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.
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 5th, 2009
I don’t know if the Super Bowl plans or just some weird scheduling resulted in the situation we find ourselves in here, but it’s Valentine’s Day in the world of The Office, which means that the single people are sad, and the couples are feeling particularly smug about their happy futures. And on that note, “Blood Drive” investigates the state of romance in the Office through a very subtle, perhaps too subtle, lens.
With Michael Scott leading the charge for the single people, organizing amongst other things a singles mixer and a support group for bad relationships, and with Phyllis inviting Jim and Pam along on a one-joke lunch double date, there was something about the entire episode that felt really lightweight, which it shouldn’t considering that we left Michael buoyed by hope regarding Holly in the last episode. And yet there’s not even a mention of her letter, and for him to go back to “Woe is me because Holly left” like this doesn’t feel right.
It’s not that I wanted the series to deliver a highly dramatic episode, but this was the first time they’ve confronted a couple of relationship issues (in particular the season’s central love triangle) and it felt like the episode’s subtle approach at times was more of a tease than a real parallel or comparison. I think I liked the episode, especially as it relates to some of the more subtle things, but there was so many notes the show tried to deal with here that you couldn’t help but feel it was missing that one moment of either really effective comedy or emotional resonance, and it never came for me.
Oh, there was lots of innuendo too, by the way.
“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
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 23rd, 2008
In what is quite definitively the weakest entry yet this season, we discover The Office falling into one of its many potential potholes (having Michael do things that are almost too on-the-nose in the obnoxiousness column) even while we get a decent glimpse at the rest of the supporting cast. There’s some funny gags in “Crime Aid,” including that the event itself is a ridiculous acronym, but it feels as if the actual plot is just a thin construct that sees the show in a holding pattern.
It’s not an awful holding pattern, but it feels as if everyone is in a rut except for Michael and Holly, who become less fun as the episode goes on and it focuses less on them and more on their stereotypical roles in the office. The result is an episode that’s going to be largely forgettable in the big scheme of things, even if we got a couple of strong little moments.
Not quite a total loss of momentum by any means, but definitely a bit of a step back from the great start to the season.