Not as brilliant as "Chairmodel," but "Night Out" was another very funny episode. If you take away the whole "first episode after the long hiatus" issue I had with "Dinner Party," then they're three-for-three since the return, and the post-strike portion of the season is looking to be much stronger than what we got in the fall.
I love the direction they've taken Ryan as the season has gone along. He's got the stupid suits and the stupid face scruff and all the d-bag accessories. He's tossing around meaningless management buzzwords and coming up with predictably hip and edgy new business strategies that completely miss the point of what still sort of makes Dunder-Mifflin work. And now we find out that Dunder-Mifflin Infinity is a complete fiasco -- sexual predators! identity theft! -- that Ryan's fabulous place in the city is a tiny studio that probably eats up most of his salary, and that he's developed a drug habit that no doubt eats up the rest.
The conference room scene was a little masterpiece. We had Ryan ordering the staff to cover for his mistakes in a way that's only going to cut their own throats (see Stanley's complaints about losing commissions). We had Michael giving a slow-clap and discussing all of Infinity's failings in such great detail that it was hilarious whether you believe he was trying to support Ryan in his usual oblivious way or was trying to mock him in his usual unsubtle way. And we had Kelly's question, "Number one: how dare you?" (Oh, and we had Creed not understanding what the fuss was about all the pedophiles on the site.)
Then we had Michael's ongoing quest for aesthetically-pleasing companionship (Sort of; he was considering sleeping with Meredith) crossing with Ryan's downward spiral. B.J. Ryan played Cokehead Ryan very well; I love that being under the influence is the only way Ryan can tolerate Michael or Dwight's company, and his reaction to Michael wanting to undress him. Mindy Kaling also did a good job playing with our perceptions of Michael's perceptiveness when Ryan asked about his "friend" with the drug problem; for a minute there, you start wondering if Michael might understand that Ryan's talking about himself, and then all of a sudden Michel goes off on a tangent inspired by his viewing of "The Wire" ("I don't understand a word of it!"), and you remember that Michael's powers of perception can only go so far. Remember, he's the guy who calls his mom when he's striking out at a hot club.
I'll admit that you have to overlook a metric ton of contrivances to buy into the locked-in storyline. Why wouldn't Hank the security guard have noticed the lot full of employee cars? Why couldn't anyone call a locksmith? Or the cops? Or have Phyllis call Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration, who almost certainly has a key? There were plot holes you could have driven Hank's SUV through, definitely. But I still liked it. This is the second time this season they've done the "Jim is the new Michael" story, and while the birthday party subplot from "Survivor Man" was funnier and felt more organic, this one had a number of brilliant moments: Creed (Creed!) being the only one who knew Hank's name, Pam throwing a football in Meredith's face, Toby taking his crush with Pam too far in full view of anyone and (after invoking his Costa Rica dream from "Branch Closing"), leaping over the fence to escape the humiliation. (If you're Toby in that situation, what else are you gonna do?)
If there's a problem with these episodes, it's that the writers are squeezing 14 episodes of story into a 6-episode bag. We had to quickly gloss over the details of Michael's split with Jan so we could get into the dating story, there wasn't time to drop a few hints about Ryan's coke use, and even Jim's struggles with being Michael's number two man haven't gotten as much play as they probably could. But Mindy Kaling is such a funny writer that she was able to overcome a lot of the logic leaps.
Some other random thoughts:
- Dwight's always in danger of being a cartoon, and I can't always put my finger on what separates Funny Dwight from Annoying Dwight, but I got a kick out of him throughout the episode, whether he was accusing Ryan's short friend of being a hobbit ("Do you have powers?") or being so stand-offish with the basketball-playing hottie that she desperately wanted him.
- Speaking of the basketball team, wasn't the fictional Jersey State also the home of the women's basketball team from that "Flight of the Conchords" episodes where the guys go on a road trip?
- I liked the moment where Ryan called out Jim for complaining to David Wallace about D-M Infinity. We know Jim no longer has any designs on that job, but Ryan -- especially coke-using, paranoid Ryan -- absoutely assumes Jim's gunning for him.