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 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.
“Secret Santa” x 2
December 10th, 2009
It’s not often that two episodes airing back to back have the same title, so it’s a convenient excuse to blog 30 Rock and The Office together tonight.
Christmas is a holiday that has always been a highlight for The Office (“Christmas Party” is one of its finest hour-long episodes), but to be honest I’ve found that 30 Rock is kind of really bad at it. I don’t know what it is, but Christmas seems to be a holiday that just doesn’t work for the show, primarily because its wackiness doesn’t have that sense of heart that The Office taps into during this, the most magical time of the year.
So, accordingly, the best parts of both episodes entitled “Secret Santa” are those which feel like they’re bringing everyone together in celebration of the season’s message of hope and togetherness, and the worst parts of both episodes are those where that spirit is either ignored or crushed beneath a smothering of unpleasantness.
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 15th, 2009
The Office is a show that is going to have its share of filler episodes, moving between larger storylines (like last week’s wedding) and the next major storyline. Sometimes these focus on the day-to-day of the office environment, which is often quite fun for how it brings out the supporting characters more carefully. However, sometimes they’re episodes like “Mafia,” which play out very simple ideas in a way that is minimalist to a fault.
It’s not that the show doesn’t work when it slows down like this, but it needs for something to be particularly interesting or clever for me to buy it. This episode had the potential for Michael to go completely overboard, which isn’t my favourite character trait, but instead he just kind of sat there passively experiencing the whole episode. It makes sense that an episode that has both Jim and Pam (two huge parts of the office’s dynamic) missing, and in which Michael has nothing but creative space and free time scheduled for the day, is going to feel a bit lackadaisical, but at the same time it seemed like there was a pay-off that just never came in this one.
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.