Friday, November 02, 2007

The Office: But the Finer Things Club? Well, I like the Finer Things Club.

Now that's what I'm talking about. Spoilers for the best "The Office" of the season coming up just as soon as I get my fake mustache waxed...

A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants. "Branch Wars" had a little bit of everything that makes "The Office" great, from the broad but in-character antics of Michael and Dwight ("The eyes are the groin of the head!"), to the pathos of Karen realizing that Jim's presence in Utica has nothing to do with her, to the wistful, dryly funny Finer Things Club subplot.

Even without Oscar hilariously declaring, "Besides having sex with men, I would say the Finer Things Club is the gayest thing about me" -- or, for that matter, Michael's reaction to seeing Toby with a bowtie holding a tea set -- I was going to love that subplot, because it felt so quintessentially "Office." It was a dead-on depiction of people trying to better their lot in this world in some small way with the resources available to them, and the world -- in this case personified by Andy, Kevin, Phyllis and even Jim -- doing their best to spoil things. I loved Andy looking at the Club like one more thing to join back at Cornell ("Kevin's band is my safety"), that Phyllis didn't want to make her popcorn in the kitchen microwave because that one smelled too much of popcorn, and that there are certain things about BMOC Jim that bother not only people like Oscar, but even Pam herself. Just a perfect small-scale B-story, and one that made the wacky hijinks of the A-story palatable. In the world of "The Office," you can have Frank McCourt jokes and Dwight peeing in a soda can, and it's all good.

It occurs to me, by the way, that the roster for the Utica road trip -- six hours round trip, by the way -- was identical to the one that drove a concussed Dwight to the hospital after Michael cooked his foot. Dwight + Jim + Michael + moving vehicle = gold, apparently. Also, I was too busy laughing during much of Michael's panicked walkie-talkie communication to Jim as Karen showed up, but I definitely caught him ordering Jim to host the Dundies without him and to "climb on top of (Karen) and think about Stanley."

I'm glad that the show isn't quite done with Karen just yet. The PB&J development necessitated her exit from Scranton, but Rashida Jones brought a lot to the table comedically, and it makes sense that she might be able to swing a branch manager job after impressing David Wallace so much in her interview in the season three finale. (If only she'd dazzled him with talk of websites and Power Point, maybe she could be the d-bag in Jan's old office.) I don't wish failure on people, but assuming her lousy Fox midseason sitcom fails (and that's assuming it even airs, strike or no strike), I hope she can come back from time to time as a thorn in both Michael and Jim's side.

If I had any real problem with the episode, it was that the payoff to the possibility of Stanley's transfer was underwhelming. I assumed he wasn't going anywhere, because Leslie David Baker has established himself as the show's go-to supporting player -- you can get a funny Stanley reaction to any situation -- but I was hoping for something more inspired than Stanley not wanting to go in the first place.

A really funny episode, and no pacing problems of any kind.

What did everybody else think?

42 comments:

max_headroom said...

I really loved the episode too! The walkie-talkie conversation was comedic gold, and was that an awkward moment for Jim when he was alone with Karen in her office (yikes!). Loved the little moment when Pam sweetly tried to pick Jim up by inviting him to join the FTC, only for Jim to prove Oscar's fears right. Pam's silent "sorry" to Oscar at the end was perfect!

Alan, do you think Jim might start to second-guess his decision to pull out of the job interview? I mean, Ryan's now at corporate, and Karen's a regional manager, while Jim's pretty much stuck where he has been all along. I cheered as much as anyone when he came back to Pam, but it's not out of the question that Jim must have some doubts now?

Tim said...

To me it totally fit that Stanley didn't want to go in the first place. Everyone in that office gets away with SO much that no other boss would put up with. Stanley loves that he doesn't have to worry about Michael being a Big Boss Man, who would give that up? It's like having the Junior High Science teacher who shows movies all day and gives out take home tests. Sure money is a motivation but skating by is pretty great too. Stanley probably retired in his mind before the show even started. He could probably make a name for himself somewhere else but he's old and he's done with all the BS!

Number Five said...

To me, it was actually the weakest episode of the season (although I really enjoyed the hourlongs, just throwing that out there), and it came from the A plot. Michael, Dwight, and Jim dressing up in warehouse uniforms with Conan-esque fake mustaches is a hilarious sight gag, but it made no sense even within the Office world and felt forced (not to mention that of all the things Michael has done, that has to be something that really could get him fired). I liked the other bits with Stanley, the wanted ad, the attempt to steal Karen's salesman, but I agree that there was very little payoff for Stanley's role at the end.

I loved the Finer Things Club, though, for exactly the reasons you mentioned, Alan. I also think it exposed Pam (and Toby and Oscar) in a way the Second City avatar did with Jim last week. The juxtaposition between the conversation they were trying to have and Kevin shaking the machine or Jim not getting it was surprisingly sad.

I'm also glad they brought Karen back and forced Jim to confront what he had done at the end of last season (at which he abjectly failed). While Karen was pretty abrasive, they did a good job of showing her side of the story. And in just one episode they used Rashida Jones better than they did in pretty much every post-Stamford episode from season 3.

While this episode was somewhat disappointing, I still love the overall approach to the season. They're moving the story forward and keeping it interesting, and the ability to offer insight into the characters and their world while making me laugh constantly is just as strong as ever.

nfieldr said...

Alan, thanks for the round trip time from Scranton to Utica. I was on my way to Google maps to check it out right after I caught up on your blog. :-)

Bruce Reid said...

I agree with Number Five, the A plot actually seemed a letdown this week. Michael's behavior in the hourlongs went way too over-the-top to be funny, but in each case the character underpinnings were sound. I just didn't get what was driving him in this one, to be honest. Yeah, he hates to have his "family" torn asunder, but nudging up to Dwight's destructive tendencies just played weird.

As did Dwight's eyeball fixation, though his talking head "eyes are the crotch of the head" saved that with a big laugh.

Finer Things Club was perfect, and it's great to get further confirmation that the writers aren't as blindly enamored of Jim's persona as some of the online fans are.

I'll grant we needed a break from Angela after her recent heavy use, but how could we not have gotten a snooty stare and snotty one-liver from her about the Club's place settings?

Bruce Reid said...

Or a "snotty one-liner," even.

BigTed said...

I'm afraid I have to agree with those who said that the prank plot was too over-the-top to be funny. Usually I laugh at Michael's antics and think "that's insane" -- this time I was thinking, "no, that's actually insane.

What if Dwight really had harmed a security guard, even accidentally? How much will the giant copier they apparently broke cost to repair? Even if they had just gone into the office and sprayed Silly String on people, wouldn't that be a firing offense in most companies?

It also seemed weird that Jim didn't try that hard to stop them. Were we supposed to believe that he was partly happy this all was going on, because he loves pranks too much (as Karen accused him of doing)?

This show has to have some kind of grounding in business realism or it doesn't work. And that's too bad, because the rest of the episode was spot-on.

Elisabeth said...

I really didn't like Dwight this week. How did he go from moping over Angela to paper company terrorist?

I love Andy more and more every episode.

Kenrick said...

I have to agree with the guys above me. I didn't think episode was particularly strong. The prank seemed too silly or random given the motivation, and Dwight was overly serious in trying to harm someone, but yes I did think his "eyes" quote was funny. And I liked how Jim was reacting to the cameraman being visible from Karen's POV.

I think it was necessary for Jim to talk to Karen, but the funny/awkward ratio was too low.

I liked the FTC, and especially how Andy tried to join in, but was the FTC just during lunch hour or what? Kevin and Phyllis were amusing, but they were obvious gags.

In the end, I just didn't find this episode to be that funny, amusing yes, but the LOL moments were very few. It actually felt kinda long. But I also really liked last week's a lot, so I guess we have different tastes regarding the same show. Last week's was a little disjointed, but everything about it was so funny that I actually wished that it were longer... it left me wanting more, whereas this one... didn't.

Trip said...

Yay for Joss Whedon directed episodes of The Office! I thought that it was the funniest of the season although the roadtrip to Utica was a little too zany for my tastes.

Brandon said...

Like most, I loved the Finer Things Club (and everything about the B-plot) and most of the A-plot. John Krasinski got to show a different side of Jim than we're used to.

And I'm glad Stanley didn't leave. He's like an old, wise Uncle Remus.

The Pale Writer said...

i love michael "firing" the top salesman from uthica. and the want ad -- middle age black man with sass -- nearly killed me, and when it didn't, i was sure michael's plantive plea for jim to host the dundies would. and let not forget dwight's unfortunate cut while using the can.

after not enjoying a single episode so far this year, last night was a giant relief and a very funny episode.

bill said...

For more eyeball fixation humor, there's always "The New Technique Psychiatric Society" by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner in "2000 Year Old Man."

I can't tell how much of the sketch is there, but you can try streaming it on Amazon.

artemisia said...

I enjoyed the episode far more than the first few this year - I can't believe how good it was to see Rashida Jones. Karen's abruptness with Michael was a breath of fresh air after watching the stupid alternative reality of everyone else puting up with (Ryan) or shrugging at (Jim) or actively abetting (Pam) Michael's fireable offenses.

Whoever said upthread that there has to be some grounding in business reality for the show to work was spot on. The fact that there will be no consequences for Dwight and Michael breaking a copier, just as there were no consequences for holding the pizza guy hostage, detracts from the show.

When will tv writers understand that working within some constraints of reality may not be as much fun in the writers' room, but makes for infinitely better tv?

The Pale Writer said...

btw, alan, can i go completely off the beaten path? yes? ok...

rashida jones: is she hot or is she just a lot of terrific parts that don't quite add up? (or somewhere in between?)

i'm honestly flummoxed and curious what the consensus is. my opinion seems to literally change with every scene and it’s kinda bugging me.

Matt said...

I think the best part had to be Jim's "Oh no, I didn't want to see you" to Karen. It was perfectly played and something most guys would accidentally say to an ex before realizing how mad it would make her.

Ginny said...

Agree that The Utica Rampage was too over the top. Re: Stanley--I knew he wouldn't leave, but doesn't he have kids? Couldn't he have just said, there was no way his teenager(presumably) would agree to move away? Can you tell I have kids? And that I'm at their mercy?

Homertojeebus said...

I agree with the reality thing. The roadtrip plot was well executed, but the more absurd elements (molotov cocktails, giant copier down the stairs) pretty much ruined the truly funny stuff, like dwight peeing in the can and the walkie-talkie chatter. You could have kept those things, but maybe have Jim take command and plot a truly clever prank.
The FTC club was awesome. My favorite was Toby at the end. "Really, it was a fun read?" Awesome.

Robin said...

I have to agree with those who said the A plot was too much. I didn't find last night's episode nearly as funny as the previous 5. In what universe could two employees destroy an office copier (deliberately) and not get fired?

I've been wondering, ever since Michael drove the car into the lake, if the writers have been building to the inevitable firing of Michael Scott this season.

FTC was awesome. The scene between Jim and Karen was brilliant and totally in character for both. And did I sense for the second week in a row Pam actively noticing Jim's faults?

Overall, not the best, but even a bad Office is good tv.

Matty said...

I keep waiting (and almost hoping) for Michael to get fired. Steve Carell plays it all so well, but the antics are out of control to the point of distracting from the funny parts. Dwight also went well beyond his general antics this week (his bobblehead is nodding agreement). And there's no way Jim goes on the trip. At least the B story and the heavy dose of Stanley kept the show enjoyable.

lungfish said...

I also thought this was the funniest episode of the season thus far. The other lines I liked were the Utica salesman saying that he heard Scranton was worse than Camden, and Michael's wanted ad for a middle aged black man with sass... big butt.. bigger heart. Also liked the little things like Jim getting upset with the camera man for not ducking low enough.

I can also see where some people here feel the material is a little too far-fetched and over-the-top this season (especially Michael's behavior like kidnapping the pizza delivery boy). It's something that should be cause for concern down the line. I think that's what ruined Seinfeld in the later seasons. Part of it's original charm was that it was rooted in actual events that happen day-to-day. By the last season, every character was a caricature of themselves and performing outlandish acts.

I hear there's an office spin-off in the works. Any truth to this?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Appropos of none of the above comments, Rick Porter at Zap2It pointed out something I hadn't even noticed: Michael is now driving a PT Cruiser instead of his familiar Sebring. Now, the Sebring was in the shop when Michael drove his rental into the lake, but the bankruptcy episode suggested Michael had sold the Sebring to help pay for Jan's Porsche -- even though, as I remember now, the Sebring was a company car.

If it's a company car, he wouldn't have been car-less in "Money," and if it's not a company car, then how on earth can he afford a new car given his money problems?

It's a small detail, but now it's really bugging me. I guess I'll just have to lie back and think of Stanley...

dez said...

I'm thinking of Stanley right now....

I didn't mind the payoff of Stanley's plot. The fact that he mistakenly believes Michael is some sort of evil genius gave me the biggest laugh of the show (and there were some big laughs in that ep) :-)

Anonymous said...

Robin mentioned something interesting above that I noticed as well...how Pam is noticing Jim's faults. Anyone else think that perhaps the writers are leading to a PB&J split up? Pam is growing in many ways, while Jim is not. How long do you think she'll stay with him if his maturity/career don't seem to be going anywhere?

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't think the writers would be dumb enough to have PB&J split up so soon after putting them together. I think they're just depicting the natural ebb and flow of a relationship. The first few episodes were the tail end of the honeymoon phase, when everything was still new and shiny. The last couple have hinted, however slightly, that Pam is learning (if she didn't already know) that Jim has some flaws. Not Roy-level, "we're done" flaws, but he's not the uber-man that the Jam fans had built him up to be way back when. I like that. It feels honest. I hope that this flows the other way as well, and Jim starts to discover certain things about Pam that bug him.

Brian said...

Was it confirmed that the copier was actually broken, as in beyond repair?

I'm willing to suspend a little disbelief at what Michael's doing because he didn't seriously harm anyone.* If he had blown stuff up, it'd be a different story, but there's a lot of outs that the writers have with this, so I'm not going to complain.

Maybe I'm not as picky as everyone else, but out of the episodes that I've seen this season, I've liked all of them. Perhaps none have been classics, but they've all been entertaining in a lot of ways.

The only thing I'd like to see more of is the actual business being run. If Scranton is so horribly run, then why aren't there consequences? Why isn't it showing in the sales? And if it's not horribly run, why does everyone think it is?

Alan Sepinwall said...

If Scranton is so horribly run, then why aren't there consequences? Why isn't it showing in the sales?

Before the merger last year, it was established that Scranton's sales were better than Stamford's, and we've seen in the past that Michael has a knack for pulling off huge, impossible deals (the Lackawanna County account, the Hammermill paper deal when they were exclusive with Staples) that no doubt lets D-M management indulge some of his, um, eccentricities as a manager.

Bort said...

An episode where Jim actually helps Michael and Dwight pull a prank would be fun - I thought, briefly, that that's where this one was going, which is probably why it felt like a bit of a letdown.

The Pale Writer said...

i think i've stumbled upon why i don't care for the hour-longs, and last night (having watched it again) provides a perfect example.

yes, the copier raid is over the top. but the writers wisely left it to our imaginations. had the episode been an hour, with all those minutes to fill, we likely would have seen the actual raid, and it never could have been as funny.

case in point, had michael and dwight showed up at the office soaking wet and said they got into a fight over the GPS and drove michael’s car into the lake... that's infinitely funnier than the clumsily-staged sight of actually seeing them do it. same thing with dwight’s farm – the stories were always funnier; actually seeing it, though…

we’ve lived with these characters for 4 years now; we know what makes each of them funny and when given a canvas for which to fill in subtleties and even larger gags, it’s going to be infinitely funnier.

Tom G, ballssticksstuff.com said...

I guess I get too amused by some of the gags to let the reality, or lack thereof, annoy me. Michael has been doing things for 3 or 4 seasons now that would get him fired, heck, there's an entire blog about it [http://www.hrheroblogs.com/thatswhatshesaid/], so what's changed?

Micheal's instructions over the walkie-talkie were way too funny (asking Jim to host the Dundies and to think of Stanley when he climbs on top of Karen were laugh-out-loud type stuff). And Toby's treatment of Jim at the Finer Thing's Club was very good too.

Perhaps one piece of non-reality did bother me: If Karen sees herself as a city girl, then why did she take a job in Utica? Utica is even more backwoods than Scranton (trust me, I've been to both).

BigTed said...

One of the interesting things about the British version of "The Office" was that from the beginning, the reason Dawn didn't get together with Tim was based on his character, not just because she was too timid to leave her fiance. She desperately wanted to find a way out of her dull rut, and the fiance, despite being something of a lout, seemed to offer a way to do that. Tim, on the other hand, had no ambition. He talked about going back to school but never did, and when offered a promotion he turned it down, even though that meant the office would be run by the dreaded Gareth. And while Dawn loved Tim's easygoing nature, humor, she was more afraid of being stuck as a receptionist forever.

I wonder if they might be heading for the same sort of conflict on the American "Office"? Jim is less of a slacker than Tim was, but he still doesn't work very hard at his job, and he took himself out of the running for the corporate job (even though it was so he could stay in Scranton with Pam). It does seem as if Pam is growing as a person and Jim isn't, and it could be worthwhile for the writers to see where that situation takes them.

As for the person who commented on Rashida Jones' unique looks: In my opinion, Jenna Fischer is pretty without being gorgeous. Jones is gorgeous without being pretty. And either way, John Krasinski is one lucky SOB.

Brian said...

"Before the merger last year, it was established that Scranton's sales were better than Stamford's, and we've seen in the past that Michael has a knack for pulling off huge, impossible deals (the Lackawanna County account, the Hammermill paper deal when they were exclusive with Staples) that no doubt lets D-M management indulge some of his, um, eccentricities as a manager."

I know that despite his jerk-like personality, he's a good salesman. That's been established for a while now. But while you said it's been mentioned that Scranton had higher sales than Stamford, I also remember around the time of the merger where Michael said to Jan that the sales would go back up, indicating that they were down, when it was revealed his branch would close. It seems like a plausible case could be made that despite how good Scranton's sales are, they could be better--if the writers want to go in that direction.

Anonymous said...

Rashida Jones is not just objectively hot, but also hot in a daughter-of-Quincy-Jones-wealthy-
beyond-reasonable-expectation way.

If you want realistic office behavior, Michael gets fired several times over in Seasons 1, 2, and 3. I think it's better to see the Office universe as a place where even New York is so dysfunctional that they can't bring themselves to fire Michael. Keep in mind that they pay him about the same as a warehouse worker (even after his 15% raise), so it's not like they can realistically expect to get someone better in his spot.

Remember that Stamford turned out to be dysfunctional, too: everyone spent all day playing team video games on the Internet.

If you want lack-of-realism, no way is Karen authorized to poach a Scranton salesman by offering more money. Businesses don't bid against themselves.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a great episode, but I'm shocked that Angela wasn't part of the Finer Things Club.

Then again...we've already seen her lousy taste in art, so maybe her taste in books isn't any better.

Stef said...

My favorite thing about this episode was that it proved the writers can have Pam and Jim separated into two completely different plots for most of the episode, and that it still works. It doesn't take away from the 'shippy stuff - in fact, bringing Jim into the FTC at the end just helped make the point of how they still work so strongly as separate characters. We've all seen way too many shows where once a couple gets together they sorta blend into one character, and HIMYM is showing how hard it is to re-separate the couple once they break up. I love that Pam and Jim ae both still themselves.

jim treacher said...

She looks so much like her mom...

filmcricket said...

Am I the only person who thought the Finer Things Club was pretty awful? Not the group or its activities, per se, but that they hold the meetings at work, in full view of people they're pointedly excluding? I agree with anonymous that that's the kind of thing I'd expect from Angela, both because she's totally a finger sandwiches kind of girl, and also because she'd enjoy the exclusivity and flaunting it in front of everyone. I expect more sensitivity than that from Pam, Oscar and Toby.

On Rashida Jones: Karen's hairdo doesn't do her any favours. Other than that, though, she's stunning.

christy said...

It seems Scranton has a lot of sales talent. In addition to Michael's big sales, isn't Dwight fairly consistently the top salesman in the company? And Jim, Phyllis and Stanley seem to be pretty good, too.

I think this happens pretty regularly in real life--people who are good at what they do aren't always good at managing people doing the same thing. But as a whole, they squeak by on talent/gumption alone.

Had they mentioned the Camden branch before? Curious what that would look like.

I'd think it would be plausible that Karen could get permission from Ryan to offer Stanley a raise on condition of a transfer. But I don't know how that would gel with Stanley trying to leverage that into a raise without a transfer. It bothered me a bit, too.

Rashida: I see the logic in the whole good parts that not necessarily fit together quite right. But bottom line is that I do like looking at her. And she's also very funny.

Mark B said...

Is the Camden branch supposed to be in New Jersey, or is it the Camden of My Name is Earl?

Anonymous said...

"It occurs to me, by the way, that the roster for the Utica road trip -- six hours round trip, by the way -- was identical to the one that drove a concussed Dwight to the hospital after Michael cooked his foot."

Both episodes were written by Mindy Kaling.

gregmark said...

Okay, this is a ridiculously out-of-date post, but this is the first time I've found someone who agrees with me that The Finer Things Club was a US Office low point and I must add my minority voice to the mix. Thank you, filmcricket. I thought I was the only one. I recently saw it in a rerun and found it even more nauseating than I did the first time around.

While the peripheral aspects did make me chuckle (Andy, Phyllis, Jim), the snobbish yearnings for the Italian countryside and windy character analyses were utterly out of character for Pam, Oscar, and Toby. They may have more refined tastes than their co-workers, but they displayed enough self-awareness and humility to this point that I found their literary pedantry and in-your-face exclusivity sickeningly unbelievable. GROSS.

dwv22 said...

This episode is my favorite!! Out of all the Office episodes I dont think I have ever laughed as hard. Matter of fact I dont think I have EVER laughed this hard in my Life! I love the office so much!!!