What the fuck was that?
A clip show? Really? Really???
Perhaps I would not have be so indignant if the episode had was a celebration of a milestone number of episodes. Or if it arrived in conjunction with another episode wholly comprised of wholly original content.
But for this excuse of an episode to arrive after a 5 week hiatus is rather insulting. I feel used, played, betrayed. And if they were going to start 2010 with a retrospective, why not do it last week when all the other Thursday night sitcoms returned with new episodes? Instead, The Office totally sat out the week, let 30 Rock turn in two new episodes, and still phoned it in this lackluster effort this week. So while 3/4 of NBC’s Thursday night lineup is already two weeks into their 2010, mostly firing on all cylinders, The Office hasn’t even really left the bench. What I posited about “Secret Santa” last week, that the writers were probably burned out and needed an extended rest seems even more accurate now. I can only hope that this extra week allows them to come back even stronger next time (and now they need to deliver even more than they needed to this week).
However, let’s take a detour and talk about clip shows in general for a second. Why did this clip show in particular irk me so greatly? Integrating clip shows into a narrative skeleton is nothing new. Off the top of my head I can think of three of my favorite shows that did this at least once (sometimes more), and I don’t recall ever having a problem with it (Growing Pains: discarded items at the Seaver garage sale reminisce about family events in which they played a central role (an hour-long episode!); The Simpsons: Homer is stricken with amnesia after Bart’s April Fool’s prank goes awry and then the family tries to jog Homer’s memory by recalling notable moments in Simpson history; and, Saved by the Bell: 1) The Bayside High class of 2002 (yes, 2002. The future!) watches the video time capsule left by Zack and the gang ten years earlier, and 2) while playing hooky from school the group fondly looks back on their summer working at Malibu Sands). I understand that in many cases clip shows are utilized to relieve an overworked staff, and in this current always-new TV model the production staff is taxed more than ever (to wit: NBC just ordered additional episodes of many of their scripted series, including Parks and Recreation and Community, stretching an already thin roster), but this doesn’t feel right for a few reasons:
A) I do hold The Office to a higher standard, especially when compared to those other shows. Growing Pains is from another era, and corny, clunky clip shows felt natural for that show and time; Saved by the Bell was tween fare. At 10 years old I didn’t really know the difference between a clip show and a new episode, nor did I care, not did they need to treat their audience with that much respect. Plus, Saved by the Bell was a cash cow and NBC was milking it for all it was worth; The Simpsons is the show with the most integrity, and the most surprising on which to see a clip show, but churning out animation (especially in the early 90s) can be excessively exhausting work, and at least they had the honesty to title the episode “So It’s Comes to This: A Simpsons Clip Show.”
B) Despite the fact that TV has evolved into a 365 day programming schedule, the clip show has seemed to become extinct, perhaps made less necessary by the availability of fresh programming (mostly cheap reality shows) to plug in the schedule instead. So then to see an unannounced clip show in prime time is surprising, and to see it on a show the caliber of The Office is even more surprising, closer to appalling. And the disappearance of the clip show is also somewhat related to
C) YouTube has made the clip show obsolete. While you can’t find full episodes of The Office online, you can find any number of highlight reels and mash-ups. If I want to see a compilation of all of Jim’s pranks or an assembly of Creed’s best moments it’s all at my fingertips anytime I want, and I’ll probably be given more content than I would find on a clip show. So, basically, last night The Office aired a show that anyone with iMovie could (and already has) put together.
Alright, now let’s back to the main car on this Office train, and ask the question, what, if anything, were they trying to accomplish with this clip show (besides extending their winter vacation)? Now in season six, I don’t think the show is really trying to secure new viewers, so this wasn’t a show to catch up neophytes. No, rather, it seemed that they were trying to remind of us, the long time loyal viewers, of all the good times we’ve had, the better days. It felt like they were admitting that we’ve hit a rough patch, but they were urging us to look back at all of our fond memories, asking us if we want to throw it all away now. Cognizant of an up and down season, a creative and identity crisis, it appeared that they wanted us to remember how good it as all been, that it’s still the same show, and, I think, most importantly they were trying to remind themselves of that as well. The first step to solving the problem is admitting it.
And what did the retrospective end with? Not surprisingly, but tellingly, Pam and Jim. All those cute, adorable, gut wrenching moments from the first five seasons. When everything was complicated. They are the heart of The Office, but the show has kind of lost that, has lost them. But with Pam’s pregnancy likely to move front and center, there’s hope that they show will get back to them, get that lightning back in the bottle. If there’s a silver lining out of this non-episode is that’s perhaps they’ve rediscovered the soul of the show. Perhaps, when the show actually returns next week, we’ll learn that the clip-show wasn’t really a tease, but a teaser.
UPDATE: Looks like next week will not be a new episode but a rerun of “Shareholder Meeting,” and so redemption will need to wait a little bit longer.