The Office: The Deposition
See, I feel like I've been yelling at The Office now for quite a few weeks, trying to get it into marine-ready shape. Like D'Onofrio's hapless character, the show kept disappointing me with Survivorman parodies and surreal kidnappings. Tonight, though, everything snapped into place and, like Private Pyle, the show started acting like a perfect marine.
Tonight's episode was so good, in fact, I'm actually worried that I'm going to walk in on a homicidal Steve Carell screaming at me: "This is my rifle! There are many like it, but this one is mine!!" More strained analogies (and a glowing review) after the jump...
Like last week, tonight's episode had two storylines running concurrently. Unlike last week, both storylines were wonderful.
The "A" story involved Jan's wrongful termination suit against the company. With four million dollars at stake ("a lot of guacamole" in Michael's words), Jan has polished Michael's testimony to a high sheen. Not since Mark McGwire told Congress that he "wasn't there to talk about the past" has a witness been more thoroughly prepared to skirt the truth under oath.
At first, the deposition seems to be going swimmingly, with Michael repeating his rehearsed lines very well. It isn't until the company's lawyer takes out the topless picture of Jan that Michael sent to the entire company last season that things start to fall apart.
I'm not sure if everyone else loves continuity as much as I do, but little things like this -- a minor point from an episode that aired almost a year ago coming back to play a major role in tonight's storyline -- is the kind of thing that gets my geek juices flowing*. As the kind of super-nerd who debates whether Timothy Zahn's references to the Clone Wars can be considered canonical in light of the information presented in Attack of the Clones, I love this kind of stuff. It should also be noted that no, I did not have a date to my senior prom.
Since the picture was taken well before Jan and Michael officially came out as a couple, Jan's claim that everything about their relationship was done by the company playbook begins to get more shaky. The new line of questioning takes Michael off the track that Jan had prepared for him, and Michael has to start improvising, with the expected, hilarious results.
While this is going on, we learn in the "B" story that the warehouse got a new ping-pong table and that Darryl has been routinely walloping Jim at the game. This leads to embarrassment for Pam as every time Darryl defeats Jim, Kelly trash-talks her.
I'm going to say two things about the Kelly and Pam feud. One: This was some of the funniest stuff of the season. Kelly singing Avril Lavigne's Girlfriend made me laugh so hard that I'm pretty sure that the person in the next room over called management. Two: I would have cut off part of my pinky-finger, Ronnie Lott style, if the feud had turned into a top-tearing cat fight. In the hulu of my dreams, that's the way the episode ended.
While Jim practices in an effort to best Darryl, things are not proceeding well for Michael. Jan enters into evidence Michael's diary in a last-ditch attempt to save the lawsuit.
The diary reading was the highlight of an already classic episode. It's funny -- though, I suppose, fitting -- that Michael even has a diary, much less one in which he signs off each entry with "love and kisses." The best part, though, was the revelation that Michael has a mancrush on Ryan that makes Scotty J's crush on Dirk Diggler seem sweet and normal by comparison ("Ryan is just as pretty as Jan, but in a different way").
It was also nice to see Toby get a good laugh at Michael's expense, especially after Michael pushed his tray off the table right in the middle of Toby trying to console him. I know everyone seems to hate Toby -- even Jim! -- but I like him. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time we've ever gotten a chance to see Toby actually laugh. I say: good for Toby!
As the lawsuit progresses, more embarrassing things come to light about Michael, namely that Jan's assessment of him was that he wasn't a very good boss and that he should be put back in sales where he belongs. While this is painfully obvious to anyone who has, you know, eyes, the fact that Jan would say that after she had started dating Michael hurts him deeply. Further, when he protests that he gave up Jan's job for her, they read testimony from David Wallace that while he thinks Michael is a "nice guy", he was never in the running for the job.
In all, it's a bad day for Michael. The tight focus shot of Michael's eyes at the end of the second act was as heartbreaking as anything we've seen from the character. I know that a lot of you enjoy Michael's crazy antics -- and for as much as I harp on their silliness, I understand their appeal -- but, for me, it's this side of Michael, the desperately needy little boy that wants 100 kids so he'll never have to be alone, that makes the character great. Tonight's episode validated every single big-budget movie role that Steve Carell has ever gotten: the man has an enormous amount of talent when it's not buried under an avalanche of the absurd.
I even bought it when Michael flushed four million dollars down the toilet by refusing to agree that the company has shown a "pattern of disrespect." The episode built to that moment perfectly, and never for a second did I think that Michael would be able to get past what Jan did to him.
Being a reviewer forces me to think about this show a lot more often than I think about less important things like my family or friends. This is both because to do so is necessary to review the show properly and also because I'm confronted regularly with my reader's assessment of my assessment. After my particularly glowing review of the particularly downbeat Money, a lot of you wrote that I enjoy this show more for the drama than the comedy. After tonight's episode it occurred to me that it's not the drama that I enjoy, it's the connection with the characters.
Here's what I mean: The Office is not made up of a collection of stereotypes who spout one-liners and then wait for the studio audience to stop laughing; it's a group of people that are familiar to us in a way that's rare on network television. These are people that we know, both because we tune in each week and because we look around our own lives and are all but electrocuted with the shock of recognition by how it compares with what's on the show.
What I respond to is moments that strengthen my connection with the characters. Sometimes this is done dramatically, like in Money or Casino Night, and sometimes this is done joyously, like at the end of Survivorman, and sometimes this is done hilariously, like tonight.
It was a pleasure to both watch and review this episode, especially since the last few weeks I've had to be hard on the show. And, uh, that's what she said.
Highlights and observations:
-- Dwight as a Forrest Gump level ping-pong prodigy. Best moment: Dwight and Mose playing competitive level ping-pong at the end of the episode. Second best moment: Dwight giving a no-look beat down to Jim's "spin serve."
-- The "that's what she said" segment. It was great to see everyone taking so seriously Michael's dumb recurring catch-phrase. Was I the only one that caught maybe just a hint of recognition in Michael's eyes that perhaps it's time to retire the joke? Maybe I'm reading too much into this...
-- Question: Wouldn't Jan's poor assessment of Michael after they started dating prove that their relationship did not affect their work relationship? It seemed odd for the defense to bring this up. Perhaps one of our readers is an attorney and can maybe enlighten me as to why her negative review of Michael helps the defense's case.
-- "Maybe we should get something cheaper." "Chinese was my cheap suggestion."
-- Pam's fake notes to Michael. The hotdog saying "Hiya Buddy" was my favorite. Again, more proof that if the tapes of The Office are buried in a vault and then dug up by whatever civilization replaces ours, those people will worship Jenna Fischer as a goddess. Perhaps the Goddess of Insane Crushes on Characters Who Do Insanely Cute Things.
-- Any of Kelly's put-downs. Take your pick. They were all hilarious.
All right kids, that's it for this week. Because of the strike, it might be a long time before we see another new episode. This Thanksgiving, eat lots of turkey, but before you fall into tryptophan coma, spend a few minutes hoping that the strike ends with all sides smiling. Maybe if we all hope together, say around 6 PM EST, the universe will listen and we'll have new episodes by Christmas. (If this works, by the way, the next thing we're hoping for is that I get super-powers -- I'm calling it now!)
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