebriated when they are visiting his home, he tries to start an orgy,[12] and in a deleted storyline from "Free Family Portrait Studio", he asks Jim and Pam Halpert if they would be interested in having a threesome.[13] Some episodes have also implied that he is bisexual. This is most heavily hinted in the eighth season finale, in which he is seen drinking an energy drink for Asian homosexuals (and complaining about the coconut taste in the new "Coconut Penis" flavor), and bids Andy farewell by kissing him.[6]

Seasons 7–8[edit]

Robert first appeared in the seventh season finale, "Search Committee", as an interviewee for the Scranton branch Manager position. While his intense personality disturbs the search committee, after he departs from the interview, Jim admits that, while Robert "creeps [him] out", he believes he might be a genius. Soon afterwards, he stops by Dwight's Caffeine Corner in the lobby, and attempts to sabotage Merv Bronte (Ray Romano), who is on his way up for his interview, by telling him that the office staff act as if they were imprisoned. When Dwight questions Robert why he feels he is qualified to judge a place after a mere interview, he studies Dwight for a moment. Dwight commands him to stop, but Robert states that he has already "figured [him] out". Dwight then asks him if he knows anything about paper, to which Robert responds to by saying he viewed an episode of how paper is manufactured on Sesame Street. Dwight, disgusted by him, orders him to leave.

Later, in a talking-head interview held in the parking lot, Robert informs the documentary film crew that he is confident that he will be offered the job, as it is a call he has received many times.[9]

In the season 8 premiere, "The List", it is revealed that Robert was hired as the branch manager over the summer. But, after one look at his new workplace environment, he quickly drives to Florida and convinces Sabre CEO Jo Bennett to give him her job. Once CEO himself, he appoints Andy Bernard as the Regional Manager. Jim notes that when Robert visits the office, he spends half of his time working out of the conference room, and occasionally ventures out and wanders around, randomly choosing employees to have conversations with, an experience that Jim describes as simultaneously terrifying and highly desirable. Robert makes a list of the all the workers in the office, dividing them between perceived "Winners" and "Losers"; after finishing the list, he takes the winners out to lunch. When confronted about the list, after he and the winners return, he states that those are his impressions, and they could change, challenging the office with: "winners: prove me right; losers: prove me wrong". Andy later imposes on Robert and makes up a new list, perceiving Robert's losers as Andy's winners, and it appears that Robert respects him for it.[4]

During "The Incentive", Andy tries to get on Robert's good side by picking out a tie that he thinks will impress him. Robert challenges Andy to get the branch to double their sales with a motivational speech. Upon why he chose Andy for the job, he says of Andy that he is "all surface...uncomplicated, what you see is what you get" and that causes people to rally behind him, because he is an underdog. Robert later says, even if it's an underdog to unexceptional people. He also detects that Erin is attracted to Andy and tells Andy that he's aware of it, before saying he's already lost interest in that little tidbit of information.[14]

Andy organizes a garden party at Schrute Farms during "Garden Party", to impress him. When California arrives, various employees make attempts to make a good impression, most notably Ryan and Gabe, who offer him their jackets. California also discusses the possibility of holding his birthday party at Schrute Farms, with Dwight.[10]

In "Spooked", Robert brings his young son, Bert, to the office Halloween party. Throughout the episode, California attempts to figure out everyone's deepest fears, in order to tell a ghost story that simultaneously frightens the entire office, itself a conscious effort to prevent the staff from allowing fear to run their lives.[2]

During "Doomsday", Robert is unhappy after discovering that an accounting error allowed a billed order to go to a client for free. He orders Andy to correct the error and Andy turns to Dwight, who uses a system nicknamed "The Doomsday Device". The device will count the number of errors made in the office and will generate an email report to Robert. Dwight also reveals several e-mails that are unflattering of Robert, including Jim, Oscar and Kelly that all discuss his odd and intense personality. When the staff initiates an error e-mail report to Robert, Andy tasks Jim with intercepting him at his squash session. The ploy is successful, particularly when Dwight decides to stop sending the report after a crisis of conscience. However, Jim plays quite poorly against California, who is particularly skilled at the game.[15]

In "Pam's Replacement", he joins Andy, Darryl and Kevin's band with a surprising talent for the harmonica, but it gradually appears that when his musically talented friends come to play, the original trio are phased out.[16]

When Andy takes much of the staff to visit Gettysburg, Robert is elated to see those who stayed behind and calls them the "free thinkers". He then has a staff meeting where they will present all their best ideas. While he shoots down many of the ideas, Robert takes a shine to Kevin's cookie idea with the vending machine. Although he perceives Kevin's simple ideas as metaphors, he eventually realizes that Kevin is speaking literally.[17]

In the episode "Mrs. California," Robert's wife, Susan (Maura Tierney) comes to the office looking for a job, something he does not want, although he pretends to help her out. Andy ends up giving her a job with accounting, enraging Robert. Andy then gets the staff to be mean to her to urge her to quit. She catches on and confronts Andy and her husband. Susan later asks Jim if Robert didn't want her working in the office. Though he does not answer, Jim says he loves working with his wife, Pam. Andy and Jim then leave the conference room as Robert and Susan sit and talk afterward. The episode ends with Susan talking to Andy later and asking him on a date.

During "Christmas Wishes", it is revealed that Robert's marriage is ending in divorce, prompting him to become quite despondent and lonely. He arrives at the branch Christmas party in a track suit, despite wearing his normal dark blazer with hopes of being cheered up by the party, after the Sabre party is a bland affair. California becomes a bartender for the party and notices early on, that Erin is visibly unhappy over Andy's new girlfriend. He assigns Oscar to take over and ends up comforting Erin, who ended up intoxicated and arguing with Andy. Robert drives her home, hugs her and gives her advice on how to cure her hangover, much to the relief of Andy who trails them in Meredith's car as her designated driver.[11]

In "Trivia", Dwight travels to Florida to meet with Robert for an interview over a potential manager position. However, a two-faced Robert says he now can't meet with Dwight and will have him meet with another executive. Robert secretly calls Gabe to tell Dwight that the executive can't meet him either, and to have Gabe listen to Dwight's proposal as a manager before rejecting it. Frustrated, Dwight manages to force Gabe into directing him toward Robert's condo and calling him out. When Dwight finally meets with him, it is revealed that the CEO has a hired wrestling partner once a month as a form of exercise, a task that he performs in his apartment before Gabe and Dwight. When they later discuss Dwight's proposal, he attempts to put Dwight down easily by offering him his grandfather's war medal in lieu of a manager's position. Dwight initially seems taken before snapping out of it, and telling Robert that he came for an interview, "Not a flea market". California is then prompted to tell Dwight that he's better as a salesman than he is a Manager, but when and if something comes up, he will let Dwight try it out. Dwight seems pleased with this, before Robert says "Get the hell out of my house".[7]

In "Pool Party", after Robert decides to sell his mansion following his divorce, Kevin suggests that he throw an office pool party, which he acts upon, as a last hurrah. At the party, Robert gives Ryan, Gabe, Oscar, Toby and reluctant Jim, a tour of his home. Throughout most of the tour, Robert opines about the parties he never had. Upon returning to the pool area, Robert erroneously believes the atmosphere to be that of an orgy, at which point he undresses and jumps into the pool, completely nude, and only followed by Ryan and Gabe. At the end of the episode, a drunken Robert dances to erotic music with them, in his home theater.[12]

In "Special Project", while he is not seen, he texts Jim, inviting him on the trip to Tallahassee. Jim and Pam attempt to respectfully reject his offer, by informing him that, as a father of two infant children, Jim should remain in Scranton. However, Robert responds to this by texting back "LOL" (Laugh Out Loud). Jim and Pam eventually agree that Jim should just go.[18]

Robert appears in "Last Day in Florida", accompanying Dwight, Jim, and Nellie Bertram on a golf outing celebrating Dwight's new Vice President position. After playing, Robert stuns Jim by revealing that he dislikes the business plan for the Sabre store, and that he had only approved of it because Jo Bennett wanted it. But with the knowledge that Sabre products are inferior and will illuminate the fact that the store is a failure, he plans to sandbag it at a high-level meeting of the Sabre company board, and also strongly hints that, despite liking Dwight, he is going to fire him over it. Later, after Jim stops Dwight from attending the meeting, Nellie appoints Todd as Vice President in his place. During the meeting, Robert chastises Packer for the failure of the store, pretending that the Sabre store itself was a great concept, but that Packer botched in execution. While Packer protests that he has only been Vice President for half an hour, and that Dwight is to blame, Robert commends Dwight for being smart enough not to show up at the meeting, and terminates Packer. Robert and Nellie's interactions also hint that the two might be attracted to one another.[8]

In "Get the Girl", to the employees' surprise, Robert allows Nellie to have a job at the Scranton branch. Despite the fact that Andy is already employed as Regional Manager, Nellie declares herself the new Manager and takes over the position. However, Robert is unable to stand up to her, and instead takes on a detached Darwinian view of her antics.[19]

In "Welcome Party", Robert forces the office to throw a welcome party for Nellie, and, throughout the episode, he makes very obvious attempts to make a good impression on her. [20]

In "Angry Andy", Andy enlists Robert to give him his job back from Nellie by claiming it was an interim position for her. Nellie refuses, but manipulates Robert by flirtatiously hinting that she is attracted to him. Robert then stays detached from their conflict until Andy has an anger outburst, in which he throws his chair at Robert and then punches his hand through the wall over Nellie stealing his job. Robert then chooses Nellie as the branch Manager and demotes Andy to a position that they will create for him. When he tells Andy and Erin this, Andy calmly says "no", to which Robert replies that he will fire Andy if he keeps saying "no", and asks if he has anything else to say. Andy replies "no", and Robert fires him.[21]

In "Fundraiser", Angela's husband, the State Senator Robert Lipton, hosts a silent auction fundraiser for aging dogs. Robert purchases two tables so the Scranton branch can attend, of which Erin brings Andy with her. This leads to an awkward situation when Andy, in an emotional crisis, causes an argument with Robert. Robert in turn, politely makes an offer to treat Andy and Erin out for their own romantic dinner. When Andy rejects it, Robert tells Andy that he should leave. As he is about to make a speech at the fundraiser, Andy interrupts his former boss and volunteers to adopt the 12 dogs brought by the animal activists.[22]

In "Turf War", while celebrating the finalization of his divorce, Robert drunkenly shuts down the Binghamton branch in Binghamton. Meanwhile, Andy decides to land an important client as a "rogue" and jumpstart his Dunder Mifflin comeback by using his success as leverage with Robert. After Nellie reveals to Robert that he sent her a sexually suggestive voicemail, Robert tasks Pam to find out what the voicemail entailed. Pam manages to steal her cellphone, however, as Robert goes through Nellie's messages, Pam relents and tells Robert that she will not help him anymore. The two struggle over the phone, but Pam manages to delete the messages before Robert can hear his voicemail. Later, Andy calls Robert, after having stolen his largest client, and offers him the client back if Robert will rehire him. Robert is furious with his former employee's attempt at blackmail, and tells Andy that he does not even know his real name, proclaiming that he is "The fucking lizard king". At the end of the episode, when Jim and Dwight talk with Harry Jannerone, an employee from the Syracuse branch, Jannerone predicts that Robert will ruin the company within six months.[5]

In "Free Family Portrait Studio", Robert is surprised when he learns that David Wallace is purchasing Dunder Mifflin. He then quickly introduces himself to David as "Bob Kazamakis", and offers to brief him on the company. After talking with him in the conference room, David announces that Robert is leaving, but that he will be working on an important new charity: seeing college-aged girls (particularly gymnasts) in developing countries on their paths through to college. Wallace also mentions that he has donated one million dollars in matching funds for Robert's three-year-long mission. Robert then bids his Andy goodbye, kisses him on the mouth, and states that "It's been fun".[6]

Development[edit]

James always wanted this to be a one-year arc, and he now leaves us having created one of the most enigmatic and dynamic characters in television."

Paul Lieberstein.[23]

James Spader first appeared on The Office in the episode "Search Committee". He was originally expected to be just a one-time guest star, as the producers were planning to hire either Catherine Tate or Will Arnett for the series, but neither could commit due to their involvement with other projects.[24][25][26] In an interview with Digital Spy, Spader stated "I never really considered whether I would do more [episodes]. "Then....suddenly [the producers] called me back again and said, 'We'd really... like your character to come back in some capacity'".[27] While Spader was initially hired as the replacement for Steve Carell in the series, Spader's presence actually filled the void of two departed actors: Carell, and Kathy Bates, who left the show in order to focus on her starring role in the NBC drama Harry's Law. Spader was also the second actor to receive an "And" credit, after Amy Ryan, during her appearances in season seven.

On February 28, 2012, Spader announced that he would be departing from the show at the end of its eighth season.[23] The season eight finale, "Free Family Portrait Studio", marked his final appearance in the series.

Reception[edit]

The character of Robert California was met with acclaim during his guest appearance on the season 7 finale Search Committee. In the IGN review for "Search Committee", Cindy White cited the guest appearance by Spader as being the "Meatiest part [of the episode]", comparing Robert's role of the "Dominating boss" to that of Spader's similar character in Secretary.[28] In James Poniewozik's review of the episode, he wrote that "James Spader killed as an overqualified candidate who was creepily perceptive".[29] While his review was less favorable, Alan Sepinwall wrote that he found "Spader's persuasive evil genius to be somewhat amusing".[30] Seth Abramovitch, of TV.com, wrote that he enjoyed Spader's "Mildly sociopathic (but highly effective)" portrayal of Robert.[31] In her review, Kaili Markley wrote that Spader's appearance in the episode was the "High point of the show" for her.[32] BuddyTV's Meghan Carlson wrote that Spader was "the most memorable and impressive guest".[33]

Spader's acting had been particularly lauded by his fellow Office cast members. In an interview with Huffington Post, Brian Baumgartner stated that "The energy [Spader] has is so totally different. The writers have done really a great job. He has these demented arguments that on the surface make no sense, but he's talking, and suddenly and you're like, 'Oh yeah, that's right! That's right!'". In the same interview, Kate Flannery commented that Spader "has this grounded intensity that we've never seen on our show before that makes these kind of little Scranton peons stand at attention".[34] In an interview with NBC Chicago.com, Angela Kinsey praised Spader's portrayal of California, stating “He is amazing. Our first table read with him was a week before we went back and at that moment I was like, 'Oh, we're going to be just fine'. He crushed the table read. He brings such a cool, amazing, intensity as Robert California that's so different from Michael Scott. Michael wanted everyone to love him. Robert California wants to run the best company in the world, and to see him turn that kind of intensity onto Kevin Malone was cracking me up. I just love him as this character. And it's been really fun to watch Dwight and Robert California act".[35] Paul Lieberstein was pleased that Spader would be joining the cast in the eighth season, stating that "James has an energy that is completely his own, and 'The Office' has no tools for dealing with this guy. We're thrilled he's joining our cast".[36] On July 28, 2011, Rainn Wilson favorably tweeted, when referring to Spader's acting on the series, "[he's] Killing it!!!!". Former leading actor Steve Carell was also impressed by the decision to hire Spader, stating in an interview with Access Hollywood, "I think it's an excellent choice. I think it's great and he will infuse all this new energy into the show".[37]

However, as time passed, critics, even ones who had initially praised Robert, began to respond negatively to the character. In his review for the episode "Gettysburg", Chris Plante, of New York, critiqued the way that Robert, as well as Andy, were being written, writing, "That isn’t to say every character has been fleshed out well. [...] Andy and California seem off point."[38] In his review for "Mrs. California", Plante called Robert the worst part of The Office.[39] While initially reacting positively to the character, by the episode "Doomsday", Seth Abramovitch wrote that "Spader's character is a lot more successful a fit than Will Ferrell's, whose brand of comedy was just too broad, too surreal for the Dunder-Mifflin crew. Robert California has definitely added some menace and mystery to the proceedings. He's funny, too. But the way the show is using him so far—sparingly, as an aloof, omniscient, and fearsome motivator—is essentially as nothing more than a plot instigator, and it's doing nothing to enrich the series. It's also getting repetitive".[40] In his Hitfix blog, Alan Sepinwall wrote that "Robert California could have become the new comic engine that drove the series, but the character has been neutered from his first appearance. Instead of a lunatic capable of performing the Jedi mind trick, he's just an inscrutable eccentric, who wanders around looking amused at everything the branch is up to, and whom no one can get a read on".[41] Myles McNutt, of The A.V. Club, criticized Robert's role as "That the narrative reacts to as opposed to something actually involved in the narrative".[42] Tubulariffic, of The Rantings, Ravings, and Ramblings of an Admitted Television Junkie, wrote that "Robert California is a failed experiment. Kathy Bates' [character] Jo wasn't that funny either, but she wasn't featured on every episode, whereas Spader's Robert is. Maybe this character would be more palatable if only he was recurring as well, but, with the way he is currently being utilized, the new CEO of Saber and Andy's boss is actually holding the rest of the show back. [...] He makes the show quite polarizing, splitting the it in two. There's what is familiar, what is built upon seven previous seasons of stories, chemistry, and character history, and then there is Robert California. Frankly, whether it's Spader or his character, Robert California is just not that funny. What is more, the audience has no reason to watch him, to laugh with him, because we do not care about him. Perhaps if The Office was a new program, this wouldn't matter as much, but it's not, and it's a hard pill to swallow when a show features so many talented actors and actresses and, instead of showcasing them or increasing their character's storyline, it introduces a whole new, unneeded character and invests so much time and storyline into him. I don't care if Robert California prefers Scranton or not, he needs to spend the majority of his days at Corporate – in Florida, off-camera.[43]

Saloon.com's Matt Zoller Seitz wrote that "The Office loses something by having Spader’s Zen master drive the action instead of Michael Scott", he also suggested that, perhaps, if Robert was still positioned as Regional Manager, instead of CEO, the series might be more enjoyable.[44] In response to this, Myles McNutt wrote "It may just be me, but I’m not convinced that Spader’s presence has been as prominent as Seitz suggests. While I would agree that Robert California alters the tone and rhythm of the series when he is present, he isn’t present particularly often (and wasn’t present at all during what Seitz and I would both identify as the season’s strongest episode, "Lotto") and, even when he is present, he isn’t really being developed as a character with motivations or multi-dimensionality. His omniscience is valuable on some level, but it also creates a distance between the character and the narrative, which makes me reluctant to consider him as Carell’s replacement (which is what Seitz suggests in his piece). In truth, and picking up on something I suggested last week, I think I would be enjoying this season a lot more if Spader were positioned as Carell’s replacement, and we were seeing the season from his perspective".[45]

In White's review of "Last Day in Florida", she wrote that "As for Robert's return, I don't think it's a coincidence that the weakest episode of this otherwise strong [Florida story arc] was the only one in which he appeared. [...] Robert has had his moments of brilliance in the past, but this wasn't one of them. He was merely a tool here, and yeah, I mean that in both senses. It's pretty clear by this time that the writers have never quite gotten a handle on the character or figured out how to use him properly since he joined the cast. With Spader leaving at the end of this season, that won't be a problem for much longer. In the meantime, we have to put up with a character who is all over the map. One week he's quirky and zen, the next week he might be vulnerable and mopey, the next he's a ruthless, calculating executive. There's still some time to pin him down by the season finale, it's just hard to imagine at this point".[46] In her review of the season 8 finale, she wrote "At least we saw that last of Robert California, who walked away with $1 million to travel around Europe educating gymnasts. Um, okay. I'm too pleased to see him go to care about the logistics".[47]

References[edit]

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