Friday, October 12, 2007

The Office: You've gotta fight! For your right! To PARTYYYYY!!!!

Spoilers for "The Office" coming up just as soon as I do some online shopping...

Welcome to week three of analyzing this four-week experiment of making "The Office" an hour-long comedy. In week one, I wasn't crazy about the episode as a whole, but felt there was more good stuff in the first half than the second. Last week, I felt they made it about three-quarters of the way through the hour before going off the rails (or, rather, into the lake). As for last night, I thought the first half-hour was the funniest the show's been all year, while the second was mostly forgettable.

No matter how you do the math, I think it's obvious that "The Office" works much better as a half-hour (40 minutes would be ideal but would create a lot of annoying scheduling). Much as I like getting bonus moments from the supporting charactes like Stanley's chair dance to the Dunder Mifflin website music or Meredith asking Jim to sign her crotch, this show's stories are small-scale by design, and they don't seem to be stretching out well. When these episodes get split in two for syndication, it's going to seem even more troubling, because most of the good jokes and all of the real plot will be done by part one, and part two will play like some kind of weird extended outtake.

All that said, the first half hour of "Launch Party" was awfully good. It brought Jim and Pam back into the workplace dynamic like I had asked, with a hilarious prank on Dwight (and one that turned incredibly poignant in that way that "The Office" sometimes does when Pam took pity on Dwight). It featured a great Dwight story as he tried to prove his relevance to both Angela and the company. It put Angela at her absolute nastiest (and funniest) as she bulldozed through all of Phyllis' internet-suggested coping techniques. It had Ryan being even douchier than ever with that cliche-filled talking head (and I need to give credit to Throwing Things commenter Christy for her brilliant insight after the season premiere that Ryan has become all the leftover elements of David Brent that the American writers didn't put into Michael), Daryl showing Kelly that there was other romance to be found in this branch, a callback to the Staples episode that doubled as a "Glengarry Glen Ross" homage, the hysterical pre-credits scene about the bouncing DVD logo, and the aforementioned Stanley chair-dance and Meredith crotch-signing.

Really, the only pieces of part two that I'd need to preserve at all was the staff's indignation about Michael's Alfredo's Pizza Kitchen/Pizza By Alfredo confusion (Kevin on Pizza By Alfredo: "It's like eating a hot circle of garbage!") and the wonderful half-smiles displayed by Dwight and then Angela at various stages of Andy's pursuit of Angela. Michael kidnapping the delivery guy was yet another colossal overreaction by Michael to a slight from the first half of an episode (though it was slightly funnier here than last week because we got the staff's reactions to it, like Oscar and Kevin looking up the criminal statutes), and while the Jim and Pam rooftop scene was a sweet callback to a similar scene from season one, we've had enough PB&J schmoopiness already that it could have easily been cut.

So far, nearly all my problems with the season have been about the length, which is good, because it suggests that Daniels and company are still very good at what they originally set out to do, and are just struggling a bit with this expanded format. One-hour episodes can work on occasion, as with a high-stakes episode like last season's finale, but hopefully there will be some lessons learned and either NBC won't ask them to do it again, or Daniels will just insist on doing two separate episodes with unconnected storylines next time.

What did everybody else think?

43 comments:

memphish said...

The problem seems to be writing Michael for an entire hour. The kidnapping plot was strange and uncomfortable and not in a good way. I love the new romance potential sprouting all over the office, and if I were Angela, I'd definitely give Andy a shot after that performance. I'd love to see Kelly and Darryl too.

Anonymous said...

I think you're looking at this the wrong way. Of course the half hour version is better PER MINUTE, but isn't an hour Office better than a half hour of the Office plus a half hour of Not-The-Office?

Matt said...

I think I may have a problem. I completely agreed with Michael about the pizza thing and probably would have kept the kid at my office just like he did (although I would have called the manager first thing).

It's probably not good that I have the same logic as Michael Scott.

Also, my favorite moment was Michael asking Angela to bring in "something to write with and something to write on" and then handing her a list of things he wrote directly afterwards.

Bobman said...

Yeah, I'm not a huge fan of the hourlong format, but I just have to agree that it's worth it to have an hour of Office even if it's not all Office-at-its-best. During the first half I laughed out loud at least half a dozen times, which could be a record for a half hour TV show.

The Pale Writer said...

boy, alan - could not agree less. i thought the first episode was terrific; since, it's been very disappointing. it feels like the show is being dumbed down to either welcome or attract a larger audience. gone is the subtly and nuance that made the show so special. even the poignant dwight moment seemed... i don't know: less special; rushed and quickly brushed aside for more michael tomfoolerly.

maybe it IS a component of the bloated run time, but so far...

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think you're looking at this the wrong way. Of course the half hour version is better PER MINUTE, but isn't an hour Office better than a half hour of the Office plus a half hour of Not-The-Office?

Not necessarily. First, because the other half hour will be going to "Scrubs" in a few weeks (though, admittedly, "Scrubs" last year was about as disappointing as these second halves of "The Office" have been). Second, because I'm a perfectionist about the shows that are capable of perfection, and I'd rather get an unblemished half-hour "Office" thatn a one-hour version that has some funny stuff in both halves but leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth by the end.

One other point not made in the review, but brought up during a phone conversation with Rich Heldenfels: was Jim taking an entire pizza pie (and of the good stuff, though he arguably couldn't take the bad stuff that hadn't been paid for) for his rooftop date a dick move? Is being with Pam slowly turning Jim into just as big a d-bag as Ryan? I was willing to forgive his "So I guess he can't get every girl" line from last week, and maybe even him pranking Dwight when Dwight's in such obvious pain (albeit being a tool about it), but this stuff is starting to add up, isn't it?

BF said...

I couldn't agree more with Michael regarding the coupon. According to him (and the kid), the coupon did not have any fine print saying "Offer Good Once Per Customer Per Visit" or "Must Mention Coupon at time of order" or any of the other usual disclaimers. Up until the kidnapping, Michael was clearly in the right.

Though instead of holding the kid hostage, I would have just refused to pay. What are they gonna do: not let me order garbage pizza ever again?!?

Andrew said...

"Michael: Alright. OK, OK. What is better: a medium amount of good pizza or all you can eat of pretty good pizza?
Everyone: Medium amount of good pizza."

Substitute "The Office" for pizza. The hour-long episodes just aren't clicking for me. I'd rather watch an excellent half hour show than a half hour of good material spread across an hour show.

If Silverman wanted to do something interesting, he'd schedule The Office as a 40 minute show and launch a short 20 minute show (a more mainstream take on the 15-minute Adult Swim shows, but with two acts instead of one.)

christy said...

It was me, Christy! The Christy without a website. There are two Christys, and the other one has a website in her sig. And there's a Chrissy, too. And maybe some other Chris-names, over at Things Thrown. I can't keep it straight. So don't feel bad. Anyway, I'm psyched about the Sepinwall shout-out and the validation of my Michael+New Ryan=David theory.

This would be the perfect opportunity to pimp my blog, if I'd ever gotten around to making one. Oh well.

As for this episode, I enjoyed the first half quite a bit, but couldn't wait for the second half to end. (To be fair, I was sleepy and wanted to go to bed). I didn't understand why they didn't just let the kid take the pizza back, seeing as how they ended up buying the pizza they liked anyway. Maybe that's the joke, but it didn't seem that funny to me. Also, isn't there a phone in the conference room? I'd think the kid would call for help while he was in there alone and Dwight had his back to the door.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Substitute "The Office" for pizza. The hour-long episodes just aren't clicking for me. I'd rather watch an excellent half hour show than a half hour of good material spread across an hour show.

Thank you! You (and, inadvertently, the episode's writers) put that better than I did. I didn't get a lot of sleep last night, and even watched "Grey's Anatomy" at 4 a.m. (I have no idea whether it was good or bad or even if I was really watching it.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

It was me, Christy! The Christy without a website. There are two Christys, and the other one has a website in her sig. And there's a Chrissy, too.

Dammit, time to get my eyes checked (or for Adam or somebody to increase the font size on the HaloScan comments). Already fixed above.

I thought it was an interesting take at the time of the premiere, but watching Ryan toss out every management buzzword in the book while pretending he had a bigger office sealed the Brent comparison for me.

Robin said...

I hated the kidnap the pizza kid storyline...it seemed even more ridiculous than Michael driving into a lake last week. But Andy doing a barbershop quartet version of ABBA was worth every minute of the extra half hour, as was Angela's little smile as she walked away.

I don't see Jim as being more of a jerk than he has been from day 1. I've always seen the Dwight pranks as kind of cruel...hilarious, but cruel. I thought his line about Ryan last week was totally justified. And as far as the pizza thing...well, I wouldn't want to hang out with Michael as he goes insane either.

Yeah, these people are just way too real to me. :)

Alan Sepinwall said...

And as far as the pizza thing...well, I wouldn't want to hang out with Michael as he goes insane either.

Sure, but then you grab a few slices on a plate and head for the roof. You don't gank a whole pie. The look on Kevin and Oscar's faces suggested Jim had just committed a major party foul.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I didn't think the first half hour was any better than the second. In fact, I think these may have been two of the least funny Office episodes ever. I barely found myself laughing at all. And I actually thought the premiere was hysterical. Go figure.

Andrew said...

I actually considered the kidnapping thing to almost be a Larry David moment for Michael, because, initially at least, he was completely in the right. He should've gotten that discount, especially if he wasn't told about the policy over the phone. Plus, the kid was a dick. Like Larry often does on Curb, Michael let "being right" cause him to completely lose all control of common sense. That said, Larry would never kidnap someone.

BF said...

RE Jim & the misbegotten Pizza:

I count 13 people at the party (Michael, Jim, Pam, Dwight, Angela, Oscar, Kevin, Andy, Stanley, Phyllis, Creed, Kelly, Meredith) and 8 pizzas. Even if you assume a couple of unseen guests (Toby, Darryl, Bob Vance), there's plenty O' pizza to go around. Unless the one he took was the only Supreme or something, I don't see any major faux-paux.

Jake said...

I definitely agree about the length. An hour is just too long for a standard episode. And I disagree with anonymous (comment 2), because diluting the show's humor sucks. I'd rather watch a great 30 minutes and spend the other half hour commenting about it on the internet.

My favorite part of this episode was Andy's speakerphone-assisted serenade. It was the Office at its best: funny, character-based, awkward, and sad--all at once.

Tim said...

Did anyone like the weird Seinfeld commercial shorts? They were odd but the "Cans" one was really funny.

TL said...

I used to be in a film studies class where the prof would leave the DVD player on (one of the very first that was released in 1997). After 10 minutes, the screen saver would come, and the logo would bounce around the screen.

But it would NEVER hit directly in the corner! And it was completely CAPTIVATING! So I knew exactly what they DM-Scranton crew was going through.

Bruce Reid said...

I agree with Robin that we're not seeing Jim turn over a new leaf; from the beginning he's been a touch annoying in his clear feelings of superiority to not just Dwight and Michael, but all his coworkers. The writers and Karinski have generally done a nice job of balancing off his smugness with his inherent gregariousness and goodwill, but the pizza grab was over the line.

In fact, even the Wargames prank was troubling, since Jim dismissed both the quixotic, John-Henry appeal of Dwight's efforts and the very real pain that motivated it. Pam redeemed it at the end, but then she's always been kinder to Dwight, just as he's consistently been the one person in the office to admire her managerial skills.

Don't worry, I'm not shipping; I've just always enjoyed the complications in Dwight and Pam's interactions.

TL said...

BTW, was there a continuity lapse last night vs. Season 2? Last night, Jim recounted Pam showing him to his desk on his first day, but in "The Secret," I recall him telling Pam that he had a crush on her "when she first started at Dunder.

Anonymous said...

I have to totally agree with the hour long format being too long. The characters just don't have sustainability for an hour. The first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes have the best moments. The middle 30 minutes just don't have the juice to make it thru.
And Kevin's comment about the pizza even made my four year old neice laugh her head off!

Anonymous said...

And kudos to the research team at The Office - there really is an Alfredo's Pizza Cafe in Scranton:

http://www.alfredoscafe.com/

- SR

LA said...

I'll be glad when Scrubs returns to the air later this month. That said, I hope it's the Scrubs of earlier seasons and that the failure of last season is just an aberration.

theTVaddict said...

As per usual Alan, you're right on the money. These hour long episodes have to stop. It is possible to get too much of a good thing.

dez said...

Sure, but then you grab a few slices on a plate and head for the roof. You don't gank a whole pie. The look on Kevin and Oscar's faces suggested Jim had just committed a major party foul.

He did, but the last half-hour was dragging so badly by then that I didn't care. ITA with your assessment of the hour-long eps. And I agree this time that Michael went way over the line with the kidnapping, though I doubt the kid will do anything about it since he got a great tip and flipped Michael off at the end.

OTOH, Andy's serenade and Jim's prank on Dwight were frickin' hilarious. I wonder if Jim and Pam's first real fight will be over a prank Jim wants to pull on Dwight that Pam feels is just too cruel? Pam does redeem Jim's pranks frequently and he doesn't seem to mind, but I could see him getting squirrelly if she refused to go along with one and took Dwight's side. Plus, it would drive the rabid JAMmers completely over the edge (always a bonus to read those posts, too) :-D

Anonymous said...

1. The dvd box intro was hilarious.
2. "isn't an hour Office better than a half hour of the Office plus a half hour of Not-The-Office?" - ditto

Cat Pick said...

I had to stop the recording and watch the "Jim signs Meredith's crotch cast" scene a couple of times. I thought that was a hysterical, surreal moment. The kidnapped pizza kid bit just didn't work at all though.

Fatima said...

I really think the hour long episodes only feel too long because of Michael. He's gone way too overboard in the latest two episodes and he becomes way too grating. I wouldn't mind hour long episodes as much if they focused a little more on the smaller members of the workplace (More Kelly!)

And I kinda agree with some posters who think Jim is a little annoying. I thought he was a jerk all last year (especially to Karen. In fact he was so mean, they lazily changed her character into a controlling bitch to make it an easy out). I love that Pam sees good in Dwight. Because last night, I admired his intentions. Jim needs to step down a pedestal. Stanley dears with workplace resentment in a better way.

Jenn said...

And kudos to the research team at The Office - there really is an Alfredo's Pizza Cafe in Scranton
Yeah, that was the first thing I Googled last night. Wonder how much business they'll do at the OffficeCon in a few weeks. :)

Loved the first half, but could have left the second half, minus Take a Chance on Me. That was just classic Andy.

I do think that PB&J will have issues when one of Jim's pranks on Dwight goes too far. I'm glad Pam redeemed the prank last night - it was very much Pam. On the other hand, Jim would have used the situation to completely crush Dwight.

I didn't have an issue with Jim grabbing the pie, but I could see how it's a party foul.

I do think it was a continuity error about Pam showing Jim to his desk. I'd have to break out the DVDs, but I'm pretty sure their "first date" was when Pam started D-M, not vice versa.

max_headroom said...

In the second season episode "The Secret", I think there's a scene where Jim confesses to Pam that he had a crush on her when she first started at Dunder-Mifflin, which led me to believe that Jim was there before Pam. Not sure that I recall the scene correctly though.

Jenn, I think the scene you're referring to is a deleted scene in "The Client"; there's a Jim Talking-Head where he recounted his first "date" with Pam at Cugino's, after they've just met, and how they hit it off immediately, but then he found out she was engaged ("Best first date is also my worst first date"). Greg Daniels has mentioned that the deleted scenes are canon in the Office-universe, so I guess that counts too.

I, too, liked Pam's little moment of kindness to Dwight. I love how Pam has this unobtrusive way of helping her fellow office workers so that they don't feel beholden to her.

christy said...

Those haloscan comments are the tiniest! I'm always apple+ing those buggers.

Andrew said...

I can't believe I missed the connection between Ryan and David Brent. It seems like they gave Michael all of David's incompetence while giving Ryan all of David's assholeness.

To seal the comparison even further, look at the DVD cover for The Office-UK. Ryan's got the same arrogant posture, a very similar suit, and new facial hair. This can't all be a coincidence can it?

Kat said...

How much do I love Ed Helms? So much. This new Andy/Angela twist is inspired. I'm sort of loving that Dwight and Angela have become the Jim and Pam of season four.

I agree - I always thought the show was better as a half hour. I haven't really enjoyed any of the hour-long ones all the way through. 40 minutes would be the ideal - if only because of the brilliance of Casino Night - but I do just prefer a straight half hour of awesome rather than an hour of awesome and some other stuff.

That being said, I'm really enjoying season 4. The show has become funny again, and all it took was a resolution of Jim and Pam. I love what they're doing with them. Side note - Dwight's facial hair cracked me up all through the episode.

Anonymous said...

You guys are kidding me right?

I have been loving the hour long Office. I don't think it drags at all.

Yes Michael kidnapping the pizza boy, probably too far. But typical Michael Scott.

And Ryan, so awesome, the guy is heading for a big fall and it is going to be so great when it happens.

Pam and Jim back to pranks, such good times.

I'm thinking the half hour eps are going to feel way too short.

Anonymous said...

I think that an hour of mediocre Office is still better then 97% of everything else on TV. I don't watch that much television - Project Runway, The Office, Lost, and Supernatural are the only shows that I have to keep up with. I don't want to be invested in another show - I don't have the time. I used to watch Veronica Mars, and that went downhill and got canceled. So I, and many of my other busy friends, are perfectly okay with longer Offices. It's still funny. It's still The Office.

LM said...

is it me, or was Andy singing ABBA to Angela one of the top moments in Office history? I thought he couldn't top The Rainbow Connection in pig latin, but I was wrong.

GMNJ said...

The writers seem to be playing "How do we top this?" each week with Michael running over Meredith, driving the car in the lake, and kidnapping the pizza boy. Each stunt is less plausible than the previous one, even for Michael. IMO Michael is becoming more of a comedic device this season and less of a person capable of surprising moments of tenderness, such as when he supported Pam at her art show.

It's still early in the season, so I'm not really concerned, but a problem I had with the first season was that Michael Scott was the one character I liked least because he seemed so one-dimensional compared to everybody else. I'd hate to see him revert to that this season. Having said that, I loved his different "short" nicknames for Angela ("Booster seat").

Anonymous said...

I just watched this ep again and I get the kidnapping the pizza kid. He's misplacing his anger and jealousy at Ryan having gotten the promotion to NYC. that whole part where he and Dwight are "interrogating" him at the beginning shows completely how angry he is about it. Really, it started when he and Jim were at the rest stop making the call to Ryan. I think that once Michael realized how far he'd let these feelings for Ryan take him is when he went back to himself, e.g. at the end with Dwight on the hood of the car.

Thomas said...

The thing that bugged me about the whole pizza thing was that it was already well established that no-one wanted the pizza. He had a great way of getting out of paying for any of it yet for the sake of the story he insisted on keeping it and paying what he thought he was supposed to pay - and then ultimately paying full price.

Any normal, cheap, person would have let the pizza boy take them back and then reorder from the place people actually like.

Lorik said...

I agree that Michael has seemed over the top this season, but I think it's due to his personal relationship. Michael is stuffing his true feelings about Jan down deep and completely overreacting to things that happen in the office because he's stressed out.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand your problem with Jim taking one pizza up on the roof. I thought the looks from Kevin and Oscar were about "where are you going?" not "why are you taking a pizza away?" There was plenty of pizza to go around.

What was Jim supposed to do, balance two paper plates filled with pizza, plus maybe a drink or two, and then somehow -- with his third hand I guess? -- open the door to the stairs up to the roof? That was the only practical way to get some pizza up on the roof.

I can understand why some people find Jim's pranks on Dwigt mean (I don't, Dwigt gives as good as he gets), but I can't understand finding fault with him becaues he wants to eat on the roof with Pam away from Michael's insane kidnaping scheme.

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