Only the most determined fans of The Office have kind things to say about the show’s later seasons. The departure of Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott left the mockumentary sitcom (as well as the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin) leaderless and directionless. A slump in the writing room and desperate stunt-casting to fill Carrell’s void led to a string of half-baked gimmick characters slotted into the regional manager role. Alongside Will Ferrell’s Deangelo and James Spader as Robert California, perhaps the most notorious seat-filler was veteran character actor Bradley “BP” Richfield, who reprised his most famous role: the Styracosaurus foreman from the early 1990s sitcom Dinosaurs.
A lot of Office fans, like my cousin Megan, gave up on the show when BP Richfield, clad in his signature striped shirt and suspenders, first bellowed at Jim Halpert from behind the desk left vacant by Carrell’s departure. I admit, I can see how it could be a bit off-putting for an eight-foot-tall humanoid dinosaur to turn up on a program that had previously garnered its humor, and its pathos, from banal realism. Some, like Megan, could only shake their heads when BP’s horns got stuck in the ceiling tiles as he yelled at Jim and Dwight for dropping a fax machine from the Scranton branch’s roof.
However, what the Megans of the world don’t understand (despite their flashy new Volvos and well-paying jobs and recent marriage to my high-school crush Courtney) is the deeper significance of BP’s performance.
The themes of obsolescence, of being an old-school local vendor in this new world of digital vulture capitalism, of lagging behind while all your friends and cousins move out of their parents’ homes and find success, have been central to The Office from its very first season.
When BP Richfield gets his nose-horn stuck through his desktop monitor, it symbolizes Dunder-Mifflin’s struggles to compete against Big Box monopolies. It is a gesture of directionless frustration in an increasingly impersonal environment, where shareholders and short-term profit matter more than good old-fashioned customer service.
But the pleasures of BP Richfield’s tenure as regional manager extend beyond mere subtext. No one could forget how BP repeatedly trampled Dwight Schrute for saying the world was 6000 years old and that dinosaurs were a myth invented to sell toys, or the strangely poignant moment BP shared in the elevator with Stanley, where the two old-guard salesmen nod and acknowledge one another before cramming awkwardly into the confined space for the long, silent trip down.
While Kathy Bates’ Jo Bennett might have her fans, and some people may have dropped a Robert California quote at their tastefully catered wedding while escorting me away from the open bar, far too many Office fans seem happier to forget the three episodes when a Styracosaurus managed the Scranton branch.
To those fans, I say: Reconsider, and watch with an open mind and a deeper appreciation for BP Richfield’s subtler qualities. And also: I see that you read my message on Tuesday. I really need to borrow that two hundred bucks, Megan, so stop ignoring me. You’ll get it right back once my business gets off the ground.
Rick Hollon (they/them or fey/fem) is a nonbinary queer author from the American Midwest. Feir work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sledgehammer Lit, Fahmidan Journal, Moss Puppy Mag, the HELL IS REAL anthology, and other small-press publications. Find them on Twitter at SailorTheia.