At this point, midway through its sixth season, it seems that with every episode of The Office we are taking the temperature of the series, gauging if it’s on the decline, on the way back up, or holding steady. It’s unfair, and ultimately a disservice to the show and the viewer. However, it’s the truth, and it’s going to continue, especially because this is a show that has exceeded expectations and reached rare levels of brilliance but has also always seemed to be walking a tightrope. Can the show continue once Pam and Jim get together? Will it lose it’s direction after Pam and Jim get married? Will the magic chemistry between the ensemble cast run out? Or will the writers no longer be able to supply interesting but plausible office-related storylines? Even though the show has been so consistently damn good, there’s still this pervading feeling that all the inventive writing and superior acting could disappear one week, never to return. While we have not actually been faced with this reality, we learned last night that the employees of Dunder Mifflin are very much in this predicament, as it seems all but certain that the company will file for bankruptcy. While we have been fearing a sudden, painful demise of The Office, the characters are now fearful of a sudden, painful demise of their office. It’s a new storyline that hopefully, while putting the employees on the chopping block, allows the show to continue to flourish.
Which is not to say that last night’s outing, “Murder,” was a real step towards silencing doubters.
Instead, it was a way to set up what will probably be the main arc for the rest of the season under the guise of a silly, frivolous and ultimately almost throw-away episode. It reminded me most of last season’s “Cafe Disco” another too silly but impossible to truly dislike episode, where you could see the actors enjoying themselves so much that the fun spread to the viewer, despite a tenuous, hard to swallow premise. However, what also excused “Cafe Disco” for its caution to the wind attitude was its placement in the flow of the season. It seems that The Office likes to break up the uncomfortable, emotional, and consequential episodes with more accessible, fun, trivial offerings. “Cafe Disco,” is a great example of this, coming just after the return of Michael to Dunder Mifflin in “Casual Friday,” which followed the absorption of the Michael Scott Paper Company. After a stressful 5 or 6 episodes the “family,” as Phyllis described them, was finally back together, and “Cafe Disco” was a good breather before heavy the lifting of “Company Picnic, “ the season finale featuring the return of Holly and the reveal of Pam’s pregnancy. Ultimately, “Cafe Disco” did nothing to further the overall thrust of the series, but it was such a good time, coming at a good time, that it wasn’t a big deal.
However, “Murder” suffered because its timing was not as apt, and the audience was not in as much need of a break. Indeed, with “Koi Pond” two weeks ago splitting up the Michael & Pam’s mom storyline, and the ill-received “Mafia” coming two weeks before that, it’s been more of an every other week incidence with these broader, less integral episodes. It’s almost as if, since the wedding, they’re reluctant to stick with a strong arc for more than an episode at a time. Now that we have the threat of a dissolved Dunder Mifflin, I think this will probably change, especially as Pam and Jim confront the prospect of adding a baby while also losing their jobs.
Another problem with this episode was the Jim-Michael good co-manager/bad co-manager subplot (you could make an argument for either character being the good or bad co-manager, just depends on how you define “good” and “bad” in this sense), which is starting to feel a little hackneyed. Already several times this season we’ve seen Jim try to be a more responsible, practical co-manager, doing his best to reign in Michael and his reckless, questionable tactics, only to realize in the end that there is merit to Michael’s methods. Last night, Jim tried to keep the office focused on work despite the dark cloud of uncertainty, while Michael decided distract the employees with a rousing game of the murder mystery whodunit “Belles, Bourbons & Bullets.” This might have been an excellent development of their co-manager relationship if it didn’t feel so similar to earlier episodes.
That all being said, this episode was a great excuse to have the characters try on some Southern accents (some good, some Oscar’s) and have some good, clean fun. Plus, in the end when Michael, Andy, Dwight and (surprisingly) Pam reveal themselves to be double agents (I can only assume that Michael’s character Caleb Crawdad was, in actuality, none other than FBI agent Michael Scarn), and face each other, fake guns blazing Mexican stand-off style, you can see the joy in the actors’ faces (behind their tense, double agent grimaces, of course). And it was a joy that was, admittedly, infectious.
However! The best moment of the episode, hands down, was Creed running back to his car and peeling out of the parking lot after learning from “Caleb” he was a murder suspect. The more we learn about Creed Bratton the more he demands a spin-off, or at least an episode focused on his backstory. Of course, at the same time, the more we learn about Creed Bratton the less we want to know.
” No one steals from Creed Bratton and gets away with it. The last person to steal from me disappeared. His name: Creed Bratton.”
Oh, and finally, what’s the story with Ryan’s new wardrobe? The fedora a few weeks ago, and a cardigan and Buddy Holly glasses this week. Is this something they’re ever going to address? Or just a writer’s room joke that will continue unacknowledged? Either way, we’re in.
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