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The Office: Dinner Party - VIDEO

by Jay Black, posted Apr 11th 2008 12:47AM
The Office: Dinner Party(S04E09) It feels really good to be back, doesn't it? My calculations might be a bit off, but it seems to me the amount of time we had off for the writer's strike was about the same as what we usually have off for a summer break. For some reason, though, it felt longer. Something about the cold winter months makes me long for the sweet siren song of Scranton, I suppose.

I wasn't there when we won WWII, but I imagine the joy I felt when a new Office showed up in my TiVo was similar to what it felt like on V.E. day. I almost wanted to dress up in a sailor uniform and give Steve Carell a long, deep kiss in Times Square (though, to be fair, I almost always feel that way). I was happy The Office was back, the only thing I worried about was whether it'd still be good...

Short answer: it was.

Maybe it was the excitement of the first new Office in five months, or maybe it was the fact that the writers didn't have much to do except think of funny things while they were on the picket line, but tonight's Office was a Barry Bond's-style chemically enhanced mega-home-run.

This week we left the office behind and ventured to a dinner party at Michael and Jan's condo. Andy, Angela, Jim and Pam get the invite, with Dwight, of course, not invited. (The excuse Michael gives is classic: it's couples only, and besides, they only have six wine glasses).

From there, we spend the entirety of the episode at Michael and Jan's condo. My editor, Joel Keller, pointed out a difference in film stock -- the video seemed to have a much grainer digital quality to it -- and we couldn't decide if that was a stylistic choice or if filming in the cramped confines of the condo might have necessitated it. Did anyone else catch the change? I think it worked well stylistically; the video was dark as the episode.

"Cramped confines" is also a good way to describe what Jan and Michael's condo felt like. We get the tour and Jan's domineering is evident throughout: she has an office and a place to work on her scented candle business. They have a nice bench at the foot of their bed that is, uh, Michael's actual bed because Jan has "space issues." (Though those issues don't seem to prevent them from having a little fun together as a video camera was left conspicuously out, pointed at the bed. It's a fair bet that Michael left that out on purpose.)

The camera gag illustrates perfectly what I loved about this episode: on the surface it was an obvious joke. Oh, yes, a video camera and a bed, wink wink. The only way it could have been more obvious was if a midget in dominatrix clothing tumbled out of the closet during the tour. But, if you look a bit deeper, you can catch the second, subtle joke that's underneath it: Michael wanted Jim to see the camera because Michael is constantly seeking approval. The first-time viewer can laugh at the sex joke; the long-time viewer is rewarded with a complex, character-based joke.

As the party continues, Jan indicates that the dinner would take three hours to braise properly. Pam: Three hours from now or, like three hours from an earlier time, like 4:00? Jan: You know, Pam, in Spain, it's not uncommon for dinner to start after midnight. Michael: When in Rome! Cue a look that Pam and Jim share that is exactly like the looks my wife and I give each other when confronted with interminable events (there are a lot of Catholic weddings in my family).

Predictably, the evening falls apart, with the frayed edges of Michael and Jan's relationship beginning to unravel. Things that we learned tonight:

-- Jan most certainly had sex with her former assistant Hunter and then Hunter recorded a delightfully awful ballad about it.

-- Michael has lied about a past relationship (probably wished for) with Pam. Jan is ridiculously jealous of this fact (and when I say "ridiculously" I mean it in both senses: a lot, and RIDICULOUSLY).

-- Michael has had three vasectomies, as he keeps snipping and unsnipping his baby-pipes according to Jan's whims.

-- Jan might be certifiably insane.

And if there was one weak spot about the episode it might be that last point. As the evening progressed and we got to see deeper into the troubled relationship between Michael and Jan, it became quite clear that Jan is a seriously deranged woman. When Michael says it's entirely possible that Jan has poisoned his food, it doesn't seem that outlandish based on what we've seen of Jan over this season.

I've brought this up in past reviews, but I'd like to revisit it here: did Jan seem too over-the-top tonight? I mean, I've seen some people stay in bad relationships before (mostly women who have dated me), but I've never seen anything quite this bad. Is even Michael so blind as to not realize that Jan is one intense Lifetime movie away from going on a four state killing spree? As I've often said of Michael, sometimes the writers' push a little too hard on the boundaries of reality in order to bring the funny, and I thought we got right to the line of that tonight with Jan. What did you guys think?

Just as the evening appears to be at the absolutely bottom of the abyss, Dwight shows up with his former babysitter (who might have been a homeless woman) and he drags it down just a bit further. Interesting things about Dwight's arrival:

1. Michael apparently wanted to invite him and it was Jan who said no. I found this interesting as it seems in keeping with Michael's over all disrespect of Dwight that he wouldn't invite him.

2. Dwight brought beets as his contribution to the evening (as well as his own wineglasses). Here's an essay question for you, what does each couple's gifts reveal about them? Pam/Jim: (apparently) cheap bottle of wine. Angela/Andy: enormous bouquet of flowers. Dwight/HomelessWoman: Beets.

3. Angela: "The thought of putting your beet in my mouth makes me want to vomit." Perhaps the dirtiest non-dirty thing ever uttered on network television.

The subtle arguing that Michael and Jan had been doing all night (peppered with what might be the network record for number of "babes" in a half-hour episode of televised comedy) finally breaks into an all-out argument by the time dinner is served. Terrible things are said and, to Michael's horror, Jan throws one of his Dundies (his most prized possession) at his $200 11-inch PLASMA television (his second most prized possession).

And thus the most cringe worthy episode... well, maybe ever... comes to a close, as Michael heads off with Dwight, Angela and Andy go for ice cream, and Pam and Jim head to a parking lot to listen to Hunter's song just one more time.

The reason I loved this episode so much, I think, is because it represents the very best of what The Office is capable of. At its core, this is a series that says the people you work with, no matter how horrible they might be, eventually become your family. Most of the time, this vein is mined for the kind of dark laughs we saw tonight. Sometimes, though, we get to view the employees of Dunder-Mifflin the same way we view the employees at our own office: horrible people that we love anyway.

Jan, alone at the end of the episode, trying desperately to glue the head back on the Dundie she shattered, captures this feeling. Every once in a while, we're gonna break the the plasma-screen of the one we love. All we can hope to do, at the end of the day, is take the Dundie we broke it with and put a little glue on its head.

And, uh, that's what she said.

How happy are you that The Office is back?
I heard Angels singing837 (57.1%)
I did a little dance387 (26.4%)
I was happy, but, you know, not super happy.135 (9.2%)
I didn't care one whit. I'm reading this review IRONICALLY.29 (2.0%)
I sometimes click on the "funny" answer to a poll question because I really don't know what else to choose.78 (5.3%)

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KateG

Pam/Jim: (apparently) cheap bottle of wine=don't care.
Angela/Andy: enormous bouquet of flowers=care too much.
Dwight/HomelessWoman: Beets=care too much about beets.


April 16 2008 at 11:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
CT

Horrible. They are drifting away from the format in season 4 and I don't like it. They need to stick to life and situations around the office and stop digging into private lives. Where was the rest of the cast I love in this episode? Give the others some lines and face time.... give us a rest from Jan/Michael for a moment.

April 13 2008 at 1:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
smsgh

One thing that struck me about this episode was how hostile Angela was towards Pam. There was the "holding faxes" comment, and she practically agreed with Jan when Jan was accusing Pam of dating Michael. I think it's Angela being jealous of Jim and Pam's relationship because she hates Andy so much. She's starting to realize she can only be that happy again with Dwight.

April 13 2008 at 3:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rodney

Actually, Angela said "The thought of POPPING ONE OF your beetS inTO my mouth makes me want to vomit."

Popping is much funnier-sounding than putting.

April 13 2008 at 12:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
WhatI

Even though the start of the review would lead you to believe that this episode is the first written since the writer's strike, it is not. This episode was written before the strike, but not filmed until the strike was resolved, according to interviews that were done with cast members during the strike. It remains to be seen what the episodes written after the strike will be like, hopefully they will be back to form. I could see, from watching this episode, that getting back to the swing of things might be tough if they don't take their time with the writing and filming of the remaining episodes.

This episode seemed to have signs of a rushed filming process. Things just weren't clicking, at least at the level we're used to from The Office. If you have seen the deleted scenes from the DVDs, you've seen how much improv and attention to the tiniest of details play a huge part in the best of the episodes. Some of that seemed present here, but seemed to lack the polish that we've seen in the past.

That said, I did enjoy this weeks episode, and I look forward to the rest of the season. I hope the strike won't show in the upcoming episodes, since those will be the ones freshly written, and they've been given the time to put the polish on before airing .....

BEETS!!!

April 11 2008 at 11:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rich

Loved this episode but I think the dirtiest non-dirty thing ever uttered on network television is the following exchange from Gilligan's Island:

Ginger: I've been stuck on this Island for a very long time, and I want you to get me off.

Robot: I am not programmed for that function.

April 11 2008 at 9:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
fancastguru

Love this show! It was nice to get out of the office but weird to get a peak of Jan & Michaels bedroom. Dwight kept the weird mood rolling with his babysitter dinner date...he knows how to keep us in shock with a recent comment about American Idol saying the "MUSIC SUCKS!" Yup, he really said that...check it out here: http://thebiz.fancast.com/2008/04/here_are_rainn_wilsons_answers.html

April 11 2008 at 7:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
arkitect75

I just want to know when we'll be able to get Hunter's CD on iTunes

April 11 2008 at 6:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Han Solo

I didn't like this episode at all.

I was oh so excited that it was back, but I just had a hard time watching this one. It was so over the top for me, it was not even all that funny.

I am just starting to no longer believe that even Michael would stop to that low to stay in this relationship.

April 11 2008 at 6:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
James

There were a lot of subtle things in this episode that were great, like Jan's line about 'this wine will be great to cook with' and her making Michael take Jim & Pam's coats, or even the sweet moment at the end with Jim + Pam in the car...the over-the-top stuff...not as much.

I hope they get back into the actual office next week. i miss Stanley and Creed and Phyllis and Oscar...

April 11 2008 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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