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The Office – “Happy Hour”

“Happy Hour”

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.

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The Office – “Double Date”

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“Double Date”

November 5th, 2009

I was never what one would call a fan of the “Michael dates Pam’s Mom” storyline, and a lot of that has to do with what we got in “Double Date.” It’s not that I argued there was not comedy to be found in the scenario, as there certainly is some value to the storyline on a comic front. However, more than anything, the storyline is just plain awkward for Pam, and since we are predispositioned to see her viewpoint as the sane one we can’t help but find it a little awkward ourselves. And even if we choose to ignore Pam’s perspective, Michael’s view on the issue was sort of equally awkward in that he hangs onto her less because of love and more because of how ludicrously lonely he is. It all added up to a sense that this was going to go very wrong very quickly, and that’s not something that seemed necessary to me.

As such, I found “Double Date” to be a bit tough to watch in the way that the show sometimes likes to be, although it was probably as well handled as it could have gotten. While there were plenty of awkward moments in the context of the episode, they were all coming from a fairly logical place emotionally, and as such it was hard to watch less because of how inappropriate it was and more because we knew that anyone other than Michael with the same emotional feelings could have handled it far more gracefully. And by combining the emotional rollercoaster on that end with something charmingly quaint and silly in the Office, which could have been awkward but ended up working quite well, it ended up being a solid half hour of television, if not one that I would have personally placed into the show’s trajectory by choice.

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The Office – “The Promotion”

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“The Promotion”

October 1st, 2009

After last week’s co-manager reveal, we knew this was the next logical step. Michael doesn’t deal well sharing power, and Jim has never actually been in power and when he has been it’s been a pretty big disaster. So, when this episode begins, we find Michael and Jim in a power struggle that shows no signs of ending easily, and which confirms what we knew about both men.

That’s not a terrible plan for an episode, but it’s problematically reductive and didn’t end up bringing anything new to these characters. While it comes to some sort of conclusion, it doesn’t feel as if it really proves anything, and the comedy throughout the episode was too scattershot for me to really claim that the largely transitional episode was as well-executed as it could have been.

At least it was a great Oscar episode, right?

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Season Premiere: The Office – “Gossip”

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“Gossip”

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.

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The Office – “Casual Day”

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“Casual Day”

April 30th, 2009

Alan Sepinwall posted a link on Twitter to a piece at NPR’s Monkey See Blog about The Office Season Five that I would tend to agree with. In the article, Linda Holmes makes the argument that on a character level this season has been one of the show’s strongest, especially for Michael. Considering that we started the season with Holly, and then eventually moved onto the Michael Scott Paper Company, this has been a big year for the show’s lead character, and a year that has almost never been defined by sheer comedy.

I don’t know if Holmes had seen tonight’s episode when she wrote the piece, but it’s a fine justification of her central thesis: it was almost as if the episode was Michael trying to fall into his former broad comedy and rather selfish attitude but the show around him demonstrating that it isn’t willing to let it happen. As the Michael Scott Paper Company and Dunder Mifflin merge together, tensions are certainly high, but letting the more laidback “Casual Friday” element of the storyline play out alongside the more legitimate tension of the reunion really made this half hour stand out.

I’m not quite sure if I’m in a position to call it the best season ever, but it’s certainly making a strong case for it with only two episodes left.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Front Porch”

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“The Front Porch”

March 16th, 2009

In bringing in Karen, Ted’s ex-girlfriend from his high school days, How I Met Your Mother has returned to the temporality that often sets it apart from other sitcoms. The show’s basic premise is one of its defining legacies, as the very idea of this being one large story told by Future Ted to his own children has given the past (and memory, and revisionist history) a very important meaning. Even further, episodes on occasion create alternate futures, showing that Ted and the rest of the characters are just as concerned with their own prospective futures as we are about the future we know is inevitable.

“The Front Porch” is ultimately a mediation more on this last idea than the former, the past serving as evidence for the concern for the future. The result is an episode that is less about Karen and more about what Karen could represent, and a more subtle than expected refocusing on the answers to the episode’s central question: how does Ted, exactly, meet this mother? Flanked by some simple but effective little pieces of comedy, the episode avoids sending Ted into a place too annoying, and Lily to a place too mean, in its navigation of what is quite an important issue in the show’s future, and one that could well be heading to a conclusion before the season is over.

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The Office – “Employee Transfer”

“Employee Transfer”

October 30th, 2008

Remember last week? I was a bit underwhelmed by “Crime Aid,” feeling that it felt a bit too much like the show forcing a situation compared to the previous two episodes, but in retrospect (and another viewing) I felt like I was a bit harsh: it was still a very funny episode with a nice running subplot.

However, I feel a bit safer in acknowledging that “Employee Transfer” was by far the season’s weakest episode, all cold open and no comic follow-through, where we said goodbye to our favourite new employee of Dunder-Mifflin while, quite honestly, not doing much else in the process. While another decent subplot, Andy and Dwight battling it out over Angela through Beets and Cornell, was at least bringing some humour, it felt derivative of what we’ve seen the show do before.

This is not to say that Employee Transfer was a bad episode, but rather that it kind of takes the wind out of the show’s sails: we’re losing the season’s MVP, we have very little sense of the show’s overall direction, and it was an episode that never quite gathered a cohesive comic vision.

In short, I think I’ve got it right this time: this is the weakest episode of what has been an otherwise fantastic opening to the season.

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