Yesterday we gave our brief thoughts on the then impending return of the NBC Thursday night comedies, reflecting on the last season while looking forward to the next. And on the morning after, how do we feel? Impressed, pleased and disappointed, in that order. With the night going from Community to 30 Rock to The Office, we found that the first continues to improve, the second is showing encouraging signs of life, and the third is still struggling to return to its glory days. Taken has a whole, it was a good night, and two out of three ain’t bad. But really, we don’t want “ain’t bad.” We want great, we want three out of three. And, unfortunately, that just didn’t happen.
Tag Archives: Jim
NBC Thursday Night: Respect Your Friends, Respect your Coworkers, Respect Your Lovers, Respect Your Characters, Respect Your Viewers
Back in October The Office invited us to Pam and Jim’s wedding, an hour-long special event that had been hyped on NBC and in our hearts, and against unlikely odds that episode actually mostly succeeded. It wasn’t a runaway success, but considering the expectations and the level of difficulty, it was generally a victory. That episode was really the first part of a Pam/Jim seminal event season, with the bookend to their wedding being the birth of their first child. However, since the wedding The Office has kind of skid off the tracks. So then with last night’s episode, another hour-long affair, I was hoping that this would be the moment that they right the ship.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. And whereas the wedding was a modest achievement, this felt like an unsettling disappointment. What should have been a special, moving episode, and a return to form, turned out to be a case study of the show’s recent flaws. Everything that has been frustrating as of late was front and center in “The Delivery.”
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.Vodpod videos no longer available.
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.
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.
Piggy backing on my earlier Office commentary, Allan Sepinwall of the Newark Star-Ledger penned a great article explaining why the Jim/Pam romance is so refreshing, and reverses the unfortunate “will they-won’t they” sitcom trope beget by Moonlighting. As he points out, there’s nothing wrong with resolving sexual tension.
(although did we really need to take a shot at Ed? I think never finding an audience was punishment enough)
I’ll admit, I didn’t love this episode, and I’m a little surprised that initial reaction is exceedingly positive. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and obviously shed a tear during the closing, aww inspiring moments. However, historically reception of The Office’s one hour episodes has been spotty, and the build-up to this episode felt like just one rung below a series finale so expectations were high. It’s always difficult to succeed when presenting “a very special episode” (an episode with actual life changing moments, not an episode when Jessie develops an addiction to caffeine pills), either you give the audience exactly what they want or you try to do something a little more challenging, a little more self-gratifying to the creative team (see: Seinfeld “Finale”) and then face some negative reaction. So while I wasn’t astounded by this episode, I was far from disappointed, and I think it absolutely succeeded in combing both those concepts, providing humor and drama for the audience, but also stamping it with the unique Office sensibility. Press regarding the episode noted how emotional it was for the cast and crew after so many years of being a family, and it truly came through that these people (both the actors and the characters) enjoy working together, so it’s probably debatable who enjoyed the episode more, the audience or the cast.
First, what I didn’t like: Pam causing a vomit chain around the office after Dwight refused to stop peeling his hard boiled egg (over at EW’s PopWatch they called this the “Office: Exorcist Edition,” but it reminded me of that childhood disturbing pie-eating contest in Stand By Me). This was probably my least favorite cold open in a long time (maybe since the “fire drill” Dwight started in the opener of last season’s Superbowl follower, “Stress Relief,” which makes sense because that also crossed the line of absurdity for me, although I do recall laughing hysterically). Sure, projectile vomit is always funny (unless you don’t think it is, and I’m on the fence), but it felt a little cheap, and I expected something more creative to kick off this episode (but considering the over the top open from “Stress Relief,” it seems that they’ve decided to go extra broad during these very special episodes, perhaps to appeal to the assumed larger audience).
I also felt that Michael Scott veered a little too far into imbecility; it’s always a fine line for him, but (as I’ve argued before) what makes this character ultimately (sorta) believable, or at least tolerable, is that he occasionally shows some humanity (see: last week’s gift to Jim) or even better some degree of common sense. I actually expected and sort of hoped that Michael would step in and maybe save the day after Jim derailed the Rehearsal Dinner (I guess shame on me for having that inclination; I probably should have known better). But as Michael went on extolling the virtues of unprotected sex, it was clear this was one train he was not getting back on the track. Even when he went upstairs to visit the offended Mema in her hotel room, he continued to dig the hole a little deeper, but then again, that’s Michael Scott (see: “Gossip.”) However, we did see Mema at the wedding the next day so I guess Michael came through after all (maybe he explained that Bruno is satire. I’m sure she can appreciate that).
I even initially found the YouTube wedding video reenactment a little too silly (I’m a tough crowd, but only because I expect a great deal from this show), but then I realized how much it made sense, these people really are a family. Because you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. And most likely Pam and Jim wouldn’t pick these people to be their friends (well, maybe Toby. He seems like an all around nice guy. And maybe Oscar. Anyone from the Finer Things Club). And the dance number was the perfect juxtaposition to what was the best part of the show…
…that obviously being Pam and Jim’s covert nuptials on the Maid of the Mist. The inanity of the dancing was all worth it for this wonderful moment, and sure, yes, it was schmaltzy, and arguably too cute, but c’mon, have a heart. What this show has been able to do with these characters of the course of six seasons is rather remarkable and unique in the history of television couples. They have truly honored the relationship, and in effect the viewers as well. While the show was smart by letting the Pam-Jim romance take a back seat over the last few seasons, it still remains as the core of the show, what keeps it grounded. And this is never more evident than inter-cutting Oscar and Kevin vogueing down the wedding aisle with a passionate, long awaited kiss in the shadow of Niagra Falls. When the show finally put these two characters together (Pam and Jim, not Oscar and Kevin, although I guess this was hinted at last night) at the end of season three, there was a bit of a “where do they go from here?” feeling to do it. But what has made The Office special, beyond the incredible writing and acting, is that they’re never afraid to take a chance and break a mold, willing to veer from convention if that’s what respects the characters.
The closing shot, Pam resting her head on Jim’s shoulder while all we hear is the sound of the falls parallels two very early moments from “Jam” history, providing a nice bookend for the story of their love. First, the tableau, Pam leaning on Jim, echoes season one’s “Diversity Day,” in which Pam falls asleep on Jim’s shoulder after a long day in the conference room.
And second, the closing shot references probably my single favorite moment in the history of the show, Pam and Jim’s silent exchange on the deck of the Princess, during the second season episode “Booze Cruise.” This was 27 seconds of agonizing, uncomfortably real quiet, and it was then that this show reached a new level and became something brilliant.
(Unfortunately the silence is ruined by a Snow Patrol song in this video. No offense to Snow Patrol).
But at the end of what feels like an eternity of knowing, longing looks Pam walks away, leaving Jim all alone on the boat. Still waiting for his moment.
But with our closing shot last night, the hero finally gets the girl. [tear]
In case you missed it, “Niagra” Parts 1 and 2 (but, of course, had you missed the show I’ve just completely ruined. So in case you want to watch again):
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Vodpod videos no longer available.