While this one was a vast improvement on the season premiere, it still felt too long and petered out by the end. As someone pointed out last week, I was wrong about "Casino Night" being an hour. It was actually the first of the show's 40 minute super-sized episodes, and while other super-sized "Office"s haven't always been that good, that may be a better length than an hour, allowing room for jokes like Young Creed's very long walk to his desk but not letting things drag on too long.
But enough about the length. I liked "Dunder Mifflin Infinity" much more than "Fun Run" for a few reasons.
First, turning Ryan into pure, concentrated evil was a brilliant move. It creates a new threat to Michael's job, which had been pretty secure since the merger, it creates a new dynamic in the creepy love/hate relationship between Ryan and Michael, and it's not at all out of character. There had been so many signs over the years that Ryan considered himself above not only Michael, but the entire office (the talking head where he noted that Jim eats a ham sandwich every day and therefore would never make any big changes in his life, to name just one). Seeing him return to Scranton with his $200 haircut, his stupid facial scruff and his omnipresent Blackberry made him an ideal candidate for a D-bag intervention from the "My Boys" crowd, and I loved that, in spite of his new power in the company, Michael (with help from Jan) and Kelly ("We have a date!") were both able to get over on him. In fact, by making Ryan such a jerk -- even though his ideas are sound, as evidenced by the one ex-client's reaction to the website plan -- it actually makes some of Michael's usual sabotage and incompetence seem almost heroic. Well, maybe not heroic, but I was genuinely hoping he'd win back just one client through his usual brilliant salesmanship, just to annoy Ryan further.
Second (and related to the first), while Michael was acting as ridiculous as he did last week, it was with understandable motivation. Michael believing in curses makes him into (more of) a cartoon; Michael desperately trying to assert his relevance in a digital age is just him being Michael.
Third, the handling of PB&J as a couple (the one part of "Fun Run" I liked unreservedly) continues to be excellent. Almost everyone got to present their own unique reaction to the news: Kevin's feelings of vindication, Angela calling Pam "the office mattress," Phyllis trying to protect her turf and, of course, poor Toby having his hopes and dreams crushed repeatedly by this news. And Jim and Pam's flirty banter proves that they can still be as funny as a couple as they were as best friends/pining soulmates.
That said, now that they're established and out of the closet, I want the show to move on a bit, to move the two of them out of these self-contained subplots about their new couplehood and start really involving them in the business of the office again. There was a little of that here with Ryan asking Pam to design a logo, but even that turned into a joke (albeit a funny one) about evil Ryan getting shot down by Pam and Jim enjoying a moment of redemption after having to hear Andy and Kevin go on about their man crushes on Ryan. I'm glad they're a couple now, and I don't want the writers to back away from that at all, but I'm ready for them to do other stuff.
Some other thoughts on "Dunder Mifflin Infinity":
- After spending so much time last week reminding viewers of the documentary conceit, this episode did some odd things with it. For the first time that I can remember, we saw security camera footage from inside the building (or Dwight and Angela's conversation by the elevator), and then the crew somehow filmed Dwight and Angela's break-up date. Admittedly, they were shooting through the windows, as is the show's style whenever the crew is capturing an intimate moment that the employees don't want anyone to see, but those are almost always in and around the office; why would secretive Angela and Dwight still be wearing their mic packs on a date? (Also, I thought at first that the presence of the cameraman in the back seat of Michael's sinking rental car had been ignored, but I went back and watched and there's a brief moment where Dwight looks right at the camera and screams "Swim for it!" Either way, that's one cool and collected cameraman, for staying in the car as long as he did.)
- I like how Kevin busts Andy for trying to get in on the "Fire Guy" inside joke with Ryan, and yet has no problem at all calling Jim "Tuna," even though he wasn't there for the one and only day in Jim's life where he got the tuna sandwich instead of the ham.
- Michael is now reduced to writing crib notes for "That's what she said" set-ups. Love it.
- Last week, Creed pretended to be 81 when he thought the fun run might have prize money. Now he's dumping copy toner in his hair, which was hilarious both on its own and as an excuse to bring back the Robert Loggia/Tom Hanks "Big" photo from the Foreman grill episode.
- Poor Toby. Not only are Jim and Pam attached at the hip, but he has to endure even more Kelly/Ryan bickering. (Mindy Kaling was brilliant throughout the episode with her craziness, just as Paul Lieberstein was with Toby's melancholy.)
- I really like the idea of Jan, intentionally or not, becoming Michael's ally against corporate, a kind of Scranton-based Lady Macbeth.
- "I would like to see a website deliver baskets of food to people." Time to venture outside Wikipedia and the dirty joke sites, Michael.
- I'm very annoyed that, after that hilarious fake Dunder Mifflin Infinity commercial, there wasn't an actual website up. (UPDATE: Never mind. Must've been typing it wrong. Click here.) And, sadly, DunderMifflin.com doesn't take you to that hilarious "Under construction" site Jim pointed to, but the podcast for some guy who wisely squatted on the domain name.