March 25th, 2010
One of the advantages of the workplace comedy is that there are enough logical reasons for co-workers to get together after hours that episodes like “Happy Hour” don’t feel inherently forced. Sure, it’s still a bit television-like that an entire office would go out for Happy Hour together, but the show doesn’t really need to justify itself too much if it wants to tell some “Things that happen in bars” stories about the cast of characters.
I think where “Happy Hour” goes off the rails is where things become schticky; while the show sort of steps back from the worst of the exaggerations by episode’s end, these sorts of episodes are better when it doesn’t feel like the characters are invading the outside world. While it is inherently in character for Michael Scott to become someone different in a social scenario, the introduction of “Date Mike” was a fun sight gag that ended up pretty lame in execution.
Luckily, the storyline brought together something that could be more interesting moving forward, but it made what could have been a nice sort of “hang” with the cast into an uneven experience.
There’s a lot of things to like about “Happy Hour.” I like that an episode happened because of Oscar’s desire to spend more social time with Matt the Warehouse guy; sure, Matt is a jock and Oscar can’t throw a basketball (go back and watch that scene again – stunning work from Nunez), but that their little quasi-romance sets everything off is one of those fun little quirks. So much of this season has felt driven by conflict at a mangerial level, or takeovers and the like, so something being driven by the lower-level employees is a nice turn of events. Plus, the opening made great use of Darryl’s new position in the office, as “You can be gay with Matt, just be straight with me” was pure Darryl, through and through.
And even once they got to the bar, things went pretty well: Pam’s excitement at seeing everyone was a nice way to bring her back into the fold, Andy and Erin’s cute attempts to try to remain coy but completely failing at it got that awkward point in the story out of the way quickly, Creed/Kelly/Ryan playing DDR was a lot of fun, and I like seeing the cast interact in that kind of environment. I even found a lot of the Dwight/Isabelle story to be quite charming, as I really like what she brings out in the character (in that, for once, Dwight isn’t just being played as one big joke).
The problem is that the way the episode was designed, I don’t know if this was the setting in which “Date Mike” should have been unleashed. Yes, he looked ridiculous in that hat which was worth a few laughs, but the over-the-top nature of Michael’s actions just never got funny. I understand that they were trying to both remind Pam that Michael isn’t someone you set people up on dates with (even if they do laugh at everything) and get Michael in a position where he could get the bar owner’s attention, but I thought Michael’s behaviour could have been more subtle and both of those effects could have worked fine. Rather than Michael going immediately into “Date Mike,” why not start things off a little awkward and then having them escalate? The immediate shift is funny at first, but the execution just did nothing for the story.
However, the arrival of Amy Pietz’s character (whose name I didn’t catch) is definitely a step in the right direction. While no one will measure up to Holly, I liked that they sort of met on awkward terms but discovered a sort of connection. I ultimately felt they made Michael play things a bit too dumb, especially as it relates to poor Julie, but I liked that someone took a genuine interest in Michael, and I really love Amy Pietz (even if I didn’t even recognize her here thanks to my only real experience being from Aliens in America, where she had a thick accent), so I’m hopeful for this storyline going forward even if the introduction was a bit bumpy.
My other issue with the episode was the Dwight/Angela storyline, which is really confusing the hell out of me. I think we needed to spend a bit more time with the whole “contract” situation before turning it into a blowout – while we knew Dwight was sort of drifting away, and wasn’t all that interested in the arrangement, we didn’t have enough time to draw any comic potential out of the process, and using this occasion to turn it into a big deal seemed cheap. The story seemed a bit of an oddity when they introduced it, as Dwight and Angela’s relationship had been completely ignored for a season or so, so I think trying to use this episode to expedite things was ultimately a mistake.
But, the joy of an episode like this is that a lot of that can be ignored if the little things are working right, and I thought that there were enough small moments here to keep this from being chalked up to the show’s recent slump. Plus, let’s be honest: that coda, with Darryl convincing the immigrant warehouse employee to tell his life story where he was a famous surgeon in his homeland before he killed a yakuza boss during heart surgery and was forced to flee the country, was just downright hysterical, to the point where I demand a “I kill Yakuza Boss on Purpose. I good surgeon!” t-shirt immediately. And in an episode like this, little moments like that can elevate some concerning story beats quite easily.
- My other major issue with the episode: Kevin trying to induce lactation. Not funny, just gross.
- Cold open was pretty slight, but Stanley’s push-ups feat was still a fun little bit.
- Other fun small moments: Ryan and Kelly arguing over how to spend their tickets, Stanley putting in more than one business card for the free lunch and looking mighty guilty, and Dwight using his experiencing whacking moles to good use.
- My favourite line in the episode, by far: “Read it? I own it. But no, I haven’t read it.”
- Good use of the photo booth in order to demonstrate Andy’s point about what their relationship should look like – makes a nice counterpart to the similar story using photographs in tonight’s Parks and Recreation.