September 24th, 2009
If last week’s episode of The Office, “Gossip,” was all about clearing the air from the season finale (having Pam’s pregnancy revealed to The Office), then “The Meeting” was similarly simple. The episode primarily exists to create a situation that will be used for comedy in future episodes, so by definition this would make it a dreaded “setup” episode. For drama series, these are considered to be a blight on a series, something where “nothing happens” and where it feels as if the show is going through the motions to get to something good instead of just going there already.
But with comedies, there is an expectation that through sideplots and through the right execution, setup can feel like a normal episode of the show even as it quite blatantly moves some pieces into position for what is about to come next. The payoff of “The Meeting” is all in its final scene, when you realize the ramifications of the big decision in terms of returning the show to its roots (to some degree), so up until that point it’s all about whether or not the narrative is funny and entertaining enough for us to look past the machination in order to enjoy ourselves.
“The Meeting” has some struggles in terms of how it handles Michael and Jim’s negotiation of sorts, mostly driven by a choice of perspective which both provides more comedy and less enjoyment, but overall the episode remains funny due to a sharp subplot and the same qualities that make the show pretty funny on a regular basis. One can’t help but feel that it’s a bit of a step down from “Gossip”‘s sheer simplicity, but it’s a solid episode that really does set things up quite nicely.
The moment where “The Meeting” went off the rails, slightly, for me was when it became clear that we were going to stay on the outside with Michael for the meeting between Jim and David Wallace. I fundamentally understand the decision: Michael awkwardly trying to figure out what’s happening in the meeting has a lot of comic potential, and there’s very little funny about what’s going on with David and Jim in the office. However, by placing us in Michael’s head as opposed to Jim’s, we are forced to witness first hand as Michael’s paranoid turns to a survivalist mentality which has him digging out Toby’s jealous performance report of our dear Mr. Halpert and ruining the entire strategy. When Michael learns from David Wallace that Jim has another job offer, it’s the first we’re hearing about it, which means that we’re supposed to (like Michael) suddenly realize that it was all a big mistake.
But I think that doesn’t line up for me, because really there was never any chance of Michael being right to act as he did. Were we supposed to think that Jim was actually trying to sell out Michael in that meeting, only seeing the post-cheese cart discussion? If so, I didn’t buy it for a second, because the show rarely has Michael’s observation prove accurate. To me, it would have been more interesting if we had heard more of the meeting than Michael had, so as to be able to contextualize his actions as a tragic overreaction (in true Michael fashion) as opposed to a moment of desperation from which he is forced to back pedal. There’s a point in the storyline where the comedy has to stop dead, going from “Michael’s in a cheese cart, aha!” to “Why is Michael throwing Jim under the bus like they’re on a reality show?” At a certain point it becomes about Michael making that decision about whether or not to share his responsibilities (which we learn were getting to be too much) in order to keep Jim at the branch, a decision between selfless and selfish that we know Michael will make.
I just wish that the show had given us that from the very beginning. There’s always an inherent sadness to Michael’s antics, his paranoia getting the best of him, but if we had known of Jim’s plan ahead of time I still think we would have laughed at Andy’s hilarious cheese cart description, and Michael’s concern over Pam’s breast milk would have still been interesting. The surprise for us, to learn about the plan from David Wallace, didn’t seem like it actually gave the episode anything, and I think the tone would have felt more consistent if we had known from the beginning the decision Michael was going to have to make. Then, his back and forth between throwing him under the bus and wanting to keep him around would have seemed somewhat less sudden, and that final decision would have seemed more eventful. There were some funny elements to the storyline, but it just seemed a few narrative decisions kept it from really emphasizing the parts of it which resonated most for me as a viewer.
It could have leaned more on the side of the dramatic or character-driven because the sideplot was pure comedy, as Investigator Dwight (maybe my favourite Dwight personality trait) came out as he and Toby went after Darryl for what Dwight was convinced was a false insurance claim for a broken ankle. The storyline ran the gamut from the small character moments (Toby putting on voices for his love of hard-boiled detective novels cracked me up) to the broad comedy (like the drive-by insult as Toby gets to into it and insults Darryl’s sister) to the downright genius (Dwight’s “Am I the only one?” look to the camera as he points out how similar Darryl and his sister look). And not only were those individual moments great, but the ending was perfect: Dwight was right about it (he’s really not a terrible detective) all along, creating a standoff that one presumes will end in both sides avoiding the whole mess, but then we see Toby with a bump on his head and a load of paper work on his desk as we learn both Dwight and Darryl are going ahead with their claims. It was a legitimately great subplot, one which felt complete and was pretty damn funny throughout.
So while Pam going around handing out invitations was a bit of treading water as we await the big Sweeps wedding (or maybe not Sweeps, just sometime in the next month or two), the final scene did finally get us to a new point. The rivalry between Jim and Dwight has largely been on the backburner since Andy arrived and became Dwight’s new arch-nemesis, but the entire Co-Manager situation evoked the title distinction between Assistant Regional Manager and Assistant to the Regional Manager, foreshadowing Dwight’s reaction as he can’t believe Jim has managed to leapfrog him and effectively become his boss. It’s a moment that promises to return the show to an old rivalry, and the kind of thing that I didn’t immediately think of when I heard Jim’s plan (and eventually Wallace’s adjustment of the plan). It was a nice surprise, and was really the only one the episode needed: putting us into Michael’s shoes didn’t really do the episode any favours, and held me back from really loving the episode.
- Interesting to see such a simple cold open, and I don’t mean that in the nicest way: Michael asking Oscar what he should expect for his colonoscopy was shocking and “typical Michael” in a way that was somewhat derivative, especially as he kept going into what could make it more pleasurable for his doctor. It was a scene where I didn’t know whether Michael was going to burst out laughing or not, as if Carell’s adlibs took it too far for it to be believably naive.
- Dwight’s David Caruso moment in Toby’s cubicle proves that it isn’t as effective with regular glasses.
- Which Sesame Street character would you put in charge? I think Michael is right about not putting Big Bird in charge, but I don’t think I’d go with Bert or even one of the real human beings (Gordon and Maria work better as middle management, I feel). Nope, I think I would ultimately put Elmo in charge as a beloved figure, although he’s largely be a puppet for Super Grover’s agenda (Feel free to unsubscribe to the blog for that indulgence into terrible, terrible jokes).
- I expected a bigger joke from the coda at the end, but “Pam, my bag was there!” just after Angela talked about rude Meredith was being was kind of great, and makes me wish Angela was around more often this season.