December 11th, 2008
A week after getting it so very right, The Office has gotten it so very wrong.
“Moroccan Christmas” is a mess of an episode, a mostly charmless affair that offers small tidbits of potential but masks them in an unnecessary and forced intervention story that felt overdone and, like the rest of the episode, only operating on one frequency. The episode was filled with small moments that felt like they could have sustained this episode without its investigation into Meredith’s drinking: the office had more than enough drama going into this episode to let that drive the story forward, and the addition of Meredith’s hair getting caught on fire isolated Michael into an unlikable and unfortunate story.
What resulted was an episode where cleverness was not enough to overcome this issue of conception, and a Christmas episode which was both joyless and, to be honest, not even all that funny when it achieved some level of success.
The real drama in this episode is Phyllis and Angela’s feud over the party planning committee, as the latter is reduced to grunt work as Phyllis holds her knowledge of Angela and Dwight’s sexual relationship over her head. This has everything you need to become a centerpiece of this episode: long term development, long term ramifications, and plenty of great comic beats for, in particular, Phyllis. This is a character who doesn’t often get much screentime, but has been good enough both here and when coaching Dwight in “Crime Aid” to deserve a more significant chunk of the episode.
But the episode wasn’t content to let this be the central drama, choosing instead to entirely shut down Phyllis’ Moroccan-themed party in favour of a ridiculous and stupid intervention to attempt to stop Meredith from drinking. Yes, drunk Meredith is funny, and Meredith catching her hair on fire was eventful, but where did the storyline take us? I’m not suggesting that every storyline needs to take us somewhere (last week’s didn’t, really), but this one wasn’t fun or light-hearted. Instead, it was Michael at his most ignorant and stupid – while it made for some fun physical comedy once Michael tried to kidnap her into the rehab clinic (“Hi, I have a deposit – an alcoholic?”), it never really clicked as something beyond a one-joke gag.
The entire episode felt like this, but my biggest problem with the intervention is that I never found it funny to begin with: it felt like one of those writing room pitches and not an organic storyline. While there is potential for humour within Michael Scott running an intervention, the talking heads weren’t actually clever or funny, and after How I Met Your Mother had a lot of fun with Interventions earlier this season this felt so rote by comparison. There just wasn’t anything fresh or new to be had, and as a result it seemed like one of those things that sounds really good at the pitch stage but never materialized in the script.
To be fair, the rest of the episode had some fun parts: I was especially fond of Dwight’s doll-selling scheme, even if I thought that “Princess Unicorn” was a bit too far-fetched for this somewhat realistic universe. It was funny enough with Dwight was hoarding the dolls, but the ending with Toby desperately purchasing the last doll form Darryl to find that it is an African-America version of the doll was downright priceless. There was the episode’s clever charm, and I don’t know why so little of it made its way into Michael and Meredith’s side of the storyline.
There was also some fun moments for the supporting cast: Jim and Pam didn’t have much to do, but I was really charmed by their final talking head as they argue whether or not Pam is entitled to tell the cameras that she knew about it all along. It was a great little argument, and “It’s Christmas” is really a trump card in this situation so go Pam. The cold open was also quite sharp: Jim wraps Dwight’s desk, or so it appears, and sits and laughs as Dwight places his briefcase on it to find that it is entirely hollow. I don’t know how that would really work, but it was a nice clever sight gag that was muddled by the middle of the episode.
Really, its heart and soul was supposed to be Angela and Phyllis, but that was played out in a weird way. Dwight had his own storyline, so he was out of the picture, and Andy spent the episode annoyingly playing the Sitar again, and again, and again. The first time it was clever: Angela warns him against singing a song (at Christmas of all times!) about naked women and France. When Jim approached him for requests, and then requested he stop, it was sharp. But that final scene, as Andy comes into the room just after Phyllis reveals to the entire office, minus Michael and Andy, Angelda’s secret, it’s just sad. His version of Deck the Halls is just a joke, and I think Andy deserves better than that at this stage.
And while The Office is allowed to make us feel awkward, it shouldn’t be this awkward: it felt like the lines were more forced, less connected, more tangential. Yes, watching Creed toke up is a fun sight gag, but when Creed goes without a single line (more or less) it’s hard to contribute to this sense of cohesiveness. The episode felt like it should be a turning point for this storyline, and it seemed like the episode wasn’t content on being just that. This is going to be a problem for the show in the future as it persists, and no number of sharp but sparing one-liners will fix it.
- Yes, I thought the intervention story was unnecessary, but that doesn’t mean that Meredith’s inspired escape attempts in the parking lot and the visual of her being dragged into the hospital didn’t make me chuckle. I thought that Kate Flannery had a lot of fun with the role, especially during the chase scene.
- I thought that it was a bit weird to return Andy back to his most aloof, but his lengthy talking head where he had three different nicknames and an entirely not hardcore drinking regimen was a lot of fun.
- This is, indeed, the last episode until the New Year, when the show is schedule to return at some point either after the Super Bowl or the week before. More details to come in the new year.
- And considering that I assert above that Princess Unicorn seems a bit far-fetched to operate in this universe, they prove me wrong with the quite genius Princess Unicorn website. Props, writers.