We very clearly remember the moment that we fell for The Office, the NBC stalwart that closes up shop at Dunder Mifflin tonight after nine mostly great seasons. It was the fall of 2005, when The Office was starting to find its legs after a rocky and uneven six episode first season, and we in our first autumn post-college, back at our parents’, and for the first time since we were four-years-old not attending school. We were at our best friend and future roommate’s house, hanging out, maybe barbecuing, maybe drinking a few beers, maybe watching the first season of Lost on DVD, which dominated much of our time (and thoughts) during that period. We knew about the The Office, another blatant attempt to import a UK hit stateside, but missed its brief run earlier that year, as was the case with the aforementioned Lost, as the only shows we watched religiously during our final year of college (and last few months before true adulthood) were The Simpsons and Survivor. We did, however, recall reading that it was an imperfect translation of the original, and the Steve Carell-led vehicle – who was then best known as the other Steve from The Daily Show – was not likely to resurrect NBC Thursday night Must See TV, let alone make it past Season 2. So with the middling reviews in mind, and the fact that we were unfamiliar with the original Ricky Gervais version, we didn’t go out of our way to watch the show. But that night changed everything.
Tag Archives: Steve Carell
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.
Remember in the cold winter days of December 2005 when “Lazy Sunday” premiered and basically made YouTube an inextricable part of our lives? That was a seminal, society altering, comedy-changing moment. Well, that’s not what people were looking for on our blog, they were searching using the term “michael scott dick in a box.” But, unfortunately, we don’t have that, a combination of Steve Carell’s Office character and the cultural successor to “Lazy Sunday” that became a phenomenon in its own right. But, what we do have is a combination of Michael Scott and “Lazy Sunday.” So, here we go, the ode of suburban Pennsylvania, “Lazy Scranton”:Vodpod videos no longer available.
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.
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
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?
[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.
We won’t say that The Office is entirely back on track, but this week was definitely a marked improvement over the season premiere. While we were at first disappointed to see that they were going to carry over the Michael spanking his nephew storyline – or as Michael refers to it, “corporate punishment” – because we rejected the ridiculous premise, this episode showed that perhaps in this instance there will actually be consequences to Michael’s actions.
(one quibble, however: the dictum that Michael would need to complete counseling with Toby came at the end of last week’s episode, in the final closing segment usually reserved for gags or non-essential content (or, on Community, raps), so the veracity of the punishment was in question. We’re happy that they followed through with this plotline, but it shouldn’t have been introduced so offhandedly. But we digress…)
The Michael-Toby dynamic has remained relatively stable over the course of the series, and by returning to and exploring this relationship “Counseling” was a success, allowing Toby to obtain a small victory over Michael by tricking him through children’s games into opening up emotionally, and by permitting Michael to continue his crusade against Toby, but not because he harbors a completely unjustified vendetta, but because, in a way, Toby is his arch-enemy, the Joker to his Batman. “Counseling” sets them up as worthy competitors, not just petty rivals. And while we hate to belabor the point that we’ve made on this blog over and over again that defensive, vulnerable Michael = good, and horrible, viscous Michael = bad, this episode certainly follows that pattern and supports that argument.
It seems like May sweeps was just yesterday, but here we are on the cusp of the return of Thursday night TV-pocolypse. Luckily for our DVR, Survivor was shifted back to Wednesday nights, and Parks and Recreation is (egregiously) on the shelf until mid-season (of course, while that might be good for our DVR, it’s terrible for our collective well-being). But we’re still left with what is now the NBC comedy old guard, The Office & 30 Rock, and the returning sensation, and probably the best of the bunch, Community. And later we have a little cable fun with It’s Always in Philadelphia and Delocated (if you’re eyeballs aren’t bleeding by then). But, for now, let’s quickly focus on the NBC line-up.
The big story on NBC Thursday nights, as we noted above, is not what’s on, but what’s not, that being Parks and Recreation, benched in favor of the already critically reviled Outsourced. Sure, NBC has the right to air whatever it wants, and if it thinks another show will be more successful, and has the potential to be an anchor the way that The Office is and shows like Friends, Seinfeld, Frasier and Cheers were, then we can’t begrudge them that. But Outsourced hasn’t even aired yet and it seems the verdict is already in: it’s a waste of valuable space. One has to wonder if NBC, who proved with the Jay Leno Show that they’re willing to sacrifice quality programming for profit, chose to promote Outsourced because it’s an in-house production, even knowing its an inferior program. Because even if it pulls in rating as low as Parks and Rec, maybe even lower, NBC will still grab a bigger slice of the pie. That’s just conjecture at this point, but there’s certainly a precedent for it, and we know that TV, network television in particular, is a business above all. Let’s just hope that Outsourced is so terrible that it’s yanked sooner than planned and Parks and Recreation can reclaim its rightful place (especially since they rushed the show back into production for its third season to accommodate Amy Poehler’s pregnancy).
Like many of you, I was both skeptical and curious when Parks and Recreation premiered last spring. From the minds behind The Office, and at one time referred to as the Office spin-off, the pressure was immense, as would be the scrutiny. Could producers Greg Daniels and Michael Shur strike gold twice? Could they take the same faux-documentary format, change the setting to local government instead of a paper factory, insert Amy Poehler for Steve Carell and have the same success? Even if it was funny, would it still just be an Office knock off?
I watched the first episode (well, to be totally honest, half-watched on Hulu while folding laundry) and found that it was only sorta funny and announced many comparisons to its predecessor, match-ups that it surely lost. So it was a good effort, not great, but I knew that as long as it would be seen as the step-sister to The Office it wouldn’t fare favorably.
After the premiere I became preoccupied with preparing for my move out west, and didn’t catch the subsequent episodes. When I arrived in LA I found that my new roommate had recorded the finale for me, thinking that I would want to see it (what a sweetheart). Well, I didn’t want to watch it without seeing the previous episodes, so I let it languish on the DVR, hoping/expecting that NBC would rerun episodes 2-5 during the dog days of summer. And one day I turned on the TV and there it was, episode 2, “Canvassing.” And a funny thing happened. It was funny. Not just amusing like the pilot, but actually funny.
Viewings of the following episodes confirmed this feeling, the show continued to improve and my affection towards it grew. It found a better rhythm; the whole cast was more involved; Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope began to feel like a real character with Michael Scott potential; Aziz Ansari was consistently hilarious as the cunning Tom Haverford; and Paul Schneider brought the charm he flashed in David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls, but now as a fully grown man, the sanity inside Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department.
And I thought to myself if only it wasn’t compared to The Office then people would see that it’s actually worth watching.
But then I changed my mind. I belive that Parks and Rec actually might fare better when viewed through the prism of The Office.
When we think of The Office now usually forget that it struggled through six middling episodes as a mid-season replacement in the Spring of 2005, and it wasn’t until midway through the second season when it really found its stride and started hooking viewers. So with that in mind, isn’t it only fair to give Parks and Recreation the benefit of the doubt? It has a brilliant actor playing well meaning but flawed leader, surrounded by a talented cast. And like The Office, it has a romance. The inter-office sparks between Poehler’s Knope and Schneider’s Mark Brendanawicz might not have the same weight or emotion of Pam and Jim, but it has its unique charms, and should ground the show as it progresses in season two.
However, there are some things the show needs to do to keep it on an upward trajectory, and to eventually escape from the shadow of Dunder-Mifflin:
1. Like Michael Scott, in the end Leslie Knope needs to maintain believability. She can say and do dumb things, but ultimately there has to be a reason for her to be in the position she’s in, and we have to be able to get behind her. Michael Scott is an oblivious, tasteless buffoon, but he’s proven time and again to actually be an effective salesman, and this allows us to accept his flaws. So every once in a while Leslie needs to win one.
2. Continue to develop the supporting cast. In The Office‘s second season the scope expanded past Michael, Dwight, Jim and Pam to include the colorful characters around the company. In its brief run Parks and Recreation has already began to do this, but they need to stay on the path.
3. Perhaps most importantly, figure out what to do with Rashida Jones. Jones is a beautiful actress and a wonderful comedian (and daughter to Quincy Jones. Just needed to say it.), and as The Office‘s Karen Filippelli she proved that she can create a compelling, rich character (she somehow managed to take a person whom we should have hated, Pam’s replacement, and made her likable. No easy feat). But so far on Parks and Rec, as nurse Ann Perkins, I feel like she’s been somewhat wasted as Knope’s sidekick and straight man, as well as stuck in a hard to swallow relationship with her crippled, lay-about boyfriend (Chris Pratt). In last season’s finale it seemed like Ann would be making some changes, and for the show’s sake I hope this means that Jones will be given better material with which to demonstrate her considerable talents in the upcoming season.
Parks and Recreation isn’t The Office yet, not by a long shot. But it shows promise. And I think it deserves a chance, just like the one we gave its forefather. And then, who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll be talking about a Parks and Recreation spin-off (later changed to a faux-documentary set in a Teacher’s Lounge).
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And check out TV Gal’s similar take on the show (just below her Bones preview).
Oh, and Parks and Recreation returns tonight at 8:30pm, just after the season premiere of Weekend Update Thursdays (featuring the (temporary) return of, yes, Amy Poehler).