April 29th, 2010
In my piece for Jive TV this week, I took a brief look at what Steve Carell potentially leaving The Office means for the series. Ultimately, I think that the show could evolve creatively to fill his absence, but the question is whether anyone would keep watching. The show is suffering from some pretty serious backlash as of late, and Carell’s departure might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for a large number of unhappy viewers.
However, when I voiced some displeasure with “Body Language,” which I despised, on Twitter, Alisa Perrin rightfully called me out on it: I’m still watching the show, so how bad can it really be? Ultimately, I would make the argument that the reasons “Body Language” almost entirely failed have more to do with problems the show has had since the very beginning and happened to be the focus of this particular episode, but it has to be said that many of the people who complain the most about the show are the same ones who might never stop watching. Is it such a habit that people will never give up on it, sticking around to play the “Viewer who cried Jumping Shark” for a few more seasons?
As a critic and as a viewer, I keep watching because there are parts of this show that I really enjoy, and that are occasionally not quite as buried beneath as much humourless material was they were here.
I sort of understand the point of this episode: after Michael spends an entire half-hour embarrassing himself trying to get the attention of Amy Pietz’s “Look at me, I’m a love interest for Michael” character, Donna, with everyone but Pam (and eventually even the office romantic herself) trying to tell him that he’s misreading the situation, we learn that he wasn’t misreading the signals at all, and she was really into him. Of course, we knew from the time she was introduced with a floating “Love Interest” sign over her head like one of those Arby’s logos that she was into Michael, so we sort of relate with Michael in this situation and have no context for why the Office was being so cruel.
However, while the show wants us to root for Michael, it does so while bringing out his least enjoyable qualities. I hate cringe-worthy, and only cringe-worthy Michael, a character who is so inept socially that any moments of self-awareness fell unrealistic purely by association. The last time we saw Pietz’s character was when “Date Mike” came out, so the show is at least being consistent in associating the character with versions of Michael that I can’t stand, but there just isn’t anything funny about it anymore. You can predict immediately how every scene is going to play out, and whatever lack of comfort is present in each scene feels so contrived that any potential comedy is lost. Steve Carell is a gifted comedian, but these storylines veer too much towards scenes where you know that a comic actor is playing out a situation rather than a character acting in a way which we find humorous.
Perhaps we should give the story credit for being funny at all: Pam and Jim’s squabbling never amounted to anything remotely funny, and Dwight’s crusade to find his own affirmative action crusader seemed like a really random and pointless exercise which lacked motivation and purpose. I still don’t know why Dwight was particularly concerned, and the story only makes sense in that Kaling is in the process of transitioning into some other projects and needs an excuse to be slightly more absent than she’s been in the past. The show tried to perk things up by bringing back its Yakuza surgeon from the warehouse, and some of Dwight’s talking heads (like the bull he and Mose are re-animating) hit pretty well, but none of the stories in the episode felt anything even close to, well, funny.
But the show has always had this problem: this has always been Michael at his worst, and while you could argue that Michael wasn’t all wrong about his situation (which means he isn’t as dumb as they seemed to think he was), it didn’t change the fact that the scenes weren’t actually funny. I don’t like this version of Michael Scott regardless of its conclusion, as my problems go beyond what it says about the character (and how he keeps his job) to how it plays in the context of each episode. The show can’t really build a resonant or enjoyable episode out of these types of stories, at least not outside of the context of scenes like group meetings where something like “Prison Mike” remains in a protective bubble. By comparison, Michael’s treatment of Pam’s landlord and his behaviour here, even with a “happy ending” that the Office refuses to believe (the one bright spot in the episode), just doesn’t ring true to who the character is when he’s at his best.
And I want the show to be at its best, and so I keep watching and writing hoping that will happen – that’s going to mean I don’t like some episodes, but I know that I’m not your average viewer of this show, and understand that some days it will be off and other days it might be on. This was an off day, and quite a rather unfunny one, but next week it could just as easily bounce back – such is the way of The Office.
- The cold open joke about Michael learning Spanish seems really random unless the show is actually going on vacation with Michael, and the boobs/penis post-it notes made the character too unintelligent for my tastes.
- Gabe continues to make me laugh: “Almost too Black” was one of the episodes that felt like a mistake a human would make, and not a joke that a writer would write.
- This episode was actually directed by Mindy Kaling, so I was surprised that Kelly had such a substantial role in the episode.