The Office – “Frame Toby”

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“Frame Toby”

November 20th, 2008

Michael Scott is not a heartless man – he may hate Toby with every fibre of his being, and he may act as if his return is in fact a 911 emergency, but this does not mean that Michael is a terrible person. Under the circumstances, it makes perfect sense that Toby (Paul Lieberstein) returning would make Michael upset: he didn’t know he was there for a week because he refuses to go into the annex because “that’s where Holly worked,” and his most hated person replacing the person he loved would be highly problematic for anyone, yet alone someone as devoid of stability as Michael.

What works about “Frame Toby” (Michael’s initial reaction to his return, Dwight’s contribution to the eponymous effort, the conclusion of that particular story arc) works fine, but it felt like there was a bigger story here. The last time Michael was this adversarial with a co-worked was in “Goodbye, Stanley,” an episode where Michael finally came to his senses at episode’s end and he and Stanley actually talked out their differences. One of those scenes here could have gone a long way to formalizing Michael’s Holly issues, but the episode never goes there; instead, it spends a bit too much time on Pam’s non-triumphant return to the office, and never quite feels like a cohesive episode or something that adds to the existing mythology of this epic feud.

I don’t quite know what was going on with Pam in this episode in regards to the dirty microwave. It didn’t really serve as a metaphor for anything, considering that we never got a scene where Pam got to question whether perhaps her ungrateful and slobbish office mates are inferior to her artistic friends in New York, and it didn’t really do anything but put her in a bad mood to heighten the shift in emotions in terms of the final scene at Jim and Pam’s new house. Jenna Fischer’s return to the office felt like a chance to either give us some of that classic Jim/Pam office banter (mostly absent in the episode), and yet they instead turned Pam into a fairly bitter and unpleasant individual (even if I agree with her point, it didn’t do her character any favours entertainment wise). Perhaps I was missing something, but there just wasn’t anything here that made me think it was a smart use of time in the episode.

Yes, Jim and Pam’s conclusion was charming, but I don’t know if it’s quite as positive as they make it out to be. As Zap2it.com’s Daniel Fienberg pointed out on Twitter, this is now three storylines in a week (“Friday Night Lights” and “Brothers & Sisters” did it as well) about one partner buying or thinking about buying a house as a “surprise” for the other, and it’s just a hideously bad idea. While part of Pam is touched by the gesture, I would tend to think that one night sleeping in the second bedroom (what with his parents’ room boarded up) and waking up to the house Jim went heavily into debt for in order to help out his Mother won’t go over too well. That garage would make an awful studio in terms of its lighting situation, and I think that beyond Jim’s charming presentation the charm will, in fact, wear off. While I’m fine with these two playing out a slow born storyline, it’s weird to pair this side of it with, of all things, the microwave. Even if the end result is a real dramatic moment in their relationship, this part could have been balanced better.

The other side of the episode was stronger because it flowed more like we expect The Office to flow. Michael’s desperation to be rid of Toby was played for some good laughs, whether it was buying the fake weed or his sweat-covered attempt to talk to Toby while pretending to be his friend, but as noted above it felt like Michael’s reaction could have been more dramatically powerful. Considering how much Holly is tied up in this storyline, I don’t think that Michael’s guilt over Toby’s police search was enough. I liked that Michael was incredulous about Toby not being more mad (more angry that taxpayer dollars and safety were threatened than be the fact that Michael would attempt to frame him for felony possession with intent to traffic), but it felt like the next logical step was for Michael to discuss his recent loss before humorously reverting back to hatred just to establish some sense of normalcy. It wasn’t a poorly executed storyline, it was just one that didn’t click as I wanted it to.

Where it did click, though, was with Dwight, who was pretty much on fire in this episode in his role of criminal mastermind to Michael’s hapless front. He was just so darn excited about it: “I love catching people in the act. That’s why I always whip open doors.”And it just kept coming: we have his reveal that he watches the Shield (where “anything they do is illegal”), that he once framed a bear for eating out of the garbage (Which is funnier when you really think about it), and of course the piece d’resistance: Dwight’s Perfect Crime.

The coda to the episode, it was one of those absurd talking heads that was almost too perfect for words. I’ll have to paraphrase, but in short Dwight’s perfect crime is: go to Tiffany’s, steal the chandelier, a woman catches him in the act, she’s the owner’s daughter Tiffany, they make love all night, the police arrive, he sneaks away in a police uniform, he tells her he’s going to Mexico and then goes to Canada instead because he doesn’t trust her and he likes the cold, then 30 years go by and he gets a letter that he has a son, the chief of Police. He tells her to meet him in Paris, and she shows up there having never taken another lover only to find out that he’s in Berlin instead, where he stashes the chandelier.

It’s one of those scenes where the awesomeness of Dwight overwhelms anything else about the episode. There were some really funny parts here, but ultimately it felt like the Toby storyline didn’t get that crystallizing moment I was looking for, and the Pam storyline didn’t seem like the smart choice tonally for her first episode back. On that front, it felt like a bit of a misfire, but not one that’s sent us too far off course.

Cultural Observations

  • Rumours had B.J. Ryan exiting the show for (at least) a while in order to go to Tarantino’s new film, and this appears to be his swan song: a rushed trip to Thailand with “some high schoolers,” a once in a lifetime opportunity…but only after he and Kelly have sex one more time. Seems a fitting departure, we see if it lasts as long as Toby’s.
  • Speaking of which, weird that we didn’t see any acknowledgement of Toby’s neck-braced situation we saw in the premiere.
  • Jim’s parents’ house looks like it came off the set of Juno, so it is perhaps fitting that the film’s director, Jason Reitman was behind the camera for the episode (Mindy Kaling, who plays Kelly, gets writing credit). Other than the location there wasn’t much new in terms of direction in the episode, but it clicked along well enough.
  • I liked Creed fake talking to the camera to avoid the cops, but I liked the idea that he spends his free time throwing “things” into the quarry better.
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1 Comment

Filed under The Office

One response to “The Office – “Frame Toby”

  1. i could not agree more; nearly everything in this episode seemed off. thank goodness for dwight’s perfect crime speech ’cause that’s the only time i laughed

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