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October 1, 2014

The Office: Suvivor Man

by Jay Black, posted Nov 9th 2007 1:45AM
One of these days, I'm going to get to write a review that does NOT garner hatemail!(S04E07) I think I've struck upon the perfect analogy to describe my feelings about tonight's Office. In keeping with the pastry theme of the episode: tonight's show was like a perfectly baked black and white cookie. I'm not talking the cheap kind that you buy shrink-wrapped at a rest-stop, I'm talking the high-end black and white you'd get from a top-quality New York baker. The kind of black and white that Seinfeld might buy.

The only problem is that I'm allergic to vanilla. So while I can see how some people might enjoy the whole cookie, for me to enjoy it, I have to concentrate only on the half I'm capable of digesting...

The ever-growing evidence of Ryan's douchebaggery continued tonight as the episode opened with the revelation that he organized a corporate retreat that included several branch-heads (as well as Michael's arch-nemesis Toby), but not Michael. The excuse given is that everyone "knows all they need to know about Michael", but of course, my own theory is that Ryan simply doesn't like Michael and understands enough about him to know that not including him is probably the most hurtful thing you can do to him.

This, along with the the non-invite to the "lunch" party has me convinced that Ryan is going out of his way to make Michael feel bad. What do you guys think? Is the constant disrespect of Michael simply a by-product of his character or is Ryan carrying out a conscious agenda?

Either way, the exclusion led to a typically childish reaction by Michael: he was going to have his own retreat! His first instinct is to invite Jim (which led to a pretty funny exchange regarding Michael's use of the word "hypothetically"), but Jim is "busy." Option two, obviously, is for Michael to travel into the woods a la the Discovery Channel's Suvivorman.

If you've never seen the show, it's similar to how Michael described it. Les Stroud -- a Canadian, proving once again that our brothers from the north are complete badasses -- is dropped into harsh environments equipped with only his wits keep and a camera to keep him company.

Survivorman is a show that my wife and I got into heavily during the late summer when pretty much all we did was take care of our newborn and watch TV. (I think being newly minted parents made us sympathize with a man being dropped into Antarctica by himself; if you think about it, the two are pretty much the same thing.) I consider myself a fan and I was intrigued by the idea that a mainstream show like The Office would consider parodying something as obscure as a show on The Discovery Channel. (Just out of curiosity, how many of you knew what Suvivorman was before tonight's episode? If you didn't, here's a video that shows Les surviving the scariest situation he's ever faced.)

Intrigued as I was, I was worried that the parody might lead to the kind of ridiculousness that I've criticized repeatedly in this space. I was worried about it for two reasons: one, I really like The Office and don't enjoy it when it ventures into stupidville; two, I really don't want to get another rash of hatemail telling me how I am a "douche" who "should be fired." Here's the equation: criticize ridiculousness = hatemail = Jay in therapy discussing why he keeps choosing professions that open him to criticism that he's obviously too thin-skinned to deal with properly.

So, what's the verdict? Was the Suvirvorman parody good or was it another step into the gradual transformation of Michael into Homer Simpson? Er...

Let's talk about the chocolate side of the cookie for a while, shall we?

With Michael out of the office, Jim is left in charge. Angela comes up and reminds him that it's Creed's birthday. As you'd imagine in an office run by Michael, birthdays are treated as rather big deals, with Michael insisting on a cake and candles, inappropriate gifts, off-key singing, and heart-attack inducing surprises. Jim uses his newfound authority to put his own rather dour and asocial stamp on the birthday tradition: rather than having 13 individual birthdays, he's going to have one big birthday party for everyone.

The office revolts, mostly over cake choices.

Jim, with Pam over his shoulder wearing the kind of wry smile that he usually has on, lets the cake situation get out of hand. In just a few quick missteps on the slippery slope, Jim is asking for "everyone's attention" just like Micheal. In fact, Phyllis accidentally calls Jim "Michael" at that point, forcing Jim to confront the monster he has become (not unlike how Jimmy from South Park had to hit rock bottom -- Video NSFW).

Jim's metamorphosis into Michael ranks, I think, with the greatest moments of the entire series. Not only was it hilarious -- Creed's Mamet-esque conversation with Jim regarding the peach cobbler had me doing the patented Office laugh and rewind -- but it was also dead-on in its observations. Like any of us would, the second Jim moves from the snarky Number Two spot to the Doctor Evil position, he begins to try and shape the office in his own image, with disastrous results.

Even though Jim considers himself much more in tune with the wants of the office than Michael, the movement from employee to boss turns him into an enemy. This is a reality that I saw all the time when I was teaching: the young teachers would come in and think "Hey, I'm super-cool, I'm in touch with the kids of today, I'm going to shake things up! The kids are gonna get me!" Inevitably, the kids would hate the new guys pretty much the same as they hated the old ones. Why? Because the second you exchange being "Us" for being "Them", you're lumped in with every single other "Them."

This is exactly the kind of thing that The Office does better than any show on TV: making us laugh at something recognizable. I empathized with Jim every single step of the way and by the end of the episode I, like Jim, had a little more insight into Michael's character. It was beautifully done.

But, back to Survivorman...

All right, listen, I'm not going to dwell on this. After last week's review turned me into the TV Squad equivalent of a bad guy wrestler, I understand that you guys are tired of hearing me whine that the show has stretched the character of Michael so far outside the realm of reality that sometimes I half expect it to be revealed that Bugs Bunny is the cartoonist behind it all. I think my point is valid (and indeed, when my interview with Creed Bratton is published next week, I think you'll be quite shocked to see what his opinion on the subject is), but I get it: you're annoyed at me harping on it.

So I won't. All I'm going to say is this: there were some funny moments (especially Dwight's shadowing of Michael), but ultimately the entire time Michael was out in the woods, I was shocked that this was the direction the writer (Steve Carell!?) decided to go in. It was wacky and ridiculous for no good reason. Personally, I thought good laughs could have been generated in a much easier-to-believe situation had Michael actually been invited to the retreat mentioned at the top of the episode. Seeing him interact with Ryan and the other branch managers in that situation would have been hilarious and believable, but, best of all, it would have allowed Jim's B story to remain exactly the same. My disappointment with the Survivorman stuff is made all the more profound by how good the rest of the episode was.

That's it. Just one paragraph to keep this review honest. If you have a different opinion, please let me know in the comments. Before you type what a dumb douche I am, remember: it's easy to be snarky when you're not in the hot seat. One day, though, I might go off on a horribly contrived trip to the woods and one of you might be put in as reviewer. Maybe you'd be wise to consider the lessons learned by our mutual fictional friend Jim tonight and maybe, possibly, write a reasoned response instead of an ad hominen attack?

Ah, who am I kidding? If you're my shrink and you're reading this, I'm gonna need two appointments this week.

Various Tidbits:

-- Stanley: "I took an extra shot of insulin in preparation of this cake today. If I don't have some cake soon, I might die."

Oscar: "Why don't you just have an apple?"

Stanley: "Why don't you just mind your business?"

-- I thought Jim's story tonight mirrored what Tim went through at the end of the first series of the UK Office. I'm excited that their taking him down this path because it finally gives John Krasinski something to do other than pine for Pam and raise his eyebrows. I also think that it lends further validity to the various theories being floated in the comments as to where the conflict is coming for Jim and Pam. Michael's response to Jim's statement that he won't be there in ten years -- "That's what I thought" -- was particularly ominous.

-- Going along with that, Jim's "That's what she said" was distressing as well. Not since John-Luc Picard stared out of the window at the end of the Best of Both Worlds two-parter have I felt a mixture of confusion and worry this profound.

-- Jim's dislike of Toby. It was funny, but what's the deal? Why does everyone hate Toby so much?

-- "Don't worry, the safey is..." click "...on."

-- Thank God for NBC going green tonight. I'm very happy that the problems with the environment were finally dealt with! I don't know what it was like in your area, but not minutes after NBC's Thursday lineup was finished airing, all of New Jersey exploded with life like it was just hit with the genesis device. And yes, that's two Star Trek references in the same column. I will now break a mirror out of disgust.

-- "They would call me the Overkill Killer."

-- Andy's reaction to the knowledge that there would be mushroom caps at the party. A lot of the commenters last week talked about how great Andy's reaction was when he found out that Jim had gotten into the Finer Things Club over him. You're right, I should have mentioned that last week. Andy is great week in and week out.

All right kids, that's it for tonight. According to Greg Daniels, we only have four more new episodes left "in the can" should the writer's strike continue. I don't know about you guys, but I'm hoping that this whole thing gets resolved sooner rather than later: I wouldn't put it past NBC combating the lack of scripted shows with 21 consecutive hours a week of Deal or No Deal. That's a world I don't want to live in.

How much would you be willing to pay the writers out of _your own pocket_ to keep new episodes of The Office coming?
Nothing at all! What are you, insane?147 (20.2%)
Between $0.01 and $0.99 (about what I paid for Radiohead's new album)122 (16.8%)
Between $1 and $5 (I'm a superfan, what can I say?)191 (26.2%)
Between $5 and $10 (I've got a lot of money and not much else to live for)66 (9.1%)
Over $10 (I am completely insane)202 (27.7%)

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51 Comments

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Dave

I tribute to Dwight, I too have started hiding weapons around my office.

November 10 2007 at 5:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mel

Wow, #46 calm down. No need to swear and use personal attacks if you disagree. Have some class or find another site to trash.

Having said that, I thought it was so sweet how everyone was genuinely happy to see Michael show up at the end! His chaos as a constant brings order to everyone else.

Keep up the good work Jay

-- Jersey Neighbor

November 10 2007 at 1:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joe

There's another 'R' in 'suvivor'. I'm surprised it's taken this long for someone to point it out.

November 10 2007 at 7:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Calum

I think the episode was pretty good. The Survivorman scenes were just right-I could believe that Michael would be that over-the-top as a means of easing the rejection from Ryan. It wasn't incredibly hilarious, though it had its moments like Michael ripping up his trousers then later taping them back again, but it wasn't excessively stupid like the pizza boy kidnapping or driving into the lake. Also, the scenes when Michael returned to the office were definately up there with the best of the season. There were some of those scarce moments where for all his stupidity and ridiculousness, they all actually appreciated Michael and in particular the effort he put into birthdays. It's scenes like that (which are becoming fewer and fewer) which make his character believable, that in spite of it all he isn't a terrible person.
Also, I like the way that this season has subtley focussed on Jim, much like last season was, in a minor way, all about Pam in the build up to her speech on the beach this season seems to be about Jim and his gradual realisation of where he is at in his life and where he's going.
All in all I thought it was a reasonable episode, certainly not a sign of a diminishing in the quality compared to previous seasons (although some episodes this season I feel have been).

November 10 2007 at 5:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Alicia

I thought the little conversation at the end between Michael and Jim was one of the top moments of this season. Michael's explanation of the frequent "that's what she said"s was perfect. That's the sort of scene I watch the show for.

As for the Survivorman bit, I thought it was hilarious. I watch the show semi-regularly and Michael's impression of it, from the pant shelter, the headdress made of pant leg to the swinging the tripod was spot on. Dwight's trailing him was also pretty amusing and the climactic mushroom scene was very nice.

Also: "Tell her it's for Creed. She'll know what that means."

Speaking of things we'd pay for ... Jay - do you have some sort of non-profit group set up where we can send money to pay for your therapy? I feel like it's only fair if we all chip in a few bucks since we're to blame for your mental anguish. (Plus, I think an attempt to correct the situation will look better for the jury when you sue us later for pain and suffering.)

November 10 2007 at 3:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
darwinwins

paragraphs that need to be cut: "intrigued as i was ... blah blah blah"; "so i won't ..."; "that's it ..."

seriously, stop being a fucking prima donna. you always (and always is one of those don't use words) but you always make the review about you and not the show. you ain't shit.

November 09 2007 at 9:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Smiley

It worked perfectly because it used misdirection. You had just seen Michael getting tacked by Dwight and the deadly mushrooms knocked out of his mouth. You were thinking he was still in the woods and then he shows up and rescues Jim from the birthday debacle. The complete buffoon saves the day. It was well done.

November 09 2007 at 9:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joel

Jay- you seriously rock as a writer. You are currently the funniest guy on TVSquad, without question. RIP Adam Finley, you are missed.

November 09 2007 at 4:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
beanspants1

anybody besides me wonder if Angela got Andy the cake and mushrooms he wanted because they are dating, even after Jim said no?

and surviorman is boring because life alone in the wilderness is boring - that's why our ancestors built cities. Man vs wild has to fake crazy situations to make it less boring.

November 09 2007 at 3:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ryan

As much as I was disagreeing with your earlier reviews of this season Jay, I think you handled this review and the reaction from everyone really well. Only taking one paragraph and giving your opinion of Michael's silliness level felt appropriate after we've debated it so much before. Here's hoping the rest of them don't even have the need for it.

November 09 2007 at 3:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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