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).
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.
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.
March 19th, 2009
When it was announced that Idris Elba was going to be joining The Office as the new Jan, or Ryan, I was (like most TV critics and fans who have watched The Wire) pretty ecstatic. Stringer Bell was a stunning character study in someone who didn’t have time for games, who was all business even while involved in the illicit drug trade, and had an appreciation for order and structure which would turn Michael Scott’s life upside down. We knew, as Greg Daniels and Co. are fans of the show, that this casting combined with Michael’s relationship with authority had a great deal of potential.
But I’ll admit up front that “New Boss” wasn’t working for me, maybe because I underestimated just how antithetical a Stringer Bell type (and Elba is not branching far from that role here) is to the fundamental purpose of this show. It’s not just that Charles Minor is an interruption of Michael Scott’s normal routine, but the entire office is thrown into a tailspin by his arrival. Rather than have Michael give a large awkward seminar and let Minor watch as it all tumbles to the ground, Minor interrupts him, stops him, and shuts down things before they can transcend to the level of real conflict. The problem he presents is not that he and Michael don’t agree, but rather that he is so unwilling to interact with Michael on the level Michael desires that he is there to keep things from happening as opposed to reacting to them.
And while I think that there is a lot of room to grow within this relationship, and I still remain convinced in its potential, “New Boss” is that introduction where these polar opposites remain too far apart for it to really come together, and where the dramatic elements are here but there isn’t the comedy to back them up.