Tag Archives: Steve Carell

The Office – “Mafia”

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“Mafia”

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.

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Season Premiere: The Office – “Gossip”

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“Gossip”

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.

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

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Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)
  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
  • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

This is a battle that I have spent a lot of time thinking about, and even spent an entire post handicapping the category very carefully. There are three major contenders in this race (Baldwin, Carell and Parsons), and all have really compelling cases for their victory. While Shalhoub has won before (too many times), and Sheen is on a very popular show, and Clement is hilarious in his submitted episode (Carol Brown FTW), they are all out of this race that boils down to the safe, the overdue, and the next big thing.

As you’ll see in my handicap post, I think all actors have something going for them. Baldwin has a gimmicky performance that is integrated into all of the stories in his episode (which would be screened in its entirety for voters), Carell displays a pivotal moment for his character while nicely straddling that line between idiot and genius, and Parsons provides the single-most satisfying scene in the show’s two seasons. When you balance those things out against each other, it’s tough to pick a winner based on their tapes alone, especially as they all have their downsides (like Baldwin lacking subtlety, Carell lacking in broadness, and the rest of Parsons’ submission proving less effective).

So, then, it becomes about stories. Baldwin is a safe choice since he won last year and there are no signs of the 30 Rock train slowing down any time soon. And Parsons is (rightly) considered the next huge comic talent that could really breakthrough with a win here. At the same time, Baldwin is too safe a choice in some respects and his submission isn’t as good as last year’s, while Parsons is still young and one feels he is going to have plenty more opportunities to win this award.

As a result, my mind goes to two years ago. It was Alec Baldwin’s first year competing for 30 Rock, before the show really picked up, and the award seemed like a battle between his celebrity and the celebrity of Steve Carell, who was competing for the second time for his work on The Office. However, to the surprise of just about everyone, Ricky Gervais took home the award for his time on Extras, a decision which genuinely shocked people (even Gervais, who didn’t attend the ceremony).

And, as such, I think Steve Carell is going to pull a Ricky Gervais, just as I thought after watching their three submitted episodes. It’s a likeable performance for a character who some may view as unlikeable, and it’s an emotional performance from a show that some people might think cruel and cold. It’s the kind of performance that proves how vital Michael Scott is to the show and how crucial Carell’s characterization is to ensuring its success. And, while Baldwin might be the safe bet and while Parsons might be the epitome of a dark horse, I’ve got my money on the main in the Woman’s suit.

Predicted Winner: Steve Carell (The Office)

The Michael Scott Paper Company arc was the best thing about a strong season for The Office, and its conclusion was one of those moments where the show’s subtle qualities (especially in Carell’s performance) were on full display.

Dark Horse: Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

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2009 Emmy Nominations: And the Nominees Are…

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And the Nominees Are…

2009 Emmy Nominations

For analysis of the surprises, the snubs, and everything in between, check out:

Power to the People?: 2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis [Link]

However, in list form, the nominees for the 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards are…

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Big Love
  • Breaking Bad
  • Damages
  • Dexter
  • House
  • Lost
  • Mad Men

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Simon Baker (The Mentalist)

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • Entourage
  • Family Guy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Office
  • 30 Rock
  • Weeds

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)
  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
  • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?)
  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures…Christine)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)
  • Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program)

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2009 Emmy Award Predictions: Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Emmy2009Title

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Predictions

There is no category at the Emmys that will be less contentious in terms of deciding the nominees than this one, where a number of current favourites, a few old favourites, and one newcomer are going to duke it out: there’s six slots available, and I’d tend to argue that there’s really only seven contenders, making for a disappointing wakeup call for one individual.

Returning to the category will be four of five of last year’s nominees: Lee Pace rode a lot of popular support for Pushing Daisies last year, but shows that were canceled in December aren’t going to make it to the Emmys nine months later. This leaves Charlie Sheen, Steve Carell, Tony Shalhoub and winner Alec Baldwin, a competitive group (although my money’s still on Baldwin).

The two remaining spots are really divided between three people. First, you have previous favourites Zach Braff and David Duchovony. In the latter case, Duchovony was expected to get a nomination last year but failed to make the category; if the voters were supportive of him but the panels didn’t like his morally corrupt character on Californication, he could make it in this time around. Braff, meanwhile, got a tearful sendoff on Scrubs this season, and his fame coupled with the show’s return in quality could make him a contender (if not the show itself, which was off the radar for too long).

They’re likely duking it out for one spot, however, since Jim Parsons is the talk of the category. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to beat out Carell and Baldwin, but Parsons has been delivering an absolutely amazing performance on The Big Bang Theory, equally broad and nuanced in a way that indicates a real talent. The show around him is rarely as good as his ability, but the way he manages to bring humanity to this cold and unfeeling character is noticeable even for non-fans of the show, a quality that makes him a definite dark horse and a likely nominee (he’s announcing the nominees, after all).

This all doesn’t leave much room for even any other competitors: while I could cheer for Zachary Levi, Chuck was definitely a critics’ darling more than it was an industry darling, and outside of a left-field guest star nod for Chevy Chase the show won’t connect with voters.

Predictions for Lead Actor in a Comedy

  • Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock”)
  • Steve Carell (“The Office”)
  • David Duchovony (“Californication”)
  • Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”)
  • Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”)
  • Charlie Sheen (“Two and a Half Men”)

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Season Finale: The Office – “Company Picnic”

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“Company Picnic”

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.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Office – “Weight Loss”

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“Weight Loss”

Season Five, Episode One

Airdate: September 25th, 2008

If I had a time machine as opposed to a time capsule, I would go back in time and keep Amy Ryan from being nominated for that Oscar.

Don’t get me wrong: she was stunning in Gone Baby Gone, a film I watched for the first time recently and enjoyed a great deal, and she deserved that nomination and maybe even a win for her performance. But it made her an actress in demand, someone who could guarantee herself juicy supporting roles for years to come.

It also meant that Holly Flax, introduced in the great fourth season finale “Goodbye, Toby,” would eventually be leaving Dunder Mifflin. With her laidback style and willingness to ham it up with Michael, Holly was the best addition that the cast had seen perhaps since day one. Not only was Ryan quite hilarious in terms of her comic timing (the woman can do anything), but Holly as a character did something even more important: she humanized Michael Scott.

This was no more evident than in “Weight Loss,” what I believe to be the best hour-long episode the series has ever done. Using a unique structure that follows the office’s attempt to lose weight over an entire summer, the episode never plays out a single joke for too long, letting the episode tell itself in short stories and build naturally to its conclusion.

In the process, we get numerous highlights: Holly and Michael’s rap (which will forever go down as one of the most surreal, and hilarious, scenes of this show), Holly’s believe that Kevin is mentally challenged finally exploding, and…well, a lot of things involved with Holly. The show developed her and Michael’s relationship all within one episode: their moments of awkwardness, their moments of jealousy, and eventually that moment when it’s clear that they are both big dorks and made for each other.

The wonder of “Weight Loss” is that its compartmentalization works wonders on every storyline: Dwight and Angela’s trysts become even more hurtful towards Andy as they take place over an extended period, and what could have been (and eventually kind of did after the premiere) a contrived separation of Jim and Pam was helped by the illusion of time. When the time came for Jim’s surprise rest stop proposal, the episode felt more like a journey than the show ever has.

And while the season has had some strong one-off episodes (the end of the fourth season had quite a few that could easily have taken this spot), I feel as if this is the kind of Office I want them to move forward with: human, hilarious and worthy of the 2008 television time capsule.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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2009 Golden Globes: TV Nominations Analysis

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2009 Golden Globe Awards: TV Nominations

December 11th, 2008

Predicting the Golden Globe awards is, quite literally, a devil’s bargain. While the Movies side is its own monster, the Television nominees are perhaps one of the most difficult to predict in all of awards-dom. Yes, the Emmy Awatds are a broken process, but they at least have a structure that allows for observant parties to analyze. With the Globes, it’s about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s whim – it’s what they consider hype-worthy, what they wake up one morning obsessed with, and overall what about 100 obscure and oft-maligned international journalists decide people should be watching.

Which makes this more fun than anything: we can’t take it too seriously, so it’s just a fun head shaking exercise. The big question is what big new show they’re focusing their attention on (The answer: HBO’s cult hit True Blood, although not as much as they could have), which returning shows they continue to be obsessed with much to my chagrin (The answer: HBO’s Entourage), and which nominees actually sneak in to be deserving independent of their trend-driven qualities (The answer: Neil Patrick Harris).

Overall, these nominees aren’t bad, but they do little to save the show’s reputation: while often lauded as potential kingmakers for films during Oscar season, they are still content to pretend that liking HBO is still hip and cool. While they were the first to recognize Mad Men, and will good reason, there were some other cable shows this year (Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, in particular) which probably could have snuck in for some attention. Unfortunately, the awards don’t quite work that way, and I guess we can’t expect them to. All we can do is sit back or, if you’re me and obsessive about award shows, delve into each individual category with critical gusto. So, let’s take a look at the madness.

Best Television Series: Drama

Dexter, House, In Treatment, Mad Men, True Blood

This category tells us a few things. First, it tells us that the HFPA are fans of both Dexter’s dark sensibilities and House’s dour but occasionally light-hearted medical mysteries, along with being big fans of the show’s eponymous performances. Second, it tells us that Mad Men is going to be a show that the HFPA continues to like: after winning last year, the show is back in the awards’ marquee category. The other two nominees are no surprise: often one to pass over great seasons of returning dramas (See: Lost) and shows which don’t have the same international appeal as others, it is no surprise that their interest in international connections, HBO series and hip new series would lead them to the low-rated but Israeli-created In Treatment and the buzzworthy vampire lust of True Blood. If there’s one show missing, it’s AMC’s Breaking Bad, but it couldn’t repeat Mad Men’s successful ascension from AMC to the interest of the HFPA (even with Cranston’s Emmy win), plus it aired quite some time ago.

Best Television Series: Comedy

30 Rock, Californication, Entourage, The Office, Weeds

While I am more than slightly annoyed that it is the uneven and kind of boring Californication and not Pushing Daisies that proved to have legs for the HFPA following their freshman frames last year, I’m more annoyed at their continued obsession with HBO’s Entourage. I just don’t see how the show belongs in this category over some other, much better, comedies. This isn’t a new sentiment for me, sure, but it warrants mentioning. I’m glad that The Office and 30 Rock have both stabilized in this category, something that is difficult for a show like The Office being in its fifth year. Similar to Entourage, Weeds is a HFPA favourite, having been the first to recognize Mary-Louise Parker for her role in the series; they’ll apparently nominate it until the cows come home. Missing shows here include any new network sitcoms (The Big Bang Theory) as well as some deserving holdovers (How I Met Your Mother, It’s Always Sunny…)

For all of the acting nominations, click below.

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The Office – “Business Trip”

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“Business Trip”

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.

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The Office – “Employee Transfer”

“Employee Transfer”

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.

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