This week we’re looking back on the just completed/completing seasons of NBC’s Thursday night comedies. Today we check in the senior member of the team, ‘The Office.’
For quite some time we were religious with our Office recaps, but then two things happened 1) we were working a paid job more than full-time and 2) the show became, well, inessential. We hoped to check-in during Steve Carell’s final season, but analyses was few and far between. But even though we weren’t providing regular reviews, the series was still required viewing. We might not follow-up the next morning with our thoughts, but we were still going out of our way to watch it Thursday night, as much out of habit as desire. But this season, with Carell’s Michael Scott off to Colorado, the show became the least appealing, least critical member of the lineup. Wait til Friday to watch Community? We’d rather not. Skip an episode of Parks and Rec? No way. But go a week without watching the latest The Office? Sure. View an episode of Robert California’s Dunder Mifflin out-of-order? Fine. We just didn’t care that much anymore.
But a funny thing happened at the end of The Office’s eighth season. We were actually invested. We almost felt things, things that just nearly came close to approximating the real emotions that the show’s best seasons elicited. For the first time all year, the series seemed to find its voice.
More: How Andy Bernard got his groove back…
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.
Continue: The eventual Michael Scott departure, more sweet than bitter? Plus, Kevin in a blanket and Kelly Kapoor nails it…
Well the good vibes had to end at some point, and after a string of strong and then stronger episodes, that run ended rather abruptly with last week’s episode, “Christening.” We actually don’t have too much to say about it, which is to expected since it aired a week ago, but also because it was a rather forgettable episode.
And it didn’t have to be, that’s what was so frustrating about it.
More: Michael and Andy drink the Kool-Aid, Jim and Pam drink NyQuil, and Toby gets hosed down with Holy Water
Halloween often brings out the best in Dunder Mifflin (and the “best” usually means the worst in the characters), and this year’s entry, “Costume Contest,” joined that distinguished class of strong Office holiday themed episodes. We’ll say that it wasn’t quite as good as last week’s outing, “The Sting,” but we’re also grading “Costume Contest” on the far end of a true bell curve. The holiday episodes immediately have an advantage, especially Halloween eps with their possibilities for outrageous costumes, so we have to give them something of a reverse benefit of the doubt. But, with that in mind, Halloween 2010 continued a bit of a return to form for The Office.
Really, in what has become something of a hallmark of the season, this was an ensemble effort (other great examples from season six are the staff venturing out for Andy’s play and the sex ed discussion moderated by Andy). The series really began to hit in season two when it moved beyond the UK Office paradigm of “obnoxious boss – good-natured salesman – weirdo salesman – shy receptionist” and began to more successfully integrate the rest of the Dunder Mifflin team (you saw this immediately in the season two premiere “The Dundies“), but this episode, with the clever conceit of a costume contest (for a Scranton coupon book), was truly a showcase for the whole cast. This might have led to a somewhat unfocused episode, as Alan Sepinwall argued, but we think it worked, and we’ll take a fun episode with the whole cast as the A story instead of a weak, grating episode that clearly focuses on a weak, grating Michael Scott.
Following a brief sidebar we discuss the rise of Darryl, the eventual showdown between Todd Packer and Danny Cordray, and we give our picks for best costume!
Finally. FINALLY. This was the kind of episode we’ve been waiting for all season, that we’ve been waiting for since last season, and maybe even before that. We’ve begun to feel like a broken record on this blog, constantly finding more negative than positive with The Office. But, for the first time in a while, we can honestly feel good about the show. Giddy even. And it’s a nice feeling.
Continue: Tim Olyphant kills! As does the whole episode. But what does the future hold for Andy Bernard???
We might never know from whom Michael contracted herpes, or if the unsightly sore on his face was in fact the nasty little disease (although, we can probably trust Meredith’s expert diagnosis). But what we can surmise is that the unflattering blemish is perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to Michael, because it has put him on a path towards genuine self-reflection and, we can only hope, reconciliation with true love Holly Flax. Who ever heard of an STD bringing two people closer together?
Read on: How Sex Ed is the answer to Casino Night. Plus: The return of the real Andy Bernard
In our thoughts on The Office last week we posited that the Andy Bernard we currently know and love, the “‘nard dog,” is drastically different from the Andy we first met when Jim transferred to Stamford. Then he was more of a pompous douche, and now he leans more towards well-meaning dork. Once he returned from his anger management training at the end of season 3 he was a understandably a changed man, but it’s sometimes hard to believe that the dandy, over-polite Andy Bernard we know now is the same person who put his fist through a wall in a fit of rage. However, in a deleted scene from last week’s “Double Date” Andy does acknowledge his past temper problems, which helps soothe our unease over the character’s evolution.
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We also spoke last week about the equally drastic shift in the character of Ryan, and indeed this is demonstrated by his new threads, as discussed in today’s Office recap.