November 5th, 2009
I was never what one would call a fan of the “Michael dates Pam’s Mom” storyline, and a lot of that has to do with what we got in “Double Date.” It’s not that I argued there was not comedy to be found in the scenario, as there certainly is some value to the storyline on a comic front. However, more than anything, the storyline is just plain awkward for Pam, and since we are predispositioned to see her viewpoint as the sane one we can’t help but find it a little awkward ourselves. And even if we choose to ignore Pam’s perspective, Michael’s view on the issue was sort of equally awkward in that he hangs onto her less because of love and more because of how ludicrously lonely he is. It all added up to a sense that this was going to go very wrong very quickly, and that’s not something that seemed necessary to me.
As such, I found “Double Date” to be a bit tough to watch in the way that the show sometimes likes to be, although it was probably as well handled as it could have gotten. While there were plenty of awkward moments in the context of the episode, they were all coming from a fairly logical place emotionally, and as such it was hard to watch less because of how inappropriate it was and more because we knew that anyone other than Michael with the same emotional feelings could have handled it far more gracefully. And by combining the emotional rollercoaster on that end with something charmingly quaint and silly in the Office, which could have been awkward but ended up working quite well, it ended up being a solid half hour of television, if not one that I would have personally placed into the show’s trajectory by choice.
What’s interesting about “Double Date” is that, to this point, Pam is the one who has been overreacting in this whole situation. Two people were made happier by Michael and Helene dating: Michael, and Helene. And while Pam might not have been pleased, both her mother and one of her friends (albeit a Michael Scott-type of friend) were happier as a result of this happening and so she should have been willing to give it more of a chance than she did. The only time she’s actually willing to give it a shot is once she realizes that Michael is effectively bailing on the relationship out of childish insecurity, at which point she can take back the higher ground and be the protective daughter as opposed to the petulant child (a role now taken over by Michael, who had the audacity to dump the woman on her birthday). It’s a role reversal that makes me personally sympathize with Michael, even though the episode vilifies him by turning him into the bad guy: while Dwight and Andy were busy trying to avoid owing the other a favour, I don’t think that Michael owed Pam anything considering that she owed him an apology for being so frustrated with the relationship in the first place.
I don’t particularly like situations where Michael’s awkwardness becomes his only character trait, and I think that there was two different types of seasons that demonstrated why. The scene with Michael breaking up with her was enormously tough to watch, but at its core was real emotional leverage: Michael first attempted to use Pam as a scapegoat for the breakup, which is shady but the kind of survival tactic Michael reverts to in high pressure situations, but then he actually tells her the truth: whether it was said in the right terms or whether Michael’s attitude could have been better or if it perhaps could have done without the awkward pause for the waitress to pour water, he was simply saying how he felt. He could have picked a better setting, but Michael is not great at holding things in and in that moment he realized that this woman has already lived her life and that he wants to be able to live a life of his own as well, not just borrow her travel books on occasion. Michael wasn’t misreading the signs of that lunch so much as he HAD BEEN misreading the relationship since the beginning. He let his desire for companionship (lonely after his dream of he and Holly together forever was dashed, something the episode very carefully reminded us of) take him away from his life’s goals, and he wasn’t about to let that continue for one second.
That scene, I thought, was far superior to the scene where Pam and her mother talk about how hurt she is in the back seat while Michael sits there driving. Why wouldn’t she get a taxi? The scene only exists for Michael to awkwardly suggest she take up more hobbies, a cheap sequence meant to amplify the tension rather than drawing out any sort of human drive behind it. The dinner scene was perhaps more awkward, but it was more organically awkward: it’s one thing to see a situation that could be handled normally by someone who isn’t Michael Scott be bungled by Michael Scott, but it’s another to see a situation that’s just stereotypically awkward and that lacks humour or pathos as a result. Because there was that hint of truth to what Michael was saying, and because of how prevalent his sadness has been in episodes as of late, I thought the awkwardness was about as well-placed as it’s going to be, even if I prefer a less awkward depiction of the character.
The conclusion, as Michael and Pam end up in a Western-style showdown after Pam takes Michael up on his offer to let her hit him as compensation for the wrongs done to her, felt a bit too big for that scenario. I thought there were some fun moments building up to the scene, in particular Toby giving Pam punching tips as Michael watches on, but it all felt really unnecessary: Pam should have realized that Michael had been hurt enough in this scenario, and that all she ever really experienced was feeling very awkward (something the show can’t exactly claim is that terrible when it wants it to be the foundation of the episode’s comedy). But instead, the episode feels the need to go through with the charade, and even has Michael say something aggressively inappropriate (and to be honest, out of character) so that Pam does slap him, and so she does admit she doesn’t feel better, and so Dwight can put a frozen chicken against Michael’s face. That just didn’t add up for me, and doesn’t fit with how I’m reading the scenes involves, which again shows how different a wavelength I and the show are on with this storyline.
I think we were on the same page with Dwight’s silly efforts to have everyone in the office owe him a favour that he would eventually trade in so that he could oust Jim as Co-Manager. It’s the very definition of a harebrained scheme, but the storyline really popped when Andy (whose motivation was a desire to demonstrate just how quickly his politeness could be called into action) started getting in Dwight’s way by quickly paying him back. Wilson and Helms have always played well off of each other, but this one had some really great small moments between the two actors and larger moments like Dwight’s excitement at preparing Tacos. Plus, I love that it didn’t really alter any characters: Dwight is always scheming and manipulative, while Andy is always genuine to a fault, so it makes total sense that they would both be doing the same basic action for entirely different reason (Dwight to smite Jim, Andy to avoid Dwight dying being owed a favour and haunting him).
The episode had some funny moments, and I like where its pathos was heading, but a couple of wrong turns towards the end held it back for me. I’ll be curious where the show goes from here, since it seems like we’re officially done with this storyline and need a new direction to head in.
- It’s kind of weird that we left this storyline behind entirely last week, only for it to come back with such a vengeance this week – it’s not abnormal for the show, but it was still strange for some reason.
- Loved Michael trying to undercut the emotional value of his scrapbook as she was opening it, in particular admitting that he had blatantly plagiarized Shel Silverstein and that it was more of a bunt than a home run.
- The episode was really firing on all cylinders early with the supporting cast, as we got both Kelly’s amazing “Oh my god I love it” followed by a vehement headshake to the camera and Creed’s insistence that the fake phone call must have been a mistake, as that paper was never meant to be delivered. Love those little moments, as they always add a lot to the show.
- What, exactly, was up with Ryan’s creepy photography book? At this point BJ Novak is dressing weirder each week, and the nude photos were even more ridiculous, which is proving entertaining if sort of nonsensical.
- “You’re thinking of deer penis” was so deadpan it was marvelous, but “I could have grown poison mushrooms THIS HIGH BY NOW” cracked me up a lot more.
- The episode was directed by Seth Gordon, who is best known for directing the documentary The King of Kong (about Donkey Kong record holders) but who has also directed a few episodes of Greg Daniels’ other show Parks and Recreation: he’s a good fit for this type of style, and I thought the direction was strong here.