September 24th, 2009
If last week’s episode of The Office, “Gossip,” was all about clearing the air from the season finale (having Pam’s pregnancy revealed to The Office), then “The Meeting” was similarly simple. The episode primarily exists to create a situation that will be used for comedy in future episodes, so by definition this would make it a dreaded “setup” episode. For drama series, these are considered to be a blight on a series, something where “nothing happens” and where it feels as if the show is going through the motions to get to something good instead of just going there already.
But with comedies, there is an expectation that through sideplots and through the right execution, setup can feel like a normal episode of the show even as it quite blatantly moves some pieces into position for what is about to come next. The payoff of “The Meeting” is all in its final scene, when you realize the ramifications of the big decision in terms of returning the show to its roots (to some degree), so up until that point it’s all about whether or not the narrative is funny and entertaining enough for us to look past the machination in order to enjoy ourselves.
“The Meeting” has some struggles in terms of how it handles Michael and Jim’s negotiation of sorts, mostly driven by a choice of perspective which both provides more comedy and less enjoyment, but overall the episode remains funny due to a sharp subplot and the same qualities that make the show pretty funny on a regular basis. One can’t help but feel that it’s a bit of a step down from “Gossip”‘s sheer simplicity, but it’s a solid episode that really does set things up quite nicely.
March 12th, 2009
In a rare instance of a cold open serving as a fairly strong thematic connection to the episode itself, we see Michael Scott’s view on comedy: it’s hilarious when he is responsible, but when it suddenly turns against him, himself becoming the source of the comedy, it’s not even close to being funny. So when he drops a cheap knock knock joke, he laughs – when Dwight subjects him to one, he bans knock knock jokes. Of course, the next moment, he’s absolutely captivated by Jim’s Ding Dong joke, demonstrating that Michael Scott is never able to resist whimsical humour, except when suddenly aren’t so whimsical after all.
What we have in “Golden Ticket” is such a scenario, the initial whimsy of Michael’s scheme shattered by reality, at which point he does everything in his power to take a potential embarrassment for him and turn it into one for someone else. What follows is not so much an episode built for comedy (which is sparing), but rather sheer social observation: what happens when the office’s usual power dynamics are put to the test by a failure so potentially catastrophic? Or what happens when Kevin tries to have a completely normal relationship around people who do not have completely normal relationships?
While certainly not a great episode, suffering from a portrait of Michael devoid of redemptive qualities, it nonetheless felt very true to these characters, and an investigation of humanity that only this show, with these pre-existing types, could really pull off successfully.
December 4th, 2008
Last season, an episode like “Surplus” would have felt like a godsend at this stage of the season. After getting bogged down in hour-long episodes with no direction, something so driven by office politics and Michael’s inability to make a decision would feel like a breath of fresh air.
Instead, it felt a little bit too slight. While the charm was there, and it was a nice showcase for Jenna Fischer’s Pam in particular, I think I was missing something to set the episode apart. While the central storyline had its charms, the B-Story felt more like a predictable distraction, and I’d rather have eschewed the plot entire in favour of a more complete reaction to the crisis of Copier vs. Chairs.
But, nonetheless, I consider it a good sign for the show: a show that has a problem with excess needs one of these every now and then, an episode that is almost entirely fat-free and plentiful in, if not stuffed with, comedy.