The Office: Launch Party
It's quite the moral dilemma. Of course, you'll have to follow me over the jump to see which decision I made...
The short answer: I'm going to be honest (feel free to tell me about my suckitude).
Now, the long answer: Why does this show, hailed by critics and adored by fans for its ability to find humor in the smallest pieces of real-life human interaction, feel the need to veer off into increasingly more ridiculous places?
Last week it was the lake. This week it was a kidnapping that came out of nowhere. I fear for where the show will take us next week.
It's like Brad Pitt learning about how to pick up women from that show on VH1, The Pick Up Artist. Maybe some guys need the help of a ridiculous peacock outfit, but not Brad.. All Brad Pitt has to do is go up to a woman and say, "Hey, I'm Brad Pitt", and that's it, he's in, no goggles or weird cowboy hats are necessary.
Well, The Office is Brad Pitt. It doesn't need to dress itself up in ridiculous sitcom conventions. It doesn't need outlandish, cartoonish plots. It just needs to be itself and we'll be there week after week, staring at its abs and telling it how good it was in 12 Monkeys (admittedly, this is where the metaphor breaks down).
The episode started out well enough, with the entire office fixated on the bouncing DVD screen-saver during Michael's meeting. They're all hoping to see it go directly into the corner of the screen without bouncing off one of the walls. When it finally hits the corner, it gets a standing O, which Michael, of course, interprets as enthusiasm for his meeting.
I bring this up in such detail because this opening perfectly illustrates my point: anyone who's ever been in a meeting has seen the endless bouncing of a DVD screen saver (or the endless scrolling of a company logo acting as screensaver, or the endless blinking of the green lights on an active wireless router, or whatever). They've fixated on it; they've made games out of it; they've lost themselves in it for the sake of their own sanity.
It's bits like this one, so real that it almost hurts, but funny at the same time, that make The Office great.
Anyway, the meat of the episode is about the office getting ready for the "Lunch Party" of the company's new website: Dunder-Mifflin Infinity. The company is throwing a VIP party in New York to celebrate and all the various branches are going to be hosting satellite parties.
The memo announcing the launch of the new website says that it will soon be "The best new salesman in the company" which, of course, raises Dwight's ire. He's determined to battle the computer Gary Kasparov style by outselling it during a single business day. What I love about all of Dwight's actions in the last few episodes is that he's convinced that these "gestures" will somehow win Angela back for him. It's such a perfect delineation of stupid male thinking (I remember thinking that if I got really good at Dig-Dug that somehow girls at the skating rink would fall in love with me. Incidentally, no girls ever fell in love with me at the skating rink).
Angela is not interested in having Dwight back at all. I mean, he mercy-killed her cat. Does Angela look like a person who'd be okay with that? Angela: "How do you tell someone it's over? You send them a notarized letter, right? Well what if the recipient is your notary?"
The race sets up what I initially thought was an overly cruel prank on Dwight by Pam and Jim. They use IM to convince Dwight that the computer has become sentient and is out to crush him. The tin-foil hat wearing Dwight immediately believes it because stuff like that "happens to computers and robots sometimes."
I was initially turned off by the prank because a) Dwight is have a rough time of it right now and b) even though he was being obnoxious about it (with Andy blowing an air horn after every sale), he was ultimately doing something good for the company. Selling more paper helps everyone at the company and even super-slacker Jim should have been okay with that.
The prank had a very solid and emotional payoff, though, with Pam taking pity on Dwight after his rejection by Angela. She types (as the computer): "You beat me. You are the superior being." If you know Dwight, you know what a huge deal that was for him to hear. Not exactly a moment where the studio audience would go "Awwwwww" and everyone would hug as the credits rolled, but a very nice moment between a man with a broken heart and his imaginary sentient website enemy.
Michael, while this is all going on, is readying himself to go to NYC with the rest of the VIPs. Jan doesn't want to go because she was fired by all those people, so Michael's first thought is to bring ex-girlfriend Carole. Jan responds with "Jesus, Michael, no," which is, at least as far as I can remember, the first time I've ever heard "Jesus" used as an exclamation on network TV. I wasn't offended by it (as this is exactly how people talk in the real world), I was just shocked to see it slip out on a broadcast network. Am I making too big a deal of this? Have you guys heard it on TV before?
Anyway, with Jan out of the picture, Jim is recruited to accompany Michael. That sets up this great exchange:
Michael: "It's a club called 'Chat Room' and there's a password to get in, which is actually 'password.'"
[Jim starts to turn the car around]
Michael: "What are you doing?"
Jim: "That is an invitation to an online party."
Michael: "No, no..."
Jim: "Are there three w's at the beginning of the address?"
And this is the extent to which I'll buy Michael's stupidity and neediness. I completely believe that he'd misread the invitation to the online party as an invitation to the VIP only party in NYC because of his almost crippling insecurity. The moment was funny, tragic, believable, and in character. Like last week, though, what follows from this moment is a storyline that tumbles out of control, like Darth Vader's TIE Fighter at the end of Episode 4 (and yes, I know that's a strained simile, but I'm three for three in making Sith Lord references in this review, and I wanted to keep my streak going).
So, here's where the episode lost me: Michael, in a fit of pique from Ryan's snubbing, decides to make his branch party better even than the party they're having in NYC. He orders a bunch of pizzas (from the wrong shop, natch) and when they arrive, he's informed by one of the snottier pizza delivery kids in the history of snotty pizza delivery kids, that the price would be $60 and that no, his coupon does not entitle him to half off the entire order.
Michael goes nuts. He gives a speech to the kid, tinged, I thought, with a voice ready to break, about treating people with respect. It was well acted and well written, with the kid and his insouciance becoming an obvious stand in for the D-Bag everyone loves to hate: Ryan.
Michael kidnaps him.
Yep. He kidnaps him. Maybe the water from the lake he drove into (from last week when the GPS told him to drive into the lake and he did) got into his brain and made him think that it was okay to kidnap somebody in order to teach them a lesson. Or maybe, and I'm just throwing this out there, the writers feel that the show needs to "broaden up" a little bit and spent the summer watching reruns of Two and a Half Men for inspiration.
All right, I know, that's a little overboard. But, to paraphrase Amy Poehler and Seth Myers: Really? You're the best comedy show on TV, blessed with the best supporting cast in the history of television (and yes, I'm including M*A*S*H* and Mary Tyler Moore) and you feel the need to make your main character so buffoonish as to make even the dumbest of the dumb sitcom dads seem smart by comparison? Really?
I know I sound off on this every week, but believe me when I tell you I wish I didn't have to. I honestly thought tonight's episode was the best of the season... except for the ridiculous kidnapping. It's getting to the point that if I didn't review this show, I'd TiVo my way past the Michael parts to get to the much juicier (and much funnier) parts of the supporting cast.
Of course, I could be wrong -- if I am, I'm sure you'll tell me!
Bits and pieces:
-- Angela and Dwight as compelling as Jim and Pam? Who'd'a'thunk'it? Did you notice that Dwight hasn't shaved for a few days? Either he's trying to take Ryan's lead or he's been too depressed to shave. I'm going for the latter, which is a brilliant and subtle piece of characterization.
-- Jim and Pam on the roof: all of you people who told me last week that I was stupid for wishing Pam and Jim to break up again to spice things up... you were right. I thought it was a very cute moment and with all the drama going on between Dwight and Angela, it's okay to let Jim and Pam enjoy their happiness. Consider my crow eaten.
-- Darryl and Kelly? I love this for soooooo many reasons (not least of which is to see what happens the first time Ryan comes back to the office!) I thought Darryl's "mm" to Kelly might have been the funniest thing I've seen all season.
-- Andy and Angela? And maybe in public? You've got to love Andy's commitment to "taking it all the way" with trying to get Angela's attention. I've done a lot of stupid things to try and win a girl's heart, but I never tried singing a capella with two guys on phones as back up. Angela's smile and Dwight's reaction to it were great.
-- Speaking of the singing scene... I was watching with the closed-captioning turned on and it labeled the two people singing with Andy on the phones as "Michael" and "Dwight." I figured this was just an error on the part of the transcriber, but I thought I'd throw it up here just in case anyone else caught it. You don't think Michael and Dwight could possibly be helping Andy get Angela, do you?
-- Could there be anything in the world grosser than signing Meredith's cast? I mean, anything. I've watched an entire season of Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, and I'm pretty sure I'd take any of those jobs over having to sign my name on Meredith's crotch.
-- No Creed this episode! I think I speak for everyone when I say: More Creed Please!
All right, that's it for this week kids. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
|Jim and Pam||149 (17.6%)|
|Michael and Jan||92 (10.8%)|
|Kelly and Darryl||215 (25.3%)|
|Andy and Angela||224 (26.4%)|
|Dwight and Angela (back together)||149 (17.6%)|
|Other (list in the comments)||20 (2.4%)|