In last night’s The Office episode, “Viewing Party” Michael comes to view Gabe’s presence as a direct threat to his power, and subsequently sabotages said viewing party of Glee. But wasn’t Michael Scott all in a dramatic tizzy a couple weeks back because he felt that Darryl was challenging his authority? That just happened, right? And he had the same reaction to Charles Miner (the indomitable Idris Elba) a couple of seasons ago, didn’t he? And last year he grew petulant because co-manager Jim gave Phyllis permission to dress as Santa for the Christmas party, in turn sending Michael on a holiday cheer sullying temper tantrum. Which is to say, we’ve seen it before, and, we think, we’ve seen enough.
The announcement of Steve Carell’s upcoming departure was bittersweet. The bitter was that Steve Carell is a monumentally talented comedian who proved to be the comedic heart of the show, and the touch of vulnerability and humanity that he imbued in Michael Scott is probably the reason that the program was able to distance itself from its UK forefather and encounter success on US shores. Ricky Gervais’ David Brent, the model for Michael Scott, was an irredeemable, obnoxious wanker, but that was suitable, tolerable for that show’s limited run. However, in the American network television system of 22 episode seasons, 7 season series runs, that kind of character wouldn’t hold up, he’d ultimately become too sick and deranged to watch, let alone root for. So for Michael Scott, it has been a tightrope walk, one which Carell has navigated magnificently for the most part. BUT, getting back to where we were headed at the beginning of this paragraph, the news of Carell’s exit was also sweet, because, despite his masterful work, the character of Michael Scott may have reached the end of his rope, and his absence might now actually benefit the show. And judging from the last couple episodes, his goodbye can’t come soon enough.
Which isn’t to say Michael should never feel insecure and petty, but that it’s just very well-worn territory at this point (as is talking about this subject on this blog). Feeling threatened by Gabe, degrading his appearance, and cutting the cable feed so everyone suffers, this was typical predictable, selfish, vindictive Michael Scott behavior that dragged the episode down. In fact, aside from the Michael story, it wasn’t a bad episode, offering some all-time great ensemble moments, from Kelly explaining Glee to Phyllis, to Darryl delivering a pep-talk to Andy, to Oscar pausing Glee to point out that one of the actresses had been on Friday Night Lights, to Kevin wanting to eat pigs in a blanket while in a blanket. We could have watched 22 minutes of simply the Dunder Mifflin staff sitting on couches watching TV, arguing over the remote and best recording practices (in fact, that might be a great bottle episode). At this point, with Mindy Kaling having also indicated her intention to leave the show at season’s end, we might miss Kelly more than Michael.
But, again, it was the core stories that failed. Outside of Michael’s meltdown, we had another Pam and Jim and baby story, which felt more like work than play. We argued on this blog earlier in the season that The Office has to stay true to lives of these characters and thus they need to integrate Pam and Jim’s life as parents into the storylines. And in the last two weeks they’ve done just that; but they’ve done so in such a generic way – Jim loses baby CeCe last week, Pam can’t get her to fall asleep this week – that it feels very rote and superficial. It’s not Pam and Jim in these scenarios, it’s a couple of stock parent characters. Keep the kid in the picture, but find deeper, more original stories. We should note though, that despite the subpar baby storyline, John Krasinksi was just as irrepressibly charming as ever, even when he was feeding Dwight pepperoni pizza, and especially when he nearly ruined the viewing party by checking out sports scores during a Glee commercial break, unaware that the group was not watching the show in real-time and that Erin neglected to record the show as a precaution. That kind of DVR panic is something we’re all too familiar with (see: Our TiVo’d Lost season 2 finale abruptly switching to Criminal Minds about 3/4 through the episode. One of the absolute worst moments of our life).
The third prong of the usual Office attack, Andy’s pursuit of Erin, left us somewhat cold as well. We love Andy (and Ed Helms) more every week, but we also grow more and more skeptical of this relationship. As he continually proves his merit (or endearingly embarrasses himself in the attempt, as he did last night when he vomited on Gabe’s bed after ingesting a powdered seahorse, a Japanese virility herb, in hopes of enchanting Erin), we begin to root against them increasingly. Erin seems like a lovely, sweet girl, but also the most vacant of the bunch. She’s become a cartoon character, and rather seems like a better match for the timid, awkward Gabe. Like we did with Jim, we want Andy to find love. But maybe with someone other than Erin (and other than Angela, another poor match). The show needs that romantic element, but it either needs to grant Erin more respect and common sense, or find Andy a new object of affection.
So, all in all, the Glee viewing party was much like an episode of Glee: some very good elements, some very poor ones, a muddled mix of humor and drama that never quite gels. Except “Viewing Party” didn’t have a big musical number at the end to redeem itself (Andy, where were you on that one?).
Best part:Vodpod videos no longer available.
(Also, The Office sure likes to advertise Macs, doesn’t it?)