March 18th, 2010
Sometimes, a show creates a storyline that has a lot of potential, but then that show tends to choose the least interesting component to follow through with. There’s been a lot of talk about the wasted potential of the Sabre arc on The Office, and I think “New Leads” was far more interesting conceptually than anything relating to Kathy Bates’ guest arc. The idea that the Sabre arrival created new versions of the same old conflicts between Michael and management that we’ve seen in the past was pretty lifeless, while there’s plenty of potential in the new Sabre hierarchy turns the sales team into stuckup jerks and completely destabilizes the office.
While I’m not amongst those writing off this show for its recent missteps, I think it’s sad that they thought the management story was worth a number of episodes while the office hierarchy episode was treated as a wacky stand-alone story. “New Leads” doesn’t quite live up to the potential of this story, failing to earn the character moments it tries to create within the carnage, but it’s at least a sign that they did know the right stories which could emerge within the Sabre arc, even if they didn’t quite know what to do with them.
Last season, “Cafe Disco” was a fairly divisive episode of the show, the first back from the Michael Scott Paper Company arc. Some found the episode was too boring, a simple little trifle of an episode that went for subtle atmosphere over big laughs. Others, meanwhile, appreciated that sense that the gang was back together, and the episode was really important in terms of reestablishing the group dynamics after that arc came to an end. Positioned as it is, “New Leads” is sort of this season’s equivalent to “Cafe Disco,” except that it is not even close to being subtle, and it ultimately doesn’t need to resolve anything. The Sabre arc didn’t make any actual impact on the show, despite the best efforts of producers, which means that this episode needs to both establish and settle the disruption.
As noted above, I think the idea of Sabre introducing subtle changes like incentivizing/prioritizing the sales team is really interesting, and if Sabre had remained a benevolent corporate overlord instead of a walking cliche in the form of Kathy Bates’ Jo Bennett, I think that it could have worked out really well at teasing out the tensions and connections between Dunder Mifflin staff members. This episode creates a nice moment for Andy and Erin, got to deal with Dwight and Michael’s changing relationship, and even got to pair off characters like Angela and Phyllis (who really turned to the dark side here). If this had all been done over a multi-episode arc, and we could have seen how Phyllis became so cynical, and how Dwight and Michael grew further apart before reuniting in a junkyard, I think this could have been really successful.
Instead, it felt really rushed: the sales people turned into jerks too quickly, the rest of the office turned against them too suddenly, and the Dwight/Michael scenes felt like they were happening out of nowhere (and in a parking lot, considering the lengthy and distracting use of green screen). As Dave Itzkoff pointed out on Twitter, the idea of the sales leads being ONLY located on blue index cards was ridiculous, only necessary because it justified the contrived story. Michael’s clues might have been clever, sure, but the episode that surrounded them failed to accomplish anything: the rush to create the scenario meant that we didn’t get much of the clash between individuals, and the rush to bring everything back to normal (with sweets, no less) was fun (Stanley’s reaction, in particular) but meaningless.
Just as Sabre doesn’t incentivize murder, I don’t want to incentivize episodes like “New Leads” – it was better than much of what was found in the Sabre arc itself, in terms of plots and all, but the execution left a lot to be desired. I want them to look at what went wrong in this episode, and I hope that they understand that it isn’t the cast, or even the jokes – instead, it’s that lack of drive and meaning, the sense that the show is just sort of treading water. Any show in its sixth season is going to experience that sort of inertia, so I’m not saying the show needs to seem fresh and original, but right now it’s really seeming more stale than it should, and I’m hopeful that can change in the future.
Perhaps they’ll get some new leads?
- Odd that they would choose to have Andy and Erin’s first kiss in a coda to an episode that wasn’t really even about them, and that it would be in a fake junkyard while Andy is wearing a woman’s coat. Plus, as Kath pointed out, putting it in the coda is dangerous when the shows usually run thirty seconds over and DVR recordings rarely catch those moments.
- I loved Erin’s text she sent to Andy during the Sales Team meeting about how to calm the waters – people DO love shells from faraway beaches!
- Enjoyed that Pam knew exactly what Michael’s clues meant – it’s hard to remember that she’s on the sales team now, as she was so used to being Michael’s assistant, and we were so used to her being used to that.
- We only got one scene of it, but I’m still glad that Darryl is in the office now – the one substantial creative upswing of the Sabre arc, in my book.