May 20th, 2010
Last week’s episode of The Office was absolutely, unfathomably terrible: it embodied the absolute worst characterization of Michael Scott (as a purposefully ignorant jerk with no self-awareness or human decency) until the very end, where it tried to claim that a moment of quiet reflection finally forced Michael into realizing what we, and the rest of the show’s characters, had known for the entire episode. It was a bizarre decision because it only frustrates me more: if Michael is inherently a decent human being, why are they forcing viewers to sit through twenty minutes of the character acting like a complete jerk when it’s not nearly as funny as they think it is?
I’m aware they aren’t forcing us to do anything, but when you’ve been watching a show for six years you have a certain attachment to it. And while I may have despised “The Chump,” at least I had some sort of emotional response to it. By comparison, “Whistleblower” was listless to the point of boredom, failing to feel the least bit conclusive and struggling to make anything out of what has been a complete mess of a season from a narrative perspective. None of what happened in the episode felt like it came from anything that we care about, or anything that was even developed adequately in early episodes.
And just like last week, a single moment at episode’s end is meant to make us feel like this unengaging exercise was all worth it; I’m not falling for it, and I may just be to the point where I’m falling out of even an abusive relationship with the series.
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.
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.
March 18th, 2010
Sometimes, a show creates a storyline that has a lot of potential, but then that show tends to choose the least interesting component to follow through with. There’s been a lot of talk about the wasted potential of the Sabre arc on The Office, and I think “New Leads” was far more interesting conceptually than anything relating to Kathy Bates’ guest arc. The idea that the Sabre arrival created new versions of the same old conflicts between Michael and management that we’ve seen in the past was pretty lifeless, while there’s plenty of potential in the new Sabre hierarchy turns the sales team into stuckup jerks and completely destabilizes the office.
While I’m not amongst those writing off this show for its recent missteps, I think it’s sad that they thought the management story was worth a number of episodes while the office hierarchy episode was treated as a wacky stand-alone story. “New Leads” doesn’t quite live up to the potential of this story, failing to earn the character moments it tries to create within the carnage, but it’s at least a sign that they did know the right stories which could emerge within the Sabre arc, even if they didn’t quite know what to do with them.
March 4th, 2010
I don’t have a whole lot to say about “The Delivery” on its own, to be honest with you: as I am not one of those who have turned on Jim and Pam, or someone who feels that their relationship has anything to do with the show’s creative downturn this season (after all: they were all but married last season and the Michael Scott Paper Company arc was pure gold), I was charmed by the birth of young Cecilia Marie Halpert, which was heartwarming and emotional and all of those things.
I’m with Alan Sepinwall in that the episode sort of lost all of its momentum in the latter half, and rather than repeat his thoughts (all of which I agree with) I thought I’d consider the scheduling ramifications here. As I was discussing with Jaime Weinman on Twitter, I think the interesting thing here is the “Part 2” is unquestionably the weaker episode, but in what position is it the least weak? The Office is a show with a fairly impatient fanbase, and I think that “Part 2” likely played better as a weak second-half here than it would have next week, a slight blight on an otherwise well-executed storyline rather than another weak episode in an average season.
December 3rd, 2009
“I’ve made some empty promises in my life, but hands down that was the most generous.”
There is a moment in “Scott’s Tots” where the storyline was going exactly in the direction I wanted it to go in…and in that same moment, there was every potential that it would go in a direction that would legitimately bother me.
Such is the tightrope that this episode chooses to walk by effectively demonstrating the aftermath, rather than the initiation, of one of Michael Scott’s horrible miscalculations. The show loves mining the comedy from Michael putting his foot in its mouth, but rarely does it craft so elaborate a scenario where Michael is forced to do precisely the opposite. The episode is about what happens when Michael is finally forced to pull the foot out of his mouth and try to make up for what he’s done, making up for a past mistake rather than receiving an immediate comic comeuppance for his error of judgment.
There are a number of logical leaps that make this episode inherently problematic, and I can see what many would turn against the episode considering the direction it heads in, but the situation “Scott’s Tots” creates is so inherently part of his characters and his journey that the episode feels like a perfect character piece to show the consequences of Michael Scott’s dreams living beyond his means (and, in some instances, his brains).
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.
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.
October 22nd, 2009
This review is going to seem somewhat hypocritical, as I have always been a known supporter of serialized sitcoms. However, there are times when there are elements in previous episodes that I don’t necessarily want to see continue, left to remain as an enjoyable aside that is left to the audience’s imagination. Even heavily serialized shows like The Wire would often introduce small elements that aren’t part of some broader serialized storyline but rather sit under the surface and add to our understanding of these characters.
I know that I was being more than a bit idealistic, but I had really hoped that The Office would resist the temptation to take Michael’s rendezvous with Pam’s mother and follow it through to this logical but blown up conclusion. That small moment in “Niagara” was a shocking moment for the coda, but for it to turn into an entire episode played out like melodrama more than an episode of comedy. The episode succeeds in finding some comedy in the setup to the situation, with Pam’s realization proving to be an absolute highlight, but once things become about yelling things begin to fall off the rails a little.
It isn’t that this is a failure, as I thought the episode did a few interesting things on the dramatic side of things, but in its desire to be both comic hijinks related to the scenario and a depiction of Michael Scott’s eternal sadness it never quite connected on either front.
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?