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April 19, 2014

The Office: Dunder-Mifflin Infinity

by Jay Black, posted Oct 5th 2007 12:32AM
Is it wrong that I hope the boxes of paper fall onto Ryan's head?(S04E02) The Office is a lot like the New England Patriots. I know that sounds strained, but hear me out: like The Office, the Pats are a cut above the competition. They have a great collection of role-players that excel at usually thankless positions, and they have a few break-out stars who are smart enough to realize that their success hinges very much on those role players. The coaching staff, like the producers of The Office, are second-to-none, never settling and always striving to do better.

They're both so good at what they do, it makes their missteps all the more glaring. We all know what the Pats did wrong. To find out where tonight's Office went awry, you'll have to follow me after the jump...

Let me start by saying that your comments regarding the reviewcaps have been heard! We are going with a lot more review and lot less 'cap. So please, if you bought tickets to my next show with the express purpose of knocking me out and carving "This is what I think of your reviewcaps" into my chest, feel free to leave the knife at home (but, you know, still come to the show; I need all the support I can get!)

Tonight's show marked the return to Scranton by former temp and self-proclaimed wunderkind Ryan Howard. I have remarked in the past that Ryan is a completely unlikeable character (like, Sith Lord unlikeable). My dislike of him only grew tonight and I plan on mentioning several times what an evil little slimeball I think he is. I want to say upfront that my criticism of Ryan the character is not a knock on B.J. Novak; it's a testament to him! He's created one of the more delightful (not to mention believable) villains on television today. Every insult I hurl at Ryan should be counted as a compliment for Novak. I feel the need to state this because The Office's characters are so connected to the actors who play them that I get the feeling longtime readers might think my dislike of a character might also extend to his portrayer.

Before we get Ryan's return, we're treated to a Jim and Pam quick-kiss at the snack machine followed by a Toby memo regarding the rules of office PDA. I laughed out loud at this both for Toby's sadly obvious motivation for the memo and because I used to teach high school and I remember our laborious rules of what constituted "inappropriate" PDA. It's always funny to see a heavily codified policy extending to something that ought to be a common-sense ruling. While I used to have to deal with 15 year olds discovering each other's esophagi in the hallway, Pam and Jim's kiss was as innocuous as a peck from your favorite aunt.

Toby was obviously using his power as the HR rep to try and keep Pam and Jim apart. What it wound up doing was outing them (to a chorus of Andy's "Tunas!" and the predictable Michael overreaction). While I enjoyed the outing and also the follow-up joke (with Toby deciding to take a "wait and see" approach to their relationship), did anyone else feel that it was out of character for Toby? I mean, part of what makes Toby great is that he really is the only voice of reason in the office. I enjoy Toby's quiet, pained expressions whenever Michael is doing something wacky a lot more than I enjoy Jim's above-it-all eyebrow raises, because Toby knows better than anybody how inappropriate Michael is. If Toby falls prey to the general outlandishness that plagues the rest of the supporting characters, I think we lose something great with him.

Please indulge me all three quotes from how the staff responded to the news. Three of the funniest lines of the night:

Dwight: "They both can do better."

Angela: "Pam is the office mattress." (Not a dirty phrase in and of itself, but maybe the dirtiest way I've heard about how to describe someone as being slutty.)

Andy: "Guess who just became the best looking single guy in the office!"

Ryan then returns still sporting his Darth Malak suit and his "Sonny Crocket" kinda-beard. The gang greets him like a little-brother done good and he responds by being his rat-bastard self and snapping at them. While I understand that he needs to try and grab respect immediately, it still seemed an inappropriate way to respond to friendly overtures. Just another reason for me to want to slap Ryan two hundred times with Dave Gordon's tiny hands.

Kelly is her usual cute and needy self by wearing an overly eloborate dress and claiming to Ryan that she's been dating lots of (mostly black) guys. He's fairly apathetic to Kelly and in a last minute move of desperation, Kelly reveals that she's pregnant. Which leads to two classic Office moments:

1) The quick cut to Kelly shaking her head "no" that she wasn't pregnant.

2) Toby's strained response to the conversation in the cubicle next-door. See, isn't Toby a lot better when he's responding to trouble rather than causing it?

I can't let the Kelly/Ryan conversation go without mentioning that Ryan, defending himself to Kelly's accusation that he didn't ever care about her, says that Karen asked him out in an email. If you'll remember, it was Ryan who sent Karen the email, not the other way around. It's this kind of attention to rat-bastard detail that makes B.J. Novak a genius and Ryan Howard someone I'd like to see the real Ryan Howard hit repeatedly with a bat.

Ryan's main reason for being at the office is to bring it into the 21st century. Things are going to be faster, more dynamic, and younger! The centerpiece to the whole plan is the appropriately lame "Dunder-Mifflin Infinity", which includes *gasp* a website and *shock* BlackBerries! It's these kinds of moments that are, for me, the most biting and satirical. There wasn't much laugh-out-loud funny during Ryan's presentation, but it was so spot on the way the future is always kind of lazily connected to "computers." Whether or not Ryan's plan will actually work remains to be seen; the important thing is that his plan is exactly the sort of plan any young executive with a d-bag $200 haircut would think up.

Any implication that tonight's episode would be about subtlety was soon short-circuited, however, by Michael's fairly predictable response. Of course, he overreacts to the situation and sets out to prove that a website isn't the answer to the company's woes. No, what the company needs is good old-fashion gift baskets! He decides that he's going to take the gift-baskets (which looked great, actually -- I'm not sure exactly what chocolate turtles are, but I really want one right now) and win back seven former clients.

The staff thinks that the idea is ridiculous, with only the newly-broken-up Dwight, using the sales call as a surrogate for Angela, wanting to go along. Now, I've never been a salesman, but I didn't think that Michael's plan was all that stupid. We've seen in previous episodes that Michael, despite being a world-class idiot, is actually an excellent salesman (what this says about sales-people, I'll leave for the readers to decide). It seemed to me that the sales-calls coupled with the gift baskets might bring some clients back to the fold and prove to Ryan that the dinosaurs actually have a little something hiding in their walnut sized brain.

But alas, no. Aside from showing us Michael's eerily good memory for his client's personal life, the sales calls were a complete failure.

It was right about here that tonight's show lost me.

I remember reading once that Robert Reed hated that The Brady Bunch had become, in his words, a farce. Now, what Robert thought he was signing on to when he read the script to The Brady Bunch is not for me to decide (best leave that to the historians). What I do know is that I felt Robert-Reed-level frustration with The Office tonight around the 9:40 PM mark. Right about when Michael... drove into a lake because his sat-nav told him to.

Let me ask you a question: has this ever happened? Once? In the history of the world? I mean, even in a country filled with "Do Not Put Hand In Blades While Spinning" labels on lawn mowers and "Do Not Spray In Eyes" warnings on Windex, is there anyone, ever, that would blindly follow sat-nav instructions into a lake?

Because I don't buy it. I don't buy that Michael could be a functioning human being in the world and also be someone who would knowingly drive into a lake.

And if there's one thing about this show that I can't stand it's when we veer into this ridiculous territory! I know it's just a show, and I know it's a funny one (probably neck-and-neck with 30 Rock for the funniest on TV), but I don't think the show needs this kind of humor. It's at its best when functioning as a pitch-perfect satire of the American working environment. When it devolves into ridiculous farce, I'm reminded, "Oh, I'm watching a sitcom" and the things that make the show special are lost to the kind of morning-zoo wackiness that any-ole-team of writers could provide. That's not The Office I love.

Of course, I'm always open to other interpretations. What did you guys think?

Random Thoughts:

-- Does anyone else think that the other shoe has to drop soon on the Pam/Jim relationship? Every time they look at each other and smile lovingly, I can't help but feel like their happiness is like a red-shirted Star Trek crewmen who just beamed down to a new planet.

-- That being said, I'm almost rooting for their relationship to hit a bump. Pam and Jim happy together = boring. Pam and Jim painfully longing for each other = exciting. Sorry, but it's true.

-- Ryan trying to "downsize" Kelly and outsource customer service to India (even though -- and this is the beautiful humor that I'm used to from The Office -- Kelly is Indian) makes me wish he'd get a birthday greeting from Zinedine Zidane.

-- Who didn't know that Ryan was only asking Pam for some logo designs so that he could ask her out? It did lead to the best Jim line of the night, though: "I guess Ryan can't get whatever woman he wants."

-- On that note, I've been noticing that Jim seems completely at ease with his universe since getting Pam. I'm not sure how this makes me feel about the character. I remember Tim from the British Office having some ambition outside of the paper company and that part of the tragedy of his character was his slow acceptance that a paper salesman might be all he'll ever be. It seems that Jim, now that he has Pam, doesn't really care for much else. While Kevin and Andy admired Ryan for his new job ("You're so money and you don't even know it... but you do!"), Jim seemed perfectly satisfied with his life. Maybe this is the power of love, but, you know, is Dunder-Mifflin where anyone should really want to spend the rest of his life? I hope they explore this as the season goes on.

-- Creed. He is awesome, brah.

-- Jan. Her discussion with Michael over lunch made me think of the old Jan from early last season. I ask you, the wise and benevolent readers, do you think that her character is all over the place (crazy one minute, cold and composed the next) because the writing and acting are perfectly capturing the ups and downs of a manic-depressive or because they don't quite know what to do with Jan and her character is whatever it needs to be to fit the situation? Let me know in the comments.

All right boys and girls, that's it for this week. And look, we managed to cut out 1000 words of extraneous recap! That means you should have nothing but praise for me in the comments, right? Right!? <Looks around with same sadly innocent optimism of a movie detective who is talking about all the fun he'll have after he retires>.

What do you think of Michael driving into the lake?
I thought it was ridiculous and stupid. This is not The Office I love.374 (27.7%)
It wasn't all that funny, but I didn't think it was too outlandish.228 (16.9%)
Sure it was unrealistic, but it was funny, so I don't care.534 (39.5%)
I found it to be completely hilarious and dead on. I totally buy that this could happen.216 (16.0%)

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mrbobunk

Come join my branch at Dunder Mifflin! It is a lot of fun if you are a big fan of the office.

http://www.dundermifflininfinity.com/?__source=dmi-de-brandenburgdmi-de-brandenburg

October 26 2007 at 3:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Barry

There's a moment in the middle of the show when Dwight comes up to talk to Angela at her desk. Behind Angela is the giant whiteboard calendar, filled with notes written in various colors of marker on each date, mostly info about when various people will be on "flex time".

One day has Karen still listed as on flex time, and that Ryan will be covering the front desk while Pam is out. Obviously since time has passed, they should've been erased. Deliberately kept to show none of the employees keeps up the board? Or a continuity slip-up? It was very prominent on the screen.

I also liked one of the dates (you have to freeze-frame for it) that say PEOPLE USE TOO MANY COLORS ON THIS BOARD or something like that.

October 11 2007 at 12:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bach

Okay, I know nobody will read this since it is so late but I barely finished watching last weeks episode just now. I don't know, I just had so little motivation to sit down and watch it. And then I was reminded why....

Kelly telling Ryan she was pregnant when she was not and Michael FRICKIN' DRIVING HIS CAR INTO THE LAKE!!!

Ugh, I used to really like this show. This could be the beginning of the end for me.

October 09 2007 at 8:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Laura

i haven't read all the comments, so I apologize in advance if I repeat anything -

i agree that dunder scranton is not the place Jim would want to be in for the rest of his life - i think right now he is in relationship bliss, but this will also propel him to want to do more.

as far as toby goes, the fact that he was sooooo subtley lusting after Pam this whole time is the reason why he's being not so subtle now.
i've never seen him as the voice of reason - just as a divorced, middle aged HR mgr with no respect, who is trying to do the right thing and yet has nothing going for him in the office or out.
Pam was his little ray of sunshine i think - the person he could imagine himself with and be happy. and now she's kissing someone in the break room. even with her fiance, she wasn't happy, but now she's happy - with someone else - in the office.

I LOVE IT!!!

also your cap was awesome!

OH and Ryan is totally a JERK!! you can make an office more productive and be a good manager without being a condescending, rude a-hole. texting and holding his hand out to his ex-coworkers - PUHLEASE!!!
- we saw these traits while he was still a temp, and now they're flaunted which makes him such a good opposite to Michael. BJ Novak is great.

And Michael. The fact that he knew the former customers child had a peanut allergy is why he's such a good salesman. I was really rooting for the gift baskets. I personally love the holidays for just this reason - the baskets come every day!

Can't wait till next week.

October 09 2007 at 12:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
A Viewer

This is the kind of episode that makes this show so great.
I see that some are complaining that Michael driving the car into the lake was not only unrealistic, but also unfunny. Sure it was unrealsitic; no one would do that. But unfunny? Like all of you, I enjoy the both the intellectual and ridiculous humor of this show, but that doesn't mean there's no room for slapstick.

I liked the part where the company's founder was recruited by Michael in an attempt to campaign against the age-ism that he perceives in Ryan's new website/Blackberry program. Kelly and Ryan were great, too, and it is very nice to have Pam and Jim finally together. All together, an excellent episode.

Best line of the first half? Dwight saying of Jim and Pam: "They can both do better."
Best line of the second half? Michael shocking the lawyer by remembering his daughter's nut allergy.

Next time sounds potentially funny, too: Michael goes to New York for the Dunder Mifflin Infinity website launch party, while Dwight tries to compete against the website. Sweet.

October 08 2007 at 8:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeffrey Lipsey

This episode was so awesome, probably one of the better I've ever seen.

"After a disappointing second week of the Fall 2007 season, 30 Rock and The Office brings new hope that fresh and relevant humor continues to exist outside the standard sitcom. Until the other networks change their ways, Thursdays on NBC will continue to reign as the time and place for creative and original comedy."

http://lamererun.com/2007/10/05/the-office-dunder-mifflin-infinity/

October 08 2007 at 6:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bryan Truitt

Best part of the episode...

Ryan can't resist telling the documentary people he paid $200 for his haircut. Pitch-perfect character moment there.

Hated the car-in-the-lake and retaking-the-gift-basket moments, but I did like when Michael got to show off some of his salesperson skills by warning the guy that his daughter Emily is allergic to nuts.

October 08 2007 at 12:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Will

It was much better than last week's episode. Kelly shaking her head had me rolling over. I didn't like the gift basket stuff, but the lake stuff didn't bother me.

October 08 2007 at 11:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RN

Jim and Pam being happy is good for the show. You see when Jim's happy, he comes up with outrageous ways to mess with Dwight. Moreover, Jim and Pam need to be in a good place for her to go along with his endevors. The whole show is funny because of Dwight, so the more he's messed up, the more it becomes funny.

October 08 2007 at 4:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
James Lamb

The GPS made me do it!
http://www.engadget.com/2004/12/02/the-gps-made-me-do-it/

200 miles later, ambulance crew learns to be skeptical of GPS
http://www.engadget.com/2006/12/04/200-miles-later-ambulance-crew-learns-to-be-skeptical-of-gps/

Another Brit puts complete faith in GPS system, nearly perishes
http://www.engadget.com/2007/05/11/another-brit-puts-complete-faith-in-gps-system-nearly-perishes/

October 07 2007 at 9:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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