[note: not sure if that title will have anything to do with our reaction to last night’s Office. We just liked it.]
Week 3 of the Michael Scott death march brought us “Andy’s Play,” which slots below last week’s Michael Scott – Toby Flenderson tete-a-tete “Counseling” but above the season premiere “Nepotism.” It exhibited many of the symptoms that have plagued the show in recent seasons, but also demonstrated some encouraging signs, some beats that harken back to the show’s roots. Uneven, sure, but with a strong finish. And as some porn star was probably once told, it’s better to finish strong than start strong.
But let us start where we normally start, and that’s with Michael Scott. This episode walked a fine line, with Michael nearly crossing over to the hateful, selfish side that can sink an episode, as he learned that the reason he had not yet heard back about his Sweeney Todd audition was that he was not cast (likely as a result of performing an entire episode of Law & Order), and not because, as he had thought, that the cast list just hadn’t gone up yet. His vindictiveness and jealousy could have let loose Monster Mike, but instead it led to two sweet moments. First, despite the pain of rejection, he relents and agrees to attend Andy’s final performance in the local Scranton production of Todd. Second, with Andy dismayed that his plan to woo back Erin from Gabe didn’t come to fruition, Michael again put aside his own frustrations and sadness to cheer Andy up, stating with certainty that his portrayal was “exactly awesome.” That’s the Michael Scott that has been the rudder of this show, and it was a classic Michael moment. Classic Michael as in the Michael that somehow manages to overcome his vain narcissism and chronic bad misjudgment to come through for one his staff, not the Michael who absurdly drives his car into a lake by blindly following his GPS. His blunt honesty, for a change, served him well.Vodpod videos no longer available.
While this was a solid episode for Michael Scott (whom it appears will soon be visited by one or more of his former lovers), not so much for the couples. The show seems to have recognized that it needs some kind of romantic pursuit to replace that of Pam and Jim, now that they’ve eased into married and baby life. Andy and Erin stand out as the best candidates to step up, as they have a cute rapport, as well as having been faced with a series of obstacles and misunderstandings that is the prerequisite for any good sitcom romantic entanglement. Plus, they’re not just a carbon copy of Pam and Jim; they’re a little odder, a little more twisted, so it’s doesn’t feel too repetitive. However, we wonder if they’re perhaps a bit too different, a bit too far out there, a bit too cartoony. Andy himself is a dandy eccentric, prone to accents and show tunes, and Erin, well, Erin is just a dolt. And their peculiar personalities make them a good match for each other, but they makes it more difficult for the viewer to completely emotionally invest. This wasn’t such an issue last season, but they’ve continued to make Erin dumber and dumber, to the point where you start to root against them so they don’t procreate. At the very least it seems that Andy could do better.
[Sidebar: Speaking of Andy, It’s always great to see (and hear) Ed Helms sing. But, at the same time, when Andy Bernard belts out a tune it does often feel more like it’s Ed Helms we’re seeing and not Andy, and at many points in the cold opening and later during the actual performance of the musical we had that sentiment. It’s a nitpick, but it’s worth noting. Also, if he is so talented, as the show suggests, is Dunder Mifflin really the place for him? There’s always been a sort of inherent paradox with Andy (at least since he came over from Stamford): he’s a Cornell grad, skilled with a banjo and a man of the theater, but he’s also a #2 or #3 salesman at a struggling mid-level regional paper company, as well as something of a bumbling, naive fool. It’s a weird dichotomy, and one reason that his character has never totally worked, despite the actor’s immense charm)
The Dwight-Angela sex contract isn’t totally working for us either. It’s not that we don’t want to see them together, we do. Whereas Andy and Erin are weird in a way that makes us less interested in them, Dwight and Angela are oddballs that do belong together. And even though there’s a history of them meeting illicitly in the office and warehouse, it’s difficult to buy that Angela’s character would be so accepting of public fornication, let alone encouraging of it. We talked last week about how many of the character’s looks have changed, but perhaps no character’s personality has changed with their appearance as much as Angela’s. She’s gone from a prissy, bitchy, uptight christian woman to a sex-crazed harlot, letting her hair down and wearing clothes that her former self would have no doubt found inappropriate and slutty. Again, let’s be clear, characters should change. It should just feel organic. For Angela, it mostly feels like a complete about-face.
And we’ll wrap up the triple date with Pam and Jim, reunited after last week. We noted that we enjoyed their separation in “Counseling,” as Jim went off to reinvent Dwight, and Pam conned Gabe into making an imaginary position real, and after seeing the two back together this week, we feel even stronger about those feelings. When they’re aligned in a plot they often become one entity, not Pam and Jam, but Pam and Jim, and doing so they lose their individual personalities and become something of the Greek chorus. We get enough of Jim being the straight man, mugging to the cameras; when it’s both of them it’s much less interesting. And while we’re happy they acknowledged baby Cece week, even integrated her into the plot (and gave her a cameo!), it was such a small part of the episode that it didn’t have enough weight.
But while the couple pairings were a bit of a disappointment, it was a joy seeing the greater Dunder Mifflin gang – Michael, Daryl, Phyllis, Stanley, Kelly, Ryan, Kevin, Meredith – coming out for a night of theater. We loved the moment of Michael’s purloined bottle of wine being passed around during the second act (although we were surprised that Meredith released it from her possession). We also appreciated their support and admiration for Andy after the show. Because, for this show, it’s really about the people of Dunder Mifflin, the office family. The individuals are what make the company, and the show, special. Michael himself, faced with a branch closure many seasons ago, said it best:Vodpod videos no longer available.
Amen to that brother. Amen.
[Oh, and we got it! During Fleet Week sailors couple up with random girls, and this week on The Office there was a lot of coupling. Nailed it!]