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.
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.
September 17th, 2009
When The Office premiered last year, it was with an hour-long episode which broke a number of rules in terms of pacing and everything else. That was an episode that was about establishing a relationship between Michael and Holly, and about emphasizing the impact of Michael and Pam’s time apart on their relationship. When the latter story came to a climactic moment at the end of the episode, it felt wholly earned, and really made the episode stand out as likely the show’s best premiere to date.
“Gossip” is not interested in doing any of that, really. If “Weight Loss” was a complex game of parkour designed to get from Point A to Point B in the most inventive and complex fashion (with its various time periods and the weigh-ins to provide a sense of progression over the summer months), then this year’s premiere is a far simpler equation. The episode’s Point A is Jim and Pam keeping her pregnancy a secret, and the Point B is the office finding out about said pregnancy, and Paul Lieberstein’s goal as a writer is to get there in a strong twenty-one minute segment of comedy.
And by keeping things simple, the show creates an engaging and funny premiere, one which doesn’t aim for the heights of last year nor does it really need to. By drawing comedy out of a very simple but well executed concept that plays to Michael Scott’s strengths as a character (and thus faults as a human being), we get a story that takes a common workplace element (gossip, clearly) and lets it loose in a group of characters we know and love.
It isn’t rocket science, and that’s what makes it work so well: this isn’t a show that needs bells and whistles, or one-hour premieres, to make me laugh. And while I might like The Office best when Michael is given a bit more credit, the episode walked that fine line with great success for a wholly satisfying (if not mind-blowing) premiere.
November 13th, 2008
When episodes like “Business Trip” end up being solid entries into a season, it’s not really because of anything they do in an isolated fashion. This is an episode that is all about whether or not the rest of the season has properly built to this moment where we take a bird’s eye view into a thus far untapped side of an office relationship, and where a trip to Winnipeg brings out Michael’s frustration with the decision to send his beloved Holly away.
These are not hilarious topics – Michael’s storyline, in fact, was played almost entirely off screen and was for the most part dominated by sadness. But the episode nonetheless whips along at a solid pace, using this business trip not as a chance to make fun of Canada (there’s much less Canadian-specific humour than one might expect) but rather to bring out those residual feelings that emerge when one is isolated away from their life with people they don’t normally associate with.
The result is an episode that has most of its action and “drama” take place offscreen, allowing the comedy to flow at a unique pace that, for me, worked very well.