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 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.
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.
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.