Friday, November 09, 2007

The Office: That's what they both said

Spoilers for "The Office" coming up just as soon as I run by Carvel for a Fudgie the Whale cake...

When actors on TV shows double as writers (or vice versa), their scripts tend to de-emphasize their own characters -- sometimes because it makes life easier, sometimes because they prefer to feature other voices. Michael Imperioli's "Sopranos" episodes always featured a lot more of Paulie than Christopher, and Toby and Kelly barely featured in the recent "Office" episodes written by Paul Lieberstein and Mindy Kaling ("Money" and last week's "Branch Wars," respectively).

As the star of "The Office," occasional writer Steve Carell doesn't have that luxury. His brilliant "Casino Night" script is mainly remembered for the PB&J kiss, but there were also a lot of Michael hijinks involving gambling and inviting both Jan and Carol to the same event. For "Survivor Man," Carell took an interesting approach, sending Michael and Dwight off into the wilderness so the office staff could dominate the other half of the episode.

Michael's outdoor adventure was silly and kind of predictable (though I loved the image of Michael with his sleeves and pant legs duct-taped back on), but I thought the birthday subplot was brilliant, and very much in the vein of last week's Finer Things Club story. The social mores of the office is one of the series' evergreens, and stories like this one bring to mind the most poignant talking head segment from the British "Office," where Tim explained:
The people you work with are just people you were thrown together with. Y'know, you don't know them, it wasn't your choice. And yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family. But probably all you've got in common is the fact that you walk round on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day.
Jim has always viewed himself as too cool for school/these people, so of course he assumes everyone hates Michael's birthday celebrations as much as he does (the montage of Michael believing in surprise parties, "possibly to a fault," was hilarious) and doesn't realize just how important getting your own cake and your own stupid song is to everybody else. Even Pam gets it -- witness how she applauded when Michael turned up at the end -- and I'm really enjoying how the writers are consistently showing that, while PB&J are a great match, they're not on the same page about everything. As I wrote in the comments last week, I don't think this is leading towards a break-up -- the writers aren't dumb enough to split these two so soon after finally bringing them together -- but it's further proof that ending Unresolved Sexual Tension doesn't mean creative death for a couple. Jim and Pam are just as funny now that they're together as they were separately.

Jim's slow transformation into the new Michael -- complete with pathological hatred of Toby and disrupting everyone's work day to have a meeting about his lame idea -- was horrifying and yet completely believable. While Jim's self-esteem isn't as bound up in other people's approval as Michael's is, he definitely views himself as the Fun Boss. That's a tough role to assume for very long, whether you're as socially tone-deaf as Michael or as relatively self-aware as Jim. You simply can't be the boss and be everyone's friend all the time. The tag over the closing credits was so sad and sweet and yet funny in that uniquely "Office" way, as Jim first realized that he was on the road to being Michael, then somehow made peace with that and joined in on the "That's what she said"s. That scene humanized both Jim and Michael (and made up for the goofier moments of the survival story). Great stuff.

Some other thoughts on/moments from "Survivor Man":
  • One other hilarious moment from Michael in the woods: the pants tent.
  • Loved Creed's rage of entitlement about his birthday: "I don't care who you talk to, just make it happen... Tell her it's for Creed; she'll know what that means."
  • Also loved Stanley taking extra insulin in anticipation of a birthday cake: "If I don't get some cake soon, I might die."
  • Things between Angela and Andy must be going well, judging by her decision to order the Fudgie the Whale cake even though Andy isn't part of Birthday Month.
What did everybody else think?

20 comments:

lungfish said...

I also liked the montage of Dwight's hidden weapons... the blowgun in the toilet tank was my favorite.

It's too bad next week's episode is going to be the last one for a while if the strike is still going on. The entire cast walked off the set in support of the writers... not that they could have shot without Steve Carell anyway.

Nancy said...

Along with the Jim/Michael transformation in this episode, was there also a Toby/Ryan one? It looked like Toby was trying to get a beard going and his hair looked more gel-ed up. But then again maybe it was just cause he just came back from the retreat in the woods?

I loved how Pam was egging Jim on.
Raises hand Conference Room? Hilarious!

Matt said...

I really loved this episode just for the Jim-to-Michael transformation. When he started hating on Toby, I almost lost it.

Also, I really enjoy any episode that shows Jim and Michael as actual friends like the end of this one (the convention last year, the booze cruise in the 2nd season). It's really interesting to me that at times Michael is the person who "gets" Jim the best. Is that just me?

cpennylane said...

I was kind of bored by Michael in the Pennsylvania Wilderness "alone". I also was distracted by questions of "isn't this a documentary? Why did he leave his sound pack on?" The pants thing was funny, but not laugh out loud hilarious, and maybe it was because I saw the previews, but Dwight's arsenal at the Office was redundant and seemed not relevant to the episode.

This was the first episode of The Office this year I was actually bored during.

I, however, loved the B-plot, back at The Office. Jim's transformation into Michael was sweet and hilarious. The part where he gave his TH about Toby was spot on. Also, I don't know if it was my TiVo or what, but was there a scene between Dwight rescuing Michael from the mushrooms and Michael being back at the Office, in a Battlestar Galatica Tee Shirt?

I missed Ryan and Kelly and Darrel and Andy.

max_headroom said...

I love the episode too, especially the scene you mentioned that played over the closing credits! I think there was another hint earlier on that Pam knew Jim's idea was doomed to failure, when she asked him about it, but didn't explicitly disagree with him. Maybe it's because she doesn't want to hurt his ego, or maybe because she knew Jim wouldn't be swayed from his path. Isn't this how real couples are sometimes...knowing when to speak up and when not to? (I love how the writers are handling PB&J so far).

Alan, do you think Michael really is the crazy genius that Stanley offhandedly described him as last week? There's that closing scene this week, then there's him making a wish for Pam to gain more courage in last season's "Women's Appreciation" and him punishing Ryan by banishing him to the annex (where Kelly lurks) in "Business School"...it just seems that Michael knows way more about the office than he lets on. I love how the show keeps teasing the audience on this.

Chicken Pizza? said...

The outdoor stuff was pretty funny if you've watched a lot of Les Stroud's show. Normally Michael's pop culture impressions are ludicrously bad, but he was doing a dead-on survivorman. "It's been three hours since I've eaten anything...I'm starting to feel it." Good stuff.

Tim said...

I think I might start singing the high notes for the Birthday song. That was hilarious.

Anonymous said...

My favourite part of the episode was the look on Andy's face when Michael first sang the high notes on happy birthday.

dayglo said...

You have to wonder if the difference between Jim's stint as temp-boss in this episode versus his other two appearances ("Office Olympics" and "The Client")... was his need to impress Pam.

These last couple episodes, I've definitely seen in Jim's storyline the realization that finally Getting The Girl doesn't exactly resolve all the other misgivings Jim has about where he is in his life. You have to wonder if he had this idea that he would suddenly evolve into Jim, The Guitar-Playing Sports Writer From Philadelphia just by virtue of dating her. It doesn't make PB&J more or less than it is, it just puts it in a new (realistic) point of view.

Last season was Pam's transformation. Maybe it's Jim's turn?

anon said...

This episode developed the Jim-is-a-young-Michael vibe a little further (Jim, like Michael, is the "fun" guy at the office), but it also furthers the Jim-is-the-new-Roy vibe (All Jim's got going for him is his relationship with Pam, which is all Roy had as well). I wonder if they'd ever have David Denman do a guest just to emphasize this point.

Of course, nowadays I mostly wonder if the entire regular cast will be back once the strike ends.

Anon

Mike said...

I think I laughed the hardest while Michael was in the woods, and he started singing "Happy Birthday" to Creed as the camera pulled back.

What cracked me up so much was that as Michael began his harmonizing, each note that he sang went higher than the last lol.

Like others have mentioned, i LOVED the closing scene with Michael and Jim. It may not be as outrageous/wacky/funny as Michael usually acts, but those moments where he is normal and rational are vital to the show, and Carell plays it with such earnestness.

I wish they'd show that side of him more often.

Dark Tyler said...

Worth noting that this episode was directed by Paul Feig, who also directed this week's Weeds with some interesting camera work in both. (I loved the zoom out while Michael was singing happy birthday to Creed.) He's quickly becoming one of my favorite TV directors. If only he would create another show...

Number Five said...

Yeah, it reminded me of the last hourlong episode, in that there weren't as many outwardly hilarious bits but it was both funny and insightful towards the lives the characters lead, especially in the Jim/birthday plot. Michael and Jim's conversation at the end, especially the exchange "I don't think I'll be here in 10 years"/"That's what I said" was funny but very sad.

Michael's literal interpretations of surprise birthday party were very funny though. I think Phyllis by the car was my favorite.

Jim said there were 13 people in the office, but I thought there were 14. Was he not counting Toby? Michael? If the former, that's a pretty subtle joke. And we know that Michael has certain expectations of how his birthday should go at the office.

"Of course, nowadays I mostly wonder if the entire regular cast will be back once the strike ends."

Wait, have you heard something? What does this mean? This is making me paranoid like Creed!

Anonymous said...

As it's looking like we might be waiting a long, long time for another new episode after the next one, I'm kind of glad we had those 60 minute episodes at the beginning of the season.

- SR

Stef said...

I agree with everyone's comments - the Jim/Michael interaction at the end was note-perfect, and I really do like how the writers are exploring Jim this year. For the first 3 seasons, he was the romantic hero for all of us 'shippers, the one that we just knew was worth Pam putting aside her plans for. And PB&J is working out great, but now that they're together they can explore how "getting the girl" has affected Jim. He's a little more arrogant, and perhaps a little more torn about resigning himself to this being his life - and that means that we are all getting to see that sometimes he's the "I'm cooler than all of you" jerk. To the writers' and Krasinski's credit, it's all playing as very real and compelling.

Bruce Reid said...

I love how this season has opened up the smugger side of Jim for criticism, and this episode was no exception.

But credit where credit's due: Jim's exchange with the departing Michael--"When I come back I'll be an entirely different person." "That'll be great."--is one of his finest smartass moments of all time.

And it takes some kind of genius to flip a running gag like "that's what she said" into something poignant.

cpennylane: "...was there a scene between Dwight rescuing Michael from the mushrooms and Michael being back at the Office, in a Battlestar Galatica Tee Shirt?"

Not that I saw. If you're wondering about the clothing change, that'd would have been Dwight's replacement for Michael's butchered suit and shirt.

Max_Headroom: "Alan, do you think Michael really is the crazy genius that Stanley offhandedly described him as last week?"

Genius is a bit much, but anyone as desperate for affection as Michael Scott knows how to read other people's wants and needs. His talent for that just too often gets overshadowed by his equally forceful conviction that everyone will find him the life of the party once he cuts loose.

Number Five: "Jim said there were 13 people in the office, but I thought there were 14. Was he not counting Toby? Michael?"

My guess, tying into his genial disdain for his coworkers, is that he wasn't counting himself.

dez said...

I think I laughed the hardest while Michael was in the woods, and he started singing "Happy Birthday" to Creed as the camera pulled back.

My fave moment was Michael telling the camera, "Jan has plastic boobs!"

Chiming in on the love for that final scene with Jim realizing he's on his way to Michaeldom. The way JK and SC played it was perfect.

Big Sweet said...

Dwight's file folder "A. Knife" got me. Feig had some great shots of Dwight unveiling his office weaponry.

But here's a question that's been bugging me for a while now. So the world's best sitcom is shot as a documentary, right? While the Brits were probably more adept at keeping true to form (think the mics coming off when Tim lays it out there to Dawn versus the camera shots like Michael and Jan's feet a few episodes back), the Americans have stayed pretty true to that concept as well. My question is this: the British version definitely "aired," at least by the time of the special. Remember D. Brent, always explaining he wasn't the doofus boss from the BBC2 show? Is there a corollary on the US side? It's not clear to me that there is, which seems strange. Why are they filming?

Elisabeth said...

It's just fun to watch Andy in the background.

Toby said...

BigSweet,
Since the US version has been running for several seasons now, I'm thinking that they must be filming enough material for a documentary series, rather than just for a one-time-only special.

Something similar to that series on A&E about the Southwestern airline terminal, I'm thinking....