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.
May 7th, 2009
About halfway through “Cafe Disco,” I admittedly wasn’t amused: here we are a week out from the half-hour finale (which is a move away from the one-hour finales we have been getting for the past few seasons), and the show is spending its time on the most throwaway of episodes. Not only that, but it appears as if the episode is going to be my least favourite kind of episode, where it boils down to Michael being incompetent, Pam and Jim having their dreams crushed, and Dwight and Michael both being so irresponsible that they’re unwilling to give someone proper medical attention.
In the end, though, I was really charmed by the episode, even if it was limited by its lack of scale: the episode never devolved into demeaning Michael, or Dwight being incompetent, or Jim and Pam losing their will to love. Rather, the episode was pretty much like one big stretching exercise for the cast, a chance for them to let loose on the dance floor before having to film the, likely, emotional and powerful finale. I had a lot of fun with the back end of the episode, and much as the epoynmous coffee shop/dance club got off to a slow start but was eventually a hit with everyone involved, I ended up liking this one.
“Lecture Circuit Part 2”
February 12th, 2009
One. Big. Letdown.
That pretty much sums up my thoughts on the second half of “Lecture Circuit,” which will go down as an entirely uneventful piece of comedy for a whole lot of reasons. Alan Sepinwall really sums it up best in arguing that this is just like every one hour episode: spreading it out over two weeks and throwing a “previously on The Office” in front of the second half doesn’t change the fact that it was one story stretched out over two episodes that really wasn’t in any position to handle it.
Combine this with the show’s bait and switch, shoving the potential of seeing Amy Ryan again in our faces and then snatching it away only moments into this episode, and it just feels like this one was operating on borrowed time as soon as it began. And while I think anyone would agree that the actual dramatic events of Michael and Pam’s trip to Nashua were engaging, and that there was some comedy there in relation to last week’s events, the rest of the episode did not provide a substantial comic element to feel as if extending the rest of the storylines through to another week
February 5th, 2009
Only four days after I was admittedly frustrated by an hour long episode, we have a unique test of my concerns in “Lecture Circuit,” the first of two parts of the same basic episode. What we have, essentially, is an hour long episode split into two parts: we leave most of our storylines at a cliffhanger, and it’s clear that we’re picking this up next week.
As the first half of an hour long episode, this was actually a very well containted episode that despite never really grasping at resolutions nonetheless offers a logical buildup to next week’s conclusion. The episode paces itself very logically: it’s a slow build, and one that isn’t really concerned about breaking new ground, but I enjoyed it for precisely that reason. While the hour-long Super Bowl episode was far funnier, and ultimately the better example of the show’s comic potential, it’s nice to be able to sit back and spend some time with the characters.
“Prince Family Paper”
January 22nd, 2009
Well, if there was ever any doubt, we are definitely in a transition period with The Office: this, the last episode before the big one-hour Super Bowl episode with all of the big guest stars, never pretends that it is something substantial, its A plot admitting to being a result of transition and its B plot entering into the list of most insubstantial, office minutia plots the show has ever attempted.
But there is something very charming about that lack of substance in the second plot of the night, an epic battle over whether or not Hilary Swank is hot that divides the office. There will be no long term ramifications of this battle, or to any of this episode for that matter; it is an episode designed to bridge the gap between different periods in the show. Now that we know that Idris Elba (The Wire) will be arriving as the new Jan/Ryan, Michael filling in for them will be a thing of the past.
However, sitting within this transitional space isn’t particularly a bad thing: it may not hit any new notes, or any sustained ones, but I feel like it nonetheless chose the right beats for an episode that will be swept under the rug over time.
January 15th, 2009
There are a lot of things to like about “Duel,” most of them related less to the episode itself (solid but unspectacular) and more to what it does to bring up some great memories from the past and to put to rest a storyline that seemed as if it was going to tear the office dynamic asunder in its resolution.
I don’t necessarily think that the episode was amazingly funny, with some sharp gags in the A-story somewhat undermined by a really quite uninteresting B-story, but what it did was establish a great deal of continuity and a deft hand for the show’s overall trajectory. Letting the love triangle between Andy, Dwight and Angela explode seemed like a really big risk to take, but with a little bit of finesse it has reached its worthwhile, if perhaps a bit overdue, conclusion.
December 11th, 2008
A week after getting it so very right, The Office has gotten it so very wrong.
“Moroccan Christmas” is a mess of an episode, a mostly charmless affair that offers small tidbits of potential but masks them in an unnecessary and forced intervention story that felt overdone and, like the rest of the episode, only operating on one frequency. The episode was filled with small moments that felt like they could have sustained this episode without its investigation into Meredith’s drinking: the office had more than enough drama going into this episode to let that drive the story forward, and the addition of Meredith’s hair getting caught on fire isolated Michael into an unlikable and unfortunate story.
What resulted was an episode where cleverness was not enough to overcome this issue of conception, and a Christmas episode which was both joyless and, to be honest, not even all that funny when it achieved some level of success.
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.
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.
October 9th, 2008
Any show in a fifth season needs to be able to do two things: to best utilize its long-standing character relationships, and to integrate new elements into the storyline. What we have in “Business Ethics” is fantastic examples of these two principles, using both our (and Jim’s) extensive knowledge of Dwight’s personality gives us a great opportunity to indulge in one of the show’s best dynamics, and Holly continues to serve as a fantastic introduction to this “family”…or, workplace if you will.
It’s an episode that is all about the small little moments, the pieces of scenes as opposed to any broad setups. What these half-hour episodes do that the hour-longs which started last season didn’t was to really focus on a single event and its impact on the Office. We get a lot of the Office standards (including a seminar in the conference room), but it feels like the right combination of events following the episode’s ethical dilemma – and its a combination of events that make for an extremely memorable episode.