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.