May 7th, 2009
About halfway through “Cafe Disco,” I admittedly wasn’t amused: here we are a week out from the half-hour finale (which is a move away from the one-hour finales we have been getting for the past few seasons), and the show is spending its time on the most throwaway of episodes. Not only that, but it appears as if the episode is going to be my least favourite kind of episode, where it boils down to Michael being incompetent, Pam and Jim having their dreams crushed, and Dwight and Michael both being so irresponsible that they’re unwilling to give someone proper medical attention.
In the end, though, I was really charmed by the episode, even if it was limited by its lack of scale: the episode never devolved into demeaning Michael, or Dwight being incompetent, or Jim and Pam losing their will to love. Rather, the episode was pretty much like one big stretching exercise for the cast, a chance for them to let loose on the dance floor before having to film the, likely, emotional and powerful finale. I had a lot of fun with the back end of the episode, and much as the epoynmous coffee shop/dance club got off to a slow start but was eventually a hit with everyone involved, I ended up liking this one.
Perhaps the most dramatic turnaround was that of Dwight and Phyllis: when he first began insisting that she shouldn’t go to a hospital and began his treatment it felt like too much, but then they reined (Oh man, I should be made into glue for that one…and that one) it in both with the hilarious horse humour (when he literally “Whoa”‘d her I nearly lost it) and the reconnection of Phyllis and Dwight on an emotional level. These two made a great pairing back in “Crime Aid,” and it was nice to see that here Phyllis confides in Dwight about Bob’s clear intentions on having an affair with his Phyllis lookalike secretary just as he confided in her about Angela. No, he wasn’t a whole lot of help, and he seems to believe that Bob Vance owns her as property, but it was a nicer moment for these two characters than the initial interaction would have indicated.
Jim and Pam’s storyline didn’t really go anywhere, and was a red herring that didn’t really work: at certain points you felt like it was going to explode into something bigger (the map in the printer setting off an office firestorm, for example), but it just never went anywhere. They got dressed up, thought they should stop in on the rocking party at Cafe Disco, and realized what we knew all along: there was no way the show was going to have them run off to a courthouse in Ohio in order to get married when there is so much comic potential to be had. As a result of both its position as the veritable C story in the episode and the randomness of the storyline, it’s the one that felt the least developed. At the same time? Pam looked really cute in that dress, and the dandelion bouquet was charming.
Pretty much, there were all sorts of storylines which could have been serious in this episode that basically just danced away, Jim and Pam included. Dancing was the enemy in the beginning, the activity that no one but Erin (who is growing on me with her willingness to do anything she’s told, including messing with Pam’s head for money from Dwight) and Phyllis (who hurt her back) would take part in with Michael. Michael’s insecurities about everyone not wanting to go to lunch with him were extremely simplistic, but they led the entire office in search of another way to let loose, eventually congregating in the old Michael Scott Paper Company Office (which looked larger, but whatever).
The result was sheer madness: you had Mindy Kaling and Ed Helms rocking an absolutely amazing dance-off (Helms deserves particular credit for his genius), Kevin sucking face in the corner with his lady friend from a while back, Angela going so far as to move her foot to the music ever so slightly, Erin inviting a friend and letting loose, and Creed bringing his disco ball (which he had been using as a rear view mirror). It wasn’t that all of this was particularly humorous, but there was something freeing about all of it: no drama, no tension, no suspense, no responsibility, just fun.
Yes, the episode is the second last of the season and probably should have been more substantial, especially coming off of the Michael Scott Paper Company arc where a lot of things changed; washing it all away in dancing might seem tempting, sure, but it seemed an odd palette cleanser before the finale. Pam’s position as a salesperson was never really investigated very carefully, which was something I had been looking forward to, and it was just an odd shift in momentum: normally shows want to keep their momentum going into the finale, but this was a definite reset, and it will be curious to see what next week brings all things considered.
- After the rather brilliant chili cold open last week, this week’s was similarly simple: Dwight pulling a prank on Pam is not a normal circumstance, but I liked the idea that Pam now being a salesperson has given Dwight greater reason to attack her insecurities. It wasn’t that funny, per se, but it was kind of fun to see a glimpse at another dynamic (and, to be honest, would kind of have liked to see it in the episode).
- Diamond Dancer: So fast, so tender.
- Angela’s dislike for music was brilliant summed up with “I just don’t like the general spirit of music.” I enjoy Angela, and disliked how after the love triangle she disappeared and actually became a worshipper of Charles. It didn’t fit, and I like shrewd stuck-up Angela better.
- Loved the little coda where Kaling and Helms, whose chemistry in the dance-off (which Kelly refuses to admit was a dance-off) was fantastic, were shot through the bathroom door as Andy prepared to have his ear pierced. Both his concern over it being the “gay ear,” and his reaction to the ice, were priceless. I know Helms has better Emmy episodes, and won’t be able to get past Wilson/Krasinski, but darnit if he didn’t rock this episode.