October 15th, 2009
The Office is a show that is going to have its share of filler episodes, moving between larger storylines (like last week’s wedding) and the next major storyline. Sometimes these focus on the day-to-day of the office environment, which is often quite fun for how it brings out the supporting characters more carefully. However, sometimes they’re episodes like “Mafia,” which play out very simple ideas in a way that is minimalist to a fault.
It’s not that the show doesn’t work when it slows down like this, but it needs for something to be particularly interesting or clever for me to buy it. This episode had the potential for Michael to go completely overboard, which isn’t my favourite character trait, but instead he just kind of sat there passively experiencing the whole episode. It makes sense that an episode that has both Jim and Pam (two huge parts of the office’s dynamic) missing, and in which Michael has nothing but creative space and free time scheduled for the day, is going to feel a bit lackadaisical, but at the same time it seemed like there was a pay-off that just never came in this one.
At the heart of every Michael Scott storyline is the question about whether or not Michael’s behaviour is believable. There are times when Michael is too stupid, or more importantly too ignorant to his surroundings. What I like about this story is that he leaves that meeting fully believing that Grotti was only trying to sell him insurance, which is the logical perspective to take. However, at the same time, the kind of hard sell that the guy was offering means that Dwight’s less rational character would take the conversation into an entirely different and more insane direction, one which Michael resists at first before eventually giving in to when his overactive imagination is sparked by Dwight.
Where the episode goes wrong is that nothing interesting really happens as a result. Because Grotti is really just a guy who sells insurance, the episode became about whether or not Michael was going to make a fool of himself, or if Dwight was going to cause the situation to spiral out of control, but none of that happened: we got one funny moment of Andy’s disguise turning him into a would-be mechanic and resulting in a hilarious near electrocution, but otherwise it was almost alarmingly boring. Michael signed the paper without much of a threat (as the threat was all in his mind, and Dwight was simply coughing and not doing much in terms of engaging dialogue or anything else), and when he eventually did call him back and tear him apart Dwight and Andy got a kick out of it (because they actually thought he was with the mob), but our knowledge that he wasn’t meant that it was just sort of weird.
The episode’s other storyline was also a decent idea that didn’t really go anywhere. I understand that it makes sense to spend some time with Jim and Pam on their honeymoon, as it both saves money (with two principles not in the episode) and lets the show operate without Jim and Pam for a change. However, while Oscar’s initial speech about the Coalition for Reason being undermanned in their absence was clever, that never really came into play beyond the one phone call. Instead, the B-story shifted to Kevin and his use of Jim’s office and his inadvertent cancelling of his credit card, a gag that was a lot of fun to watch but then kind of just died. The episode tried to turn Jim’s phone calls into a recurring theme, his call to Michael getting interrupted and all, but it never really clicked for me, and Kevin’s phone call in the coda was funny (in that he was calling to check to see if they figured out it was him, as opposed to telling them it was him so that they could work it out with the credit card company) but didn’t really do anything new with the gag. It just kind of sat there.
And that’s not a huge problem for the show considering how much the episode was, as noted above, set up for this. It’s just that sometimes these episodes can be really fun and inventive, and this one raised a couple of interesting points and had a few fun jokes but was kind of content to laze around as if one of the bosses was out for the day and the other had his day divided between creative space and free play. It might be a funny idea when you think about it, but it didn’t result in a great episode.
- Dwight did have a number of really great one-liners, although his argument that Rs are particularly dangerous sounding (and that’s not not “muckduck” for a reason) made me laugh the most.
- Andy was also quite good, as the two make a good team: the episode just didn’t really build on any of that. I wanted to see more of their dynamic with Michael leading to some sort of result, but it ended up being really passive in a way that the Office entering into public spaces rarely is (the car being the one exception, a scene which Ed Helms knocked out of the ball park).
- Cold open was solid when it was Michael emphasizing the mental as opposed to the fun in Fundamentals, but the recording of his own book was a bit of a dud for me.