The Office – “Lecture Circuit Part 2”

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“Lecture Circuit Part 2”

February 12th, 2009

One. Big. Letdown.

That pretty much sums up my thoughts on the second half of “Lecture Circuit,” which will go down as an entirely uneventful piece of comedy for a whole lot of reasons. Alan Sepinwall really sums it up best in arguing that this is just like every one hour episode: spreading it out over two weeks and throwing a “previously on The Office” in front of the second half doesn’t change the fact that it was one story stretched out over two episodes that really wasn’t in any position to handle it.

Combine this with the show’s bait and switch, shoving the potential of seeing Amy Ryan again in our faces and then snatching it away only moments into this episode, and it just feels like this one was operating on borrowed time as soon as it began. And while I think anyone would agree that the actual dramatic events of Michael and Pam’s trip to Nashua were engaging, and that there was some comedy there in relation to last week’s events, the rest of the episode did not provide a substantial comic element to feel as if extending the rest of the storylines through to another week

I would be very interested to see what would happen if, instead of showing these as two parts of one episode, you instead took Michael and Pam’s storyline and turned it into one episode, and then took everything at The Office and ran it as a separate one. I think that one of them would have been the show’s usual format: start with something funny and potentially highly disruptive (Michael on a lecture circuit, Pam and Karen meeting again), turn it into a moment of reflection for the characters, and then have them search out another outlet for those emotions (running off to find Holly). I think Michael went through pretty much his whole routine: over-confidence, lack of awareness, sudden awareness, impulsiveness, nervousness, emotional collapse, emotional collapse again, creepy sweater cutting, invasion of privacy, and simple-minded happiness at the news that he doesn’t live in a hopeless world.

That arc works for me, also because it ends in such an ambiguous fashion: Pam is the only one who read that note, and I kind of like that we never get a Talking Head to confirm whether or not she was lying, or exaggerating, or that the document actually only held the words “Dear Michael” or was written as a fan letter to the Lord of the Dance. I presume that one of these is true, that it isn’t so simple as Holly still being in love with him, but I like Pam’s decision to let Michael have his moment. That played out so simple, so purely, that it’s hard to hold anything against the rest of the episode.

But it just wasn’t funny: Angela’s C-Plot about the cats was great when it started with Angela Kinsey playing it so darn creepily, and I’m all for a human hairball, but the idea of cats having sex wasn’t nearly as funny as I think they thought it was, and the entire thing was so darn tangential that it was hard to connect with it. Last week’s Andy subplot was, I felt, a far more interesting time spent with the characters, whereas here we already had the memo: Angela loves cats, Angela’s a little wacky. If it had been really funny that would have been fine, but it just never clicked for me.

The bigger disappointment, though, was Jim and Dwight’s party planning adventure becoming so darn boring so quickly. I don’t know what happened, precisely, but there was just no comedy: being unable to spell Kelly’s name, or not having a theme for the party and picking something lame, and waking Kelly up from a nap, and just pretty much everything else, never made me laugh and never felt like anything worthwhile. That’s a problem in an episode that is asking us for more empathy than laughter on the other side of the coin (Pam’s attempt at being Michael in the lecture withstanding – poor “K.D. Lang”), because it felt poorly balanced all the way through. And, say what you will about last week’s episode, but it felt like a far more successful balance, no one storyline trying to overpower the others.

There was a moment in the episode that summed it up for me: Ken Kwapis letting the camera linger on the “It is your birthday.” banner in the meeting room. It was as if to say “Hey, we made funny jokes last week!” And yeah, you did – just not so much this time around.

Cultural Observations

  • It’s so weird not to have notes to go on, as I watched this one before going to bed last night, but I would tend to think that I would have remembered some of the funnier scenes here. Nothing is really coming to mind, though, which is either a sign that I was more tired than I thought I was or that it just wasn’t memorable. Or, more likely, a combination of the two.
  • One thing I did enjoy, though, was the minutia of Dwight and Jim’s party planning: Dwight’s sign did make me chuckle, but what made me chuckle a bit more was Jim’s attempt at mocking the sign by announcing it had Stanley opining “I already read the sign.” Dwight’s look on his face directly after was the closest that storyline came to making me laugh.
  • I loved the scene where Michael is at Holly’s desk because we know that it’s about to get weird and yet there’s something so sad and tragic about it that us, and the camerman, can’t pull away. He starts with the sweater, which is fine, but then crosses the line by stealing a sleeze. Then he sees the screen pops up, has a great moment where he shares a laugh over their similar senses of humour before then descending into the black hole of morality by stealing the document. It’s a scene that, in itself, has ups and downs that the rest of the episode failed to achieve.
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