Powered by i.TV
July 24, 2014

The Office: Branch Wars

by Jay Black, posted Nov 2nd 2007 12:20AM
That's the old, dumpy Pam in the background there. This year's Pam is the new hotness.(S04E06) One of the pleasures of watching original Office creator Ricky Gervais's follow-up show Extras was that you got to see the kind of bland, run-of-the-mill sitcom The Office could have been if Gervais hadn't stayed true to his original vision. When the Whistle Blows, the show that Gervais's character creates for the BBC, starts out as something original and creative, but slowly becomes the worst kind of mediocre as network executives tamper with its presentation. The sellout is symbolized within the show by Gervais's character putting on a silly wig and a pair of comical glasses.

Watching Jim, Dwight, and Michael drive to Utica in three matching fake mustaches, I couldn't help but be reminded of that silly wig. We're nowhere near sell-out territory, but tonight's episode was a reminder that mediocreville can be as close to The Office as Utica is to Scranton...

Tonight marked the return of Karen to the show, which is something that I've been looking forward to since the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, much like the reveal of Pam and Jim's relationship, Karen's reappearance on the scene was oddly paced and ultimately anti-climatic.

That's two major dramatic points that the show has handled almost as an afterthought. I'm starting to think that this is a deliberate creative choice on the part of the producers. I suppose you could make the argument that they're going for realism (after all, most relationships don't start with a swell of music so much as the right combination of tequila and loneliness and when you run into your exes it's almost always under the worst of circumstances), but the three out of the last five episodes have eschewed realism in favor of going for some easy laughs.

I'm not sure, then, what the thinking behind this is; all I know is that I don't like it. I don't follow this show solely for the drama, but if they're going to build towards something "big" (like Jim and Pam getting together or Jim seeing Karen for the first time since the breakup), it shouldn't be handled with a smirk and a shrug. Casino Night proved that the writers know how to build to a big moment and that those moments are not out of place on the show. So, what's the deal this season?

As always, I could be wrong. Let me know in the comments!

The crux of tonight's episode was Karen trying to poach Stanley for the Utica office. She offers him more money (and the chance to live in Utica!) and Stanley decides to accept her offer. Michael, who can't deal with anyone leaving him, let alone the sassy black guy, doesn't want him to go. Stanley seems committed to the idea of leaving and Karen doesn't want to back down so, of course, the only recourse left for Micheal is revenge.

Meanwhile, we're made aware that there is a group even more exclusive than the Party Planning Committee: The Finer Things Club. Every week, Pam, Oscar, and Toby get together (in appropriate costume) and read a different book. Each of them have their reasons for being there: Pam is on a multi-season long exploration into self-improvement, Toby is harboring a Jim-sized crush on Pam, and Oscar is gay (funniest line of the night: "Other than having sex with men, The Finer Things Club is the gayest thing I do.")

I wasn't surprised a club like this existed at Dunder-Mifflin -- a group of d-bags getting together to experience "the finer things in life" while excluding their less advanced coworkers seems like something that could very well exist at any office -- but I was surprised to see Pam a part of it. I always got the feeling that despite her reservations about the people she worked with, she was ultimately an inclusive person. I'm all for Pam finding herself, but does she have to do it by losing everyone else? It made me not like her and I'm not used to disliking Pam.

(Though, to be honest, the tightness of her shirt this week went a long way towards undoing any negative thoughts I had about her. Yes, I know I'm a creep; I'm trying to work through it in therapy.)

Dwight and Michael tell Jim that their method of revenge is to make a monster sale and that they need his help. It's only when they're halfway to Utica do they tell him that the monster sale (a worthwhile revenge and one I wouldn't have minded seeing) was a lie and that they're really just going to Utica to perform a "panty-raid" on Karen (a ho-hum Season Four kind of revenge that I responded to about as well as Jim did).

This reveal was, for me, absolutely the best part of the episode because we got to see Jim legitimately mad for the first time... well, maybe ever. It was very nice to see Jim display an emotion other than supercilious exasperation. Perhaps John Krasinski has heard the minor online rumblings about his character becoming a one-note office smart-alec and demanded something a little juicier?

Michael's plan is about as well thought-out as any of his plans -- which is to say, not very well thought-out at all. It involves stink bombs (not real bombs, despite Dwight's insistence) and disguises. Each of them put on a Dunder-Mifflin warehouse uniforms and... fake mustaches. Yep, all three of them put on fake mustaches. I suppose it could have been worse -- the three of them could have gotten on each other's shoulders and worn a giant trench-coat Huey, Dewey and Louie style -- but I still thought the mustaches were pretty lame.

Listen, I'm not going to validate what Kevin said at The Office press conference last Saturday (that the bloggers who review the show are needlessly quick with harsh words and that we're always looking to declare it as "jumping the shark.") I love this show and even when it's off -- like tonight -- it's still better than just about any other option out there. No sharks were jumped tonight.

But, I can't help but feel that this season, despite some strong performers (like last week's Local Ad and Money before it), the show has been dangerously flirting with becoming a conventional sitcom. Funny, yes -- there's no denying that the visual of Jim and Dwight and Michael in the mustaches was funny -- but not special. The pleasure of The Office comes from the shock of recognition we all feel when we see something that is hilariously true about what it's like to work at a real office.

Let me ask you something: when was the last time your boss made you wear a fake mustache and drive to Utica?

Jim refuses to go with Michael and Dwight so we don't get to see exactly what happens, only hear about it over the walkie-talkie. They steal a large industrial copier and try to take it down a flight of stairs, wedging it in there and possibly breaking Dwight's hip. Just another twenty or so thousand dollars that Michael has cost the company.

This leads to Jim and Karen having their first conversation since last May. Karen reveals in a confessional that she's spent the last few months crying over Jim (I guess shaggy hair is the key to a woman's heart) and that she was happy to catch him in such an embarrassing predicament. Their big confrontation, though, is anything but. Essentially: Karen thinks Jim was there to see her; Jim says he wasn't because things are great with Pam; Karen gets upset and sarcastic; Jim gets uncomfortable and leaves.

Casino Night this ain't.

When the three get back to the office, a dejected Michael lets Stanley go. Stanley, however, was just playing Michael for more money and never had any intention of leaving. Michael, without realizing it, called Stanley's bluff. So, like any sitcom (ahem) we're back to the status quo by the end of the 30 minutes.

Other stuff:

-- There wasn't much supporting cast featured tonight. Where was Creed!? Where was Angela?! Where was Kelly and Darryl!?

-- Having spent last Saturday at The Office convention and getting to meet some of the cast, I spent the entire episode annoying the hell out of my wife by saying, "Oh, there's my dear and personal friend <insert name here>" whenever one of the cast members that I got to meet had screen time. If they ever do a reality show about me and my wife, I think one of the more intoxicating (and possibly deadly) drinking games that will come out of it will be "take a shot every time Kristina threatens to divorce Jay."

-- How great is Andy's political maneuvering? "The Finer Things Club is the most exclusive club in the office, so, of course, that's the club I need to be in."

-- Was tonight a further indication of more strife between Pam and Jim (that 'sorry' that she mouthed to the other members of the club for inviting him despite the fact that he obviously didn't read the book), or was it just a funny little capper at the end of the episode? I didn't really think it was, but they pay me the big bucks to over-analyze everything, so I thought I'd throw it out there.

-- "You're like my uncle. My Uncle Remus."

-- Stanley on Michael's Ferris Beuller dummy: "I still don't understand how sleeping in your office is better than not being in it."

-- "I think I cut my penis."

All right boys and girls: I'm going to go and try to sleep away what might be the worst headache I've ever had in my life. By my estimation it's being caused by either a deadly brain tumor or one of those Phenomenon-type tumors that'll give me super powers. If it's the former, I guess I won't be reviewing the show next week. If it's the latter, next week's review will be in Portuguese!

How do you feel about Season Four so far?
It's been a disappointment206 (22.9%)
It's been on par with what I expect from The Office556 (61.9%)
It's rocking my world: Best. Season. Ever.136 (15.1%)

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

61 Comments

Filter by:
Gerry

Two things not mentioned yet:

1) Joss Whedon directed this episode. He also directed Business School last season.

2) I LOVED Pam's giggle/smile when the guy from Utica asked Michael about hitting someone with his car. Such a subtle reaction, but hysterical.

November 06 2007 at 12:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
A Viewer

I just read James's comment. It is truly dead on. He wrote:

"It's funny how when reading Jay's post you realize that while we dumps on 'sitcom conventions,' he's slavishly devoted to all the dramatic cliches that make TV drama just as stale & predictable, if not more so. "

Indeed.

November 04 2007 at 5:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
A Viewer

I thought it was a good episode.

So what if it was a little cheesy? I don't care you've come to expect some dramatic moments from this show, there don't have to be some in every episode. This is a comedy at heart, and there were a lot of funny lines in this episode:
"The eyes are the groin of the head." --Dwight
"I don't understand how sleeping in your office is better than not being in it." --Stanley
"Wanted: Middle-aged black man with sass, big butt, bigger heart." --Michael
"[Having sex with Karen] doesn’t have to mean anything. Just do it for Stanley. Come on Jim, just climb on top of her and think about Stanley.” --Michael
"I think I cut my penis on the lid!" --Dwight
"Besides having sex with men, I would say the Finer Things Club is the gayest thing about me." --Oscar
"Turns out it's a pretty easy gig when your boss isn't an idiot and boyfriend's not in love with somebody else." --Karen
"I don't know how George Bush did it when Colin Powell left." --Michael
"Scranton is not lame. Scranton is the cool, fun branch. We’re like Animal House." --Michael
"This is why people are leaving. I...I have no words." --Michael [on seeing Toby in a bow-tie]
"So, the deal was, Dwight doens't blow anything up, and I wear a costume. ...And a moustache." --Jim
"The Finer Things Club is the most exclusive club in this office. Naturally that's where I need to be. Angela's party planning committee is my backup, and Kevin's band is my safety." -- Andy

Basically, I think you are way off with this review. You seem to want to watch a show that is mostly dramatic. Well, "The Office" is a comedy and I think you approached this episode the wrong way with this review. You were complaining about how it did not build up to dramatic moments that well, as some previous episodes have. Well, most people probably watch "The Office" because it is a very funny comedy. I was laughing throughout this episode, and my friends thought so too.

But you wrote earlier this season that "Money" was one of your favorite episodes of "The Office" ever, and it had a lot more emphasis on the dramatic elements than most episodes. So I'm wondering if the only reason you thought this episode wasn't up to par was that it wasn't drama-centric enough for you. The comedy was enough for me. And how can you dislike an episode that is loaded with gems like the ones I listed above?

Also, I don't think that Jim's confrontation with Karen was supposed to be well-timed and dramatic. It was supposed to be really awkward. That's what made it funny.

Keep in mind that this isn't a soap opera in your reviews, please.

November 04 2007 at 5:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cress d

DITTO James!

November 03 2007 at 4:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
James

It's funny how when reading Jay's post you realize that while we dumps on 'sitcom conventions,' he's slavishly devoted to all the dramatic cliches that make TV drama just as stale & predictable, if not more so. Why *must* the Jim and Karen confrontation build up into a *big moment*? Unless, of course, 'The Office' was your typical TV drama...which IT ISN'T.

It's also telling that Jay's favorite episode this season is 'Money,' which wasn't bad, but was the least funniest of the season.

'The Office' is a COMEDY, how many times must we say it???

November 03 2007 at 3:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cress d

I laughed my ass off this episode, and I have enjoyed every episode this season. Anyone that isn't enjoying this season, please check your pulse.

November 03 2007 at 1:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Keli

I agree that the office has had more over the top moments this season with Michael and Dwight, but it's certainly not as bad as the so called critics are making it seem.

I agree with most of the commenters here that Jay Black should be reviewing a drama and let someone else take over the office. Someone who actually appreciates the comedy and isn't constantly whining that it wasn't dramatic enough.

Think of it this way - if they gave us casino night moments all the time, those moments wouldn't be as special when we do get them. When they really make sense to be there.

Why would Jim EVER have a casino night moment with Karen? (I don't mean kissing her in the parking lot, just that level of drama)

I don't read Jay's reviews every week, but every time I do it irritates me that he seems to place more importance on the dramatic lovelife moments than on the rest of the episode. It feels like he's a 13 year old girl reviewing Dawson's Creek or something. Get over it and just enjoy the show.

November 03 2007 at 9:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
James

Jay...I understand your worries about The Office devolving into your standard sitcom fare, because I've had them too, but...you couldn't be more wrong about this episode.

This episode was maybe the funniest episode since 'The Injury,' way back during the golden season. In fact, I could draw a lot of parallels between the two: both had slightly absurd plotlines that were milked for maximum humor. The 'Utica panty-raid' storyline isn't anymore ridiculous than 'Michael burns his foot on a George Forman grill'; one of the ways in which this show actually improves on the British one is its ability to work in such off-the-wall premises with such humor and unpredictability.

There was so much to love in this episode. Michael being disgusted at the sight of Toby in a bowtie was just one of many, many hilarious moments for me. There should be Jim-Dwight-Michael car scene in every episode. The Finer Things club was deliciously fun. And I laughed just looking at Stanley. The whole episode was completely relentless with its humor, much the way 'The Injury' was.

Plus - I thought the Karen/Jim scene was perfectly executed. We saw Jim humiliated before Karen and thus get his proper comeuppance for the way he treated her, yet John did a good job making his character sympathetic at the same time. We didn't need a Casino-Night dramatic moment from them, Jim&Karen were never the focus of the show, we just need some closure, and we got it, and it was funny and uncomfortable.

November 03 2007 at 1:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dvm211

I think many reviewers have been too harsh on The Office this season. I love this show. Last night's was hilarious. Just the look on Michael's face when he saw Toby with that bow tie was hilarious.

I mean come on, this is what the 6th episode? Last week with the Ad, that was hilarious, it was a classic Office epi. And Money was great, the Dwight & Jim interactions have been right on.

Also, I think people have that fear this show will go south now that Pam & Jim are together.

November 02 2007 at 6:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Adam

This was a g

November 02 2007 at 5:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Follow Us

From Our Partners