February 5th, 2009
Only four days after I was admittedly frustrated by an hour long episode, we have a unique test of my concerns in “Lecture Circuit,” the first of two parts of the same basic episode. What we have, essentially, is an hour long episode split into two parts: we leave most of our storylines at a cliffhanger, and it’s clear that we’re picking this up next week.
As the first half of an hour long episode, this was actually a very well containted episode that despite never really grasping at resolutions nonetheless offers a logical buildup to next week’s conclusion. The episode paces itself very logically: it’s a slow build, and one that isn’t really concerned about breaking new ground, but I enjoyed it for precisely that reason. While the hour-long Super Bowl episode was far funnier, and ultimately the better example of the show’s comic potential, it’s nice to be able to sit back and spend some time with the characters.
It also means that this review is going to be very short. There isn’t really much happening in this episode, and the only storyline with something approaching truly meaningful is Pam and Michael’s trip to Utica for one of the lectures Michael has been asked to do as part of Scranton’s surprising success in this economic climate.
The show isn’t breaking new ground here: Michael gave a very similar type of lecture in to Ryan’s business class in “Business School,” complete with candy throwing. And the lecture was just as awkward, if not more so, in this instance: his various stereotypes he used to help remember people’s names were particularly over the top, although only really “Sugar Boobs” got a chuckle out of me. Nothing about Michael’s lecture itself, really, was funny, nor did it really connect into any of his real selling techniques. Michael is actually a decent salesman, and the show should do more work to point out how ignorant he is to WHY he is a good salesman. I do like that Mindy Kaling chose to not actually have Michael go through with the chainsaw joke, instead allowing him to simply demonstrate it for Karen – it’s the kind of reserved approach that we didn’t see in Sunday’s episode.
Instead, this was all about Karen, the first half of Lecture Circuit’s seach for something approximating closure. This is where Michael was funniest: spending way too much time thinking about Jim and Karen having sex, asking whether Karen has to go pump, and being obsessed with whether or not Pam was going to be okay with this (not for her safety, because he has no sense of privacy). But in reality for Pam this was, as noted, closure: she saw that Karen was pregnant, that she is married, and that for all intensive purposes she is happy. I like that she actually is happy: not putting on a show for Pam happy, not invented a pregnancy to get one over on people, just genuinely (once away from Scranton) living a normal life. It’s what I wish they had done with Jan, at many points, let her have a baby and become someone normal instead of a total loon.
The storyline works because Pam and Karen actually genuinely get along, once the tension of learning about their respective fates clears the room. Michael’s awkward pause on “enemies become friends” to the camera was charming, and it made sense that this would drive Michael to consider his own lost love with Holly. By all accounts we’re heading to Nashua next week (Amy Ryan FTW), which means that we’re going to be experiencing what I presume will be an awkward reunion: I just don’t think that Holly was as hung up on Michael as he was on her, and if I’m wrong then I’ll be pleasantly surprised. In the meantime, I thought that this is a good way to stretch a story over two episodes, showing us a complete and meaningful story in this episode that leads to an action in the second half that actually feels deserved.
The rest of the episode was going to be slight in comparison: it’s interesting to see them return to the Jim/Dwight partnership in alliance against (or here in celebration of) Kelly, as it is true that she is one of the few people who annoys them both almost equally. Their joint talking head about the party planning committee was charming, and I thought that Dwight’s inability to blow up balloons and Jim’s inability to fundraise got to show both of them as something approaching failures. Jim has tried to play party planner before, and it was as much of a disaster, so I like that the show is willing to show him in that light. That subplot still isn’t dealt with, but we’ve seen the last of Andy’s crush. I like Ed Helms, and thought him stalking her so he could rewrite her favourite song was perfect for the character, but it was nonetheless filler in the broader episode.
But it works for what it is: a tease for next week that nonetheless delivers an emotional beat and some solid comedy. Nothing major to complain about here.
- Dwight’s “IT IS YOUR BIRTHDAY” banner? Priceless. On that note: how old do we think Kelly REALLY is? I have a feeling she won’t enjoy having her real age on a cake, as based on her Juvenile detention dates she might have turned 30.
- I’ll probably get a lot of flack for this, but this is really how I like The Office compared to the Super Bowl episode: there were no question funnier moments there, but this better struck that balance between drama and comedy, and did a good job of calling back to previous episodes. The show works best when episodes like “Stress Relief” are spread out, and as long as we get some space between them they’re a great addition to each season – I just feel more comfortable with this type.
- The cold open, with Michael discovering that the phones could work as a PA system, was cute but inconsequential, and asking any cold open to go after Thursday’s? Uncool.
- Really curious to see what kind of ratings bump we see for the show: I seriously doubt that many of those extra 13 million viewers are going to stick around, but I guess we’ll see tomorrow morning.
- Creed got the major supporting player edit this week, first following Michael’s instructions to look to his left at Vance Refrigeration (maybe he’s never been on an airplane and didn’t get it), then thinking Andy was Jim, and then giving Jim a $3 bill in the coda. Oh Creed.
- Loved Pam’s “I hate thinking Al Qaeda hates me” talking head, it was (to use John Krasinski’s line from that NBC chime thing) adorable.
- I really liked two things about Andy’s storyline: the idea of a battle royale between the Narddawg and Crippling Despair, Loneliness and Depression, and when he responded to Stanley’s “Are you out of your damn mind?” with “Are you out of YOUR damn mind?”