November 5th, 2009
I was never what one would call a fan of the “Michael dates Pam’s Mom” storyline, and a lot of that has to do with what we got in “Double Date.” It’s not that I argued there was not comedy to be found in the scenario, as there certainly is some value to the storyline on a comic front. However, more than anything, the storyline is just plain awkward for Pam, and since we are predispositioned to see her viewpoint as the sane one we can’t help but find it a little awkward ourselves. And even if we choose to ignore Pam’s perspective, Michael’s view on the issue was sort of equally awkward in that he hangs onto her less because of love and more because of how ludicrously lonely he is. It all added up to a sense that this was going to go very wrong very quickly, and that’s not something that seemed necessary to me.
As such, I found “Double Date” to be a bit tough to watch in the way that the show sometimes likes to be, although it was probably as well handled as it could have gotten. While there were plenty of awkward moments in the context of the episode, they were all coming from a fairly logical place emotionally, and as such it was hard to watch less because of how inappropriate it was and more because we knew that anyone other than Michael with the same emotional feelings could have handled it far more gracefully. And by combining the emotional rollercoaster on that end with something charmingly quaint and silly in the Office, which could have been awkward but ended up working quite well, it ended up being a solid half hour of television, if not one that I would have personally placed into the show’s trajectory by choice.
October 22nd, 2009
This review is going to seem somewhat hypocritical, as I have always been a known supporter of serialized sitcoms. However, there are times when there are elements in previous episodes that I don’t necessarily want to see continue, left to remain as an enjoyable aside that is left to the audience’s imagination. Even heavily serialized shows like The Wire would often introduce small elements that aren’t part of some broader serialized storyline but rather sit under the surface and add to our understanding of these characters.
I know that I was being more than a bit idealistic, but I had really hoped that The Office would resist the temptation to take Michael’s rendezvous with Pam’s mother and follow it through to this logical but blown up conclusion. That small moment in “Niagara” was a shocking moment for the coda, but for it to turn into an entire episode played out like melodrama more than an episode of comedy. The episode succeeds in finding some comedy in the setup to the situation, with Pam’s realization proving to be an absolute highlight, but once things become about yelling things begin to fall off the rails a little.
It isn’t that this is a failure, as I thought the episode did a few interesting things on the dramatic side of things, but in its desire to be both comic hijinks related to the scenario and a depiction of Michael Scott’s eternal sadness it never quite connected on either front.
October 15th, 2009
The Office is a show that is going to have its share of filler episodes, moving between larger storylines (like last week’s wedding) and the next major storyline. Sometimes these focus on the day-to-day of the office environment, which is often quite fun for how it brings out the supporting characters more carefully. However, sometimes they’re episodes like “Mafia,” which play out very simple ideas in a way that is minimalist to a fault.
It’s not that the show doesn’t work when it slows down like this, but it needs for something to be particularly interesting or clever for me to buy it. This episode had the potential for Michael to go completely overboard, which isn’t my favourite character trait, but instead he just kind of sat there passively experiencing the whole episode. It makes sense that an episode that has both Jim and Pam (two huge parts of the office’s dynamic) missing, and in which Michael has nothing but creative space and free time scheduled for the day, is going to feel a bit lackadaisical, but at the same time it seemed like there was a pay-off that just never came in this one.
October 1st, 2009
After last week’s co-manager reveal, we knew this was the next logical step. Michael doesn’t deal well sharing power, and Jim has never actually been in power and when he has been it’s been a pretty big disaster. So, when this episode begins, we find Michael and Jim in a power struggle that shows no signs of ending easily, and which confirms what we knew about both men.
That’s not a terrible plan for an episode, but it’s problematically reductive and didn’t end up bringing anything new to these characters. While it comes to some sort of conclusion, it doesn’t feel as if it really proves anything, and the comedy throughout the episode was too scattershot for me to really claim that the largely transitional episode was as well-executed as it could have been.
At least it was a great Oscar episode, right?
September 24th, 2009
If last week’s episode of The Office, “Gossip,” was all about clearing the air from the season finale (having Pam’s pregnancy revealed to The Office), then “The Meeting” was similarly simple. The episode primarily exists to create a situation that will be used for comedy in future episodes, so by definition this would make it a dreaded “setup” episode. For drama series, these are considered to be a blight on a series, something where “nothing happens” and where it feels as if the show is going through the motions to get to something good instead of just going there already.
But with comedies, there is an expectation that through sideplots and through the right execution, setup can feel like a normal episode of the show even as it quite blatantly moves some pieces into position for what is about to come next. The payoff of “The Meeting” is all in its final scene, when you realize the ramifications of the big decision in terms of returning the show to its roots (to some degree), so up until that point it’s all about whether or not the narrative is funny and entertaining enough for us to look past the machination in order to enjoy ourselves.
“The Meeting” has some struggles in terms of how it handles Michael and Jim’s negotiation of sorts, mostly driven by a choice of perspective which both provides more comedy and less enjoyment, but overall the episode remains funny due to a sharp subplot and the same qualities that make the show pretty funny on a regular basis. One can’t help but feel that it’s a bit of a step down from “Gossip”‘s sheer simplicity, but it’s a solid episode that really does set things up quite nicely.
September 17th, 2009
When The Office premiered last year, it was with an hour-long episode which broke a number of rules in terms of pacing and everything else. That was an episode that was about establishing a relationship between Michael and Holly, and about emphasizing the impact of Michael and Pam’s time apart on their relationship. When the latter story came to a climactic moment at the end of the episode, it felt wholly earned, and really made the episode stand out as likely the show’s best premiere to date.
“Gossip” is not interested in doing any of that, really. If “Weight Loss” was a complex game of parkour designed to get from Point A to Point B in the most inventive and complex fashion (with its various time periods and the weigh-ins to provide a sense of progression over the summer months), then this year’s premiere is a far simpler equation. The episode’s Point A is Jim and Pam keeping her pregnancy a secret, and the Point B is the office finding out about said pregnancy, and Paul Lieberstein’s goal as a writer is to get there in a strong twenty-one minute segment of comedy.
And by keeping things simple, the show creates an engaging and funny premiere, one which doesn’t aim for the heights of last year nor does it really need to. By drawing comedy out of a very simple but well executed concept that plays to Michael Scott’s strengths as a character (and thus faults as a human being), we get a story that takes a common workplace element (gossip, clearly) and lets it loose in a group of characters we know and love.
It isn’t rocket science, and that’s what makes it work so well: this isn’t a show that needs bells and whistles, or one-hour premieres, to make me laugh. And while I might like The Office best when Michael is given a bit more credit, the episode walked that fine line with great success for a wholly satisfying (if not mind-blowing) premiere.
May 14th, 2009
In what may perhaps be the Office’s most daring and diverse season, with the most substantial disruptions handled with the most impressive cost/benefit ratio, “Company Picnic” plays like a greatest hits of all of the things that have worked so well in the past year, and even a chance to help rewrite something that didn’t work quite as well. It’s not a daring episode designed to paradigm shift our expectations (I’m being facetious using that term, by the way), nor is it really about indulging in the drama-laden situations which could have emerged at the annual retreat.
Rather, it’s an episode about how humanity, and the people at Dunder-Mifflin who we enjoy so much in particular, are above all of that on some level: building more directly from “Cafe Disco” than I could have ever expected, the joys of group sport go from a lesson in anger management to a true bonding exercise, and a comedy routine with little to no actual comedy (for the crowd, not the viewer) stands as nothing but a life’s lesson learned as opposed to some pivotal stage in someone’s life.
What makes “The Office” so great, and what in this episode recalled perhaps my favourite Office finale in “Casino Night” (Favourite does not equal best, I’ll discuss this), is that the biggest moments come exactly when you’re not expecting them: just when you think that one thing is about to happen, or that a joke is about to come, real life comes and sweeps it all away.
The result is the most sweet and real finale I’ve seen in a long time, for a show that’s in no rush to end and no rush to close off this really quite awesome chapter in the series.
May 7th, 2009
About halfway through “Cafe Disco,” I admittedly wasn’t amused: here we are a week out from the half-hour finale (which is a move away from the one-hour finales we have been getting for the past few seasons), and the show is spending its time on the most throwaway of episodes. Not only that, but it appears as if the episode is going to be my least favourite kind of episode, where it boils down to Michael being incompetent, Pam and Jim having their dreams crushed, and Dwight and Michael both being so irresponsible that they’re unwilling to give someone proper medical attention.
In the end, though, I was really charmed by the episode, even if it was limited by its lack of scale: the episode never devolved into demeaning Michael, or Dwight being incompetent, or Jim and Pam losing their will to love. Rather, the episode was pretty much like one big stretching exercise for the cast, a chance for them to let loose on the dance floor before having to film the, likely, emotional and powerful finale. I had a lot of fun with the back end of the episode, and much as the epoynmous coffee shop/dance club got off to a slow start but was eventually a hit with everyone involved, I ended up liking this one.
April 30th, 2009
Alan Sepinwall posted a link on Twitter to a piece at NPR’s Monkey See Blog about The Office Season Five that I would tend to agree with. In the article, Linda Holmes makes the argument that on a character level this season has been one of the show’s strongest, especially for Michael. Considering that we started the season with Holly, and then eventually moved onto the Michael Scott Paper Company, this has been a big year for the show’s lead character, and a year that has almost never been defined by sheer comedy.
I don’t know if Holmes had seen tonight’s episode when she wrote the piece, but it’s a fine justification of her central thesis: it was almost as if the episode was Michael trying to fall into his former broad comedy and rather selfish attitude but the show around him demonstrating that it isn’t willing to let it happen. As the Michael Scott Paper Company and Dunder Mifflin merge together, tensions are certainly high, but letting the more laidback “Casual Friday” element of the storyline play out alongside the more legitimate tension of the reunion really made this half hour stand out.
I’m not quite sure if I’m in a position to call it the best season ever, but it’s certainly making a strong case for it with only two episodes left.
March 26th, 2009
I always thought Michael got a bad rap: he’s a good guy, and he’s super funny…yeah, maybe I should tell him before he goes. Oh…he’s all the way over there.
There’s a moment in “Two Weeks” where Kevin says the above, and I found it kind of hard to relate: it is not as if we are actually going to be losing Michael Scott, the office’s goodbye to Michael being quite distinctly different from our own. Even as Michael walks out the door of Dunder Mifflin for the last time, we know it’s not the last time we’re going to be seeing this character. Rather, this episode does some really subtle and effective things that I felt weren’t as clear in last week’s episode, and worked better here.
Everything just felt a bit more on point: Idris Elba was given a chance to be legitimately funny, Michael was a little bit more in his element, the office as a whole got a chance to react to Michael’s antics with a rather unique perspective, and Pam’s small but ultimately quite impactful arc was nicely handled and opens up some opportunity for the future. So if I found that “New Boss” was a bit too much setup and not quite enough follow through, I think this is a solid second shot.