May 14th, 2009
In what may perhaps be the Office’s most daring and diverse season, with the most substantial disruptions handled with the most impressive cost/benefit ratio, “Company Picnic” plays like a greatest hits of all of the things that have worked so well in the past year, and even a chance to help rewrite something that didn’t work quite as well. It’s not a daring episode designed to paradigm shift our expectations (I’m being facetious using that term, by the way), nor is it really about indulging in the drama-laden situations which could have emerged at the annual retreat.
Rather, it’s an episode about how humanity, and the people at Dunder-Mifflin who we enjoy so much in particular, are above all of that on some level: building more directly from “Cafe Disco” than I could have ever expected, the joys of group sport go from a lesson in anger management to a true bonding exercise, and a comedy routine with little to no actual comedy (for the crowd, not the viewer) stands as nothing but a life’s lesson learned as opposed to some pivotal stage in someone’s life.
What makes “The Office” so great, and what in this episode recalled perhaps my favourite Office finale in “Casino Night” (Favourite does not equal best, I’ll discuss this), is that the biggest moments come exactly when you’re not expecting them: just when you think that one thing is about to happen, or that a joke is about to come, real life comes and sweeps it all away.
The result is the most sweet and real finale I’ve seen in a long time, for a show that’s in no rush to end and no rush to close off this really quite awesome chapter in the series.
March 26th, 2009
I always thought Michael got a bad rap: he’s a good guy, and he’s super funny…yeah, maybe I should tell him before he goes. Oh…he’s all the way over there.
There’s a moment in “Two Weeks” where Kevin says the above, and I found it kind of hard to relate: it is not as if we are actually going to be losing Michael Scott, the office’s goodbye to Michael being quite distinctly different from our own. Even as Michael walks out the door of Dunder Mifflin for the last time, we know it’s not the last time we’re going to be seeing this character. Rather, this episode does some really subtle and effective things that I felt weren’t as clear in last week’s episode, and worked better here.
Everything just felt a bit more on point: Idris Elba was given a chance to be legitimately funny, Michael was a little bit more in his element, the office as a whole got a chance to react to Michael’s antics with a rather unique perspective, and Pam’s small but ultimately quite impactful arc was nicely handled and opens up some opportunity for the future. So if I found that “New Boss” was a bit too much setup and not quite enough follow through, I think this is a solid second shot.
March 19th, 2009
When it was announced that Idris Elba was going to be joining The Office as the new Jan, or Ryan, I was (like most TV critics and fans who have watched The Wire) pretty ecstatic. Stringer Bell was a stunning character study in someone who didn’t have time for games, who was all business even while involved in the illicit drug trade, and had an appreciation for order and structure which would turn Michael Scott’s life upside down. We knew, as Greg Daniels and Co. are fans of the show, that this casting combined with Michael’s relationship with authority had a great deal of potential.
But I’ll admit up front that “New Boss” wasn’t working for me, maybe because I underestimated just how antithetical a Stringer Bell type (and Elba is not branching far from that role here) is to the fundamental purpose of this show. It’s not just that Charles Minor is an interruption of Michael Scott’s normal routine, but the entire office is thrown into a tailspin by his arrival. Rather than have Michael give a large awkward seminar and let Minor watch as it all tumbles to the ground, Minor interrupts him, stops him, and shuts down things before they can transcend to the level of real conflict. The problem he presents is not that he and Michael don’t agree, but rather that he is so unwilling to interact with Michael on the level Michael desires that he is there to keep things from happening as opposed to reacting to them.
And while I think that there is a lot of room to grow within this relationship, and I still remain convinced in its potential, “New Boss” is that introduction where these polar opposites remain too far apart for it to really come together, and where the dramatic elements are here but there isn’t the comedy to back them up.