After feeling like I was in the minority with my mild disappointment with last week’s wedding episode, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was not alone in my distaste for last night’s The Office, “Mafia.” I watched it in a new place, with a large dinner still digesting, the mood already soured by another messy, frustrating episode of Glee (a story for another day), so I gave this latest Office entry the benefit of the doubt, even though I found it much too silly and the premise (Michael, Dwight and Andy believe that a local insurance salesman is “connected”) too far fetched, even for this show. Something seemed off, and I sensed there were far too many stretches without laughs, and even the ones that occurred often felt forced. So I was actually rather comforted when I flipped on the ol’ Internet and found near unanimous negative reaction for this episode. However, my appreciation was short lived, as it seems that after one episode, the blogosphere is hitting the panic button, fearing The Office is past its prime, and maybe should be put down like an injured thoroughbred. Indeed, Cinemablend titled their recap, “NBC’s The Office Isn’t The Show It Used To Be.”
The Office is not going anywhere. And there’s no reason to panic. Yes, last night’s episode was the weakest in a long time, but it’s not the first instance in which it’s veered unsuccessfully into this broad humor. My least favorite episode is probably season 4’s “Survivor Man” in which Michael sets out in the woods to demonstrate his survival acumen. This along with the moment in “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” when Michael drives his car into a lake (after putting too much trust in his GPS) are two chapters of Office history that, while were no doubt amusing, have always bothered me and stuck out as crossing the (fine) line, becoming too slapstick. Much like these moments, “Mafia” strayed too far from reality, and while the contentious lunch meeting/mafia sit-down was funny, it wasn’t Office funny, and just didn’t ring true. HOWEVER, Office history has shown that one bad episode does not signal a death knell. Maybe I had my doubts after “Survivor Man” (and actually during most of a rather uneven early season 4), but the show bounced back and has produced some of its best episodes, including (according to readers and critics) last week’s nuptials themed outing. It’s hard to believe that a show like this could have fallen so far so fast. So don’t believe it. Cause it hasn’t.
Of course, what made this episode different was that for the first time Jim and Pam are absent (save for a few phone calls to Puerto Rico, their honeymoon location). So bad episode + no Pam and Jim = without Pam and Jim the show doesn’t work. Vulture writes, “If this is what The Office devolves into with Pam and Jim gone, then get them back already.” Well, in this particular case yes, but I wouldn’t quite jump to that general conclusion yet. It was important that the show let Pam and Jim go off to celebrate their marriage. Again, just like with the wedding, it was honoring the characters, because that’s what married people do, and it was honoring the audience by portraying a degree of reality. I also appreciate the fact that the cameras didn’t follow the Halpert’s down to the island. The characters deserved their privacy and it was nice to see that the writers didn’t use their Honeymoon as an excuse for vacation hi-jinks (although we cannot forget Growing Pains’ memorable Maui vacation, or, likewise, the iconic Saved By the Bell: Hawaiian Style. Both classic). And like with “Niagara,” I think the writers challenged themselves by taking Pam and Jim out of the office, removing the voice(s) of reason. I’m sure they realize that what makes a lot of the crazier moments funny is that they are played against the backdrop of the “normalcy” of Pam and Jim. And if the writers know that the couple grounds the show in reality, then they must have been aware they were actually making it harder on themselves by taking Pam and Jim out of the equation. So while the experiment was mostly a failure, I applaud them for taking the chance. And I hope they do it again. And get it right.
The full episode is up on Hulu, but here’s a clip featuring Erin (or a subplot, according to DVR descriptions) that didn’t make the final cut:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
And one final thought: To be fair, “I send it back,” will no doubt become an oft-repeated Office quote for years to come. I bet some clever young man is trying it out at IHOP right now.