“Prince Family Paper”
January 22nd, 2009
Well, if there was ever any doubt, we are definitely in a transition period with The Office: this, the last episode before the big one-hour Super Bowl episode with all of the big guest stars, never pretends that it is something substantial, its A plot admitting to being a result of transition and its B plot entering into the list of most insubstantial, office minutia plots the show has ever attempted.
But there is something very charming about that lack of substance in the second plot of the night, an epic battle over whether or not Hilary Swank is hot that divides the office. There will be no long term ramifications of this battle, or to any of this episode for that matter; it is an episode designed to bridge the gap between different periods in the show. Now that we know that Idris Elba (The Wire) will be arriving as the new Jan/Ryan, Michael filling in for them will be a thing of the past.
However, sitting within this transitional space isn’t particularly a bad thing: it may not hit any new notes, or any sustained ones, but I feel like it nonetheless chose the right beats for an episode that will be swept under the rug over time.
This review is delayed mostly because of illness, but also because I knew that the episode didn’t have any sort of deeper meaning. I don’t have any broad character statements to make, identifications of patterns to elaborate upon, or parallels with other series to draw. It is simply a charming half hour of television, drawn with an intelligent eye for the things that make this ensemble stand out.
How else do we explain the genius that is the question of whether Hilary Swank is hot? It’s such a small little thing, and I enjoy that it is not a question of whether or not she’s pretty: while likely partially included to keep from offending the actress herself, there is general consensus that it is a question of whether she transcends pretty or beautiful or handsome and emerges into that category over which most of the office believes they have definitive power. What this does is make it an even more insignificant argument: it isn’t even about whether she’s pretty or ugly, but rather people parking on extremist degrees of attractiveness, all of which are on the mid-to-high end and yet nonetheless lead to the highly contested battle that follows.
Highlights are those which are the most elaborately thought-out, although I was the most fond of Oscar’s amazing symmetry theory. It was one of those things that reminds us why these storylines work, with each character having their own personality influencing their reasons. Stanley is too old and too tired to be too picky with who he considers hot, while Kelly has to consider her hot in order to be able to convince herself that she is also hot. Oscar, meanwhile, is highly detail oriented, and a numbers man, so of course he would theorize that it is her bizarrely symmetrical features that hold her back from hotness. It was a storyline that just let everyone in the office be themselves, surrounding this highly ridiculous and as a result entertaining scenario.
I do wish I could say the same about Michael and Dwight’s trip to the eponymous Prince Family Paper, but it never really transcended a certain tragic tale. It was the usual from Michael, really, when he gets into these situations: he wants to do what he’s supposed to do, like firing an employee, but he feels too much about these people. And I’ll agree with what James Poniewozik at Time says in that this is very thematically consistent with Michael’s insistence on the office employees being his “family”: to actually have a family running a paper business made him more than envious, and the idea that he would be responsible for destroying his own dream, in a way, really would kill him inside.
But outside of its broad story points, I didn’t feel like it was hitting: while the licking of the lips was inspired, none of the dialogue in the store really dug in, and I thought the stuff with Dwight and Michael back in the office was a bit of a time waster (I’d have rather seen what Creed thought about the Hilary Swank issue). Pairing a storyline that feels underexecuted with one that is admittedly very light if very funny creates this scenario where you’d rather be having fun than trying to teach Michael a lesson about the balance between personal feeling and business sense. And at points in Michael and Dwight’s storyline, as was the case with Michael in the last episode, you wonder why we’re bothering at all when we’ve already been down this path, or when it isn’t really that funny. Here, that was complicated even more because this was ostensibly the A story, and it didn’t feel like it after the fact.
But overall, it was a funny episode that let the cast be the cast, and Michael’s episode ending “Oh, Hilary Swank – she’s hot” was perfectly delivered and was a great way to cap it off. Not genius, but a good enough transition into what I’m dreading most: a celebrity laden, hour long Super Bowl episode. I’m worried.
- Thought the cold open was pretty uninspired: after 30 Rock did some really neat Wikipedia pranks, it seemed even less interesting for the very simple little red wire gag, even if Dwight on the pole was pretty funny.
- Love that Michael’s fake name for Prince Family Paper was Michael Scarn – gotta love continuity. My other favourite Michael moment was, after learning that the company was started when the owner got back from Vietnam, when he responded with “Oh, Vietnam, I hear it’s lovely.”
- Angela was outside of the game until she decided to play tiebreaker (until Toby showed up from the annex), but her “She’s a female Boris Becker” was so perfectly in character. Loved it.