November 12th, 2009
The best thing about The Office is that its silliest episodes can sometimes be its most effective. An episode like “Cafe Disco” last season was the perfect way to break through the tension of the Michael Scott Paper Company period, devolving into a dance party that helped to bring everyone back together albeit through a less than serious structure. While the show can go off the rails if things become too silly, there is something very honest about situations where the silliness is the result of a human response to a crisis, or to a period of tension. Michael Scott is not the only person in the world who doesn’t like tense situations, although he may be the only one who decides to turn his office into a dance party or, as we see in “Murder,” the scene of a vicious murder.
What makes the episode work is that it continues a couple of ongoing character trends (Jim slowly turning into Michael, Andy’s interest in Erin) in an episode that otherwise devolves into the office’s crazier characters overacting their way through a murder mystery in a box while the rest of the characters contemplate some major financial restructuring. It’s a good introduction to what seems like the next major arc for the series, and I think it’s an effective piece of television comedy in the process.
I want to start off by acknowledging that anybody not charmed by Ed Helms in this episode is simply immune to charm. Andy in a relationship with Angela was ultimately a mistake because she is insufferable and he is earnest, to the point where the relationship was destructive to a character that I genuinely like (Dwight and Angela worked because Dwight suffering has always felt more logical, and the two “deserved” each other to some degree). But now that the show is sweeter on Andy, albeit not afraid to make him creepy (See: touching Pam’s stomach), it makes more sense for him to go after someone like Erin in a way that is sort of allowing the show to pretend like we saw the first days of Jim and Pam’s flirtations, except with both characters being a bit more off kilter. I also like that the episode does give us both sides of the relationship, as we see Andy’s anxiety for most of the episode before revealing that we could have just as easily seen Erin’s anxiety throughout. Ellie Kemper broke my heart in the scene where she tells us she thought it was a real date, and that’s stunning for an episode that had characters talking in terrible southern accents for most of its run time.
Similarly, despite the overall zaniness, I thought that the Jim and Michael side of this story hit home pretty well. While this isn’t quite “Tube City,” it is an example of Michael going for the fun over the practical, although Jim once again sees that there is some logic to his argument. He argues that it was a good day for there to be two managers, and I think the episode only worked because of it. Part of what frustrates Jim about Michael is how selfish some of his ideas are, and there was a moment here where (when defending the murder mystery) Michael became overly emotional and more or less admitted that it is more he than the office who needs this. It’s why he falls further into the delusion when David Wallace does eventually call (although, to Michael’s credit, he did call him in the first place), and it’s why Jim eventually withholds the information regarding the company’s insolvency. He knows that the office wouldn’t be able to take that sort of news, and that the game (for all of its silliness) might be the only way to get through this day. Some have argued that this storyline is the show preparing for Steve Carell’s exit from the series, letting Jim learn from Michael’s successes and failures, and while I don’t think Carell will leave the show so soon (his movie career hasn’t suffered due to being busy on the show, it’s suffered due to bad movies) I do think that it’s really getting the most out of the dual-manager system.
Otherwise, I thought this one was a lot of fun if not a lot of substance. I’ve done these murder mysteries before, and it is only really fun when everyone gets involved, so seeing montages like Dwight accusing everyone before eventually deciding it’s Phyllis (which is right) because she is who he is most medium suspects is just plain funny. I also liked seeing how Pam, who Jenna Fischer did a great job turning into a cranky opponent of Michael in the past few episodes, transitioned back into a supportive role, playing along before anyone else and then quite wonderfully becoming part of the double agent gun fight in the episode’s coda. I thought the episode did a great job of breaking down the bigger pieces of news with humour, like Oscar being forced to use a terrible southern belle accent to try to explain cash flow problems – it never seemed like it was reducing the importance of those emails and the reality of Dunder Mifflin’s financial scenario, but it also never got bogged down by them either.
As for those problems, we’ll see where they go from there: the show has not been avoiding the recession, as branches have been closed and jobs have been lost, but for the entire company to be in this position is something that raises a lot more questions. We know that Scranton as a branch has been performing well, but having two managers seems frivolous and this certainly does place Michael’s job (as a potentially unnecessary bureaucracy) in jeopardy. This was a good way to ease into the storyline with a bit of humour, so I’m pleased to wait and see what the show has to offer from here on out.
- In an ideal world, Dwight would have had some emotional component in this one, because Rainn Wilson was pretty great throughout: I particularly enjoyed the cold open, which is a very simple joke (Dwight attacking Dwight) that was just played really well.
- I am enjoying the fact that Ryan’s weird fashion choices has become an unspoken joke for the show and all, but isn’t it about time we bumped him from the credits? I don’t dislike B.J. Novak or anything, but it’s getting obnoxious.
- I thought that Creed’s late arrival, and his quick exit when he thinks he was really under suspicion of murder, was almost too rote a Creed joke: I knew how it would go as soon as he drew up, and not necessarily in a good way.