Friday, October 31, 2008

The Office, "Employee Transfer": Michael sings the blues

Spoilers for last night's "The Office" coming up just as soon as I get a Bluetooth for the car...

Sigh... like Michael Scott, I had kind of fallen in love with Holly Flax over this last batch of episodes, and so watching them break up over that long(*) road trip to Nashua made for one of the more depressing "Office" episodes ever, though it was wonderfully acted by both Steve Carell and Amy Ryan (and, for that matter, Craig Robinson).

(*) I'm not sure what route they were taking, but Google Maps puts Nashua only a five hour drive from Scranton, which would stink but wouldn't be quite the ordeal this episode made it out to be.

What worked about the story -- other than its perfect deconstruction of how a long road trip can suck the enthusiasm out of anyone over time (as symbolized by the repeated plays of Tom Cochran's "Life Is a Highway" until it lost all fun and meaning) -- was that it became clear after a while that it wasn't just the (exaggerated) distance that was driving it. Just as important was Holly's realization that Michael maybe wasn't the man -- and by that, I mean "adult" -- she had thought he was. Michael had been on his best behavior for her entire tenure here, but when news of the transfer broke, she began to see him for the overgrown child he so often is. The distance alone was bad, but Michael's refusal to look for a better long-term solution made it much worse.

If I have a problem with the episode other than the departure of the perfect Amy Ryan, it's that there weren't enough laughs to compensate for the darkness of the Michael/Holly story. Jim and Pam's lunch date with his brothers -- both of them fighting to play the role of Roy -- was largely uncomfortable. And while there were some funny spots in Dwight attacking Andy through his Cornell obsession, something felt off to have Dwight playing the role of Jim -- and playing it so well, when we know Dwight both despises Jim and isn't good at imitating him. I think it might have worked better if it had been part of a more extended Halloween gag, though it would have deprived us of seeing Dwight as our third Heath Ledger Joker. (Then again, Creed's Joker was funny and terrifying enough to compensate.) On the plus side, it would have meant that Pam would have had to go to lunch with Jim's brothers while rocking the Chaplin/Hitler mustache. Ah, well.

What did everybody else think?

45 comments:

Dark Tyler said...

Heath Ledger Joker costumes: too early?

Loved the shot with Dwight and the two bobbleheads (or whatever it is they're called). I actually have the Dwight one on my desk!

Alan, what is the reference of your title? Have you happened to see the amazing 'Sita Sings the Blues', or am I missing a more obvious reference?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Have you happened to see the amazing 'Sita Sings the Blues', or am I missing a more obvious reference?

"Lady Sings the Blues."

kathy said...

Scranton is 5 hours from Nashua in some alternate Google Maps universe where there's never another car on the road...7 hours seems right (and actually optimistic for a Friday afternoon).

Very weak episode. The Andy/Dwight sub-plot was largey a yawn and the Pam/Jim/brothers thing was just bizarre, what was the point? Every show has a clunker now and again though.

Rachel said...

I actually thought the Andy/Dwight stuff was hilarious -- especially the interview scene.

Best line was when Michael asked Holly why she was crying and suggested, "Did Darryl touch you?"

Just like 30 Rock, even a relatively weaker Office episode is still worth every minute I spend watching (and rewatching) it.

Anonymous said...

I agree. The Andy/Dwight interview made me laugh out loud, but the Pam/Jim/brothers sketch was a waste and I'm not sure where they were going with it...

lungfish said...

Did they explain why Darryl was helping them move or did I miss it? Was that a Dunder Mifflin truck they were using? I'll check the deleted scenes later on NBC.com- sometimes that extra detail gets edited out.

David Z said...

The Andy/Dwight story line would have been funnier if we hadn't just seen it last season on 30 Rock with Frank and Twofer.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Lungfish, I assume since the company ordered Holly to move branches, they had Daryl help with the move.

J.J. said...

Wow, I thought the Dwight/Andy thing was brilliant. It's genius that the worst thing he could think of was to show Andy what it's like to be annoyed by Jim for a day.

I understand the argument that Dwight's known to not be very good at impersonating Jim, so maybe you could complain that he was a little TOO smooth in breaking down Andy.

But, then, when you really think about it, a lot of his moves weren't that great. Andy just made it seem that way because he was so quick to freak out about things he clearly should have shrugged off (much like Dwight when Jim is childishly messing with him).

Alan Sepinwall said...

The Andy/Dwight story line would have been funnier if we hadn't just seen it last season on 30 Rock with Frank and Twofer.

The Office did it even before 30 Rock, with the season three episode where Jim and Dwight dressed up as each other.

Anonymous said...

First -- Alan, I love your blog. It's the first place I go to after watching all my favorite shows! You are absolutely critical post-Mad Men.
Second -- while watching last night, I never took Dwight's antics as Jim-like. Am I being too dense? I took it all as him just trying to get under Andy's skin because of Angela. But in hindsight, I guess it really was Jim-ish. Nevermind ...

Wordnerd said...

I agree that much of this episode was weak. One thing that did make me laugh - for awhile - was Pam not being able to remove her hat (I'm Hitler). Funny stuff.

Andrew said...

Heath Ledger Joker costumes: too early?

Even if it is, there are going to be a lot of them this year. In fact, I saw one this morning on the subway.

I would have expected Michael, Holly & Darryl in a truck on a long road trip to be funnier.

This episode felt very disjointed because there were three separate stories that each used two (or three) of the characters and never interacted with each other. Michael, Holly and Darryl as well as Jim and Pam were in plots happening outside of the office. And the one in-office plot (Dwight/Andy having their own variant of the Twofer/Frank rivallry) excluded most of the supporting cast. And neither the Jim/Pam nor Holly/Michael plots were all that funny.

Though I did like Holly's reaction to Michael's solution to her moving away. It's a shame that Amy Ryan was only brought on as a guest star for these few episodes, because she's a great fit for the show.

Anonymous said...

I was a little confused by the end. Why did Michael tell Darryl that he and Holly hadn't broken up? Was he just in denial? Or did they really not break up? I also didn't get the sense that Holly had somehow finally realized what a manchild Michael is. In fact, I thought she was still just as immature as him and was just as guilty for not coming up with an adult resolution.

Nicole said...

I actually really liked the Andy and Dwight stuff. Dwight was driving Andy absolutely nuts and while the imitation is Jim-like, he did it in a very Dwight way, with his knowledge of Cornell trivia, inquiries about the best glee clubs, details that Jim wouldn't have tried that hard to learn.

The Jim/Pam stuff was more awkward then anything, but while the Michael/Holly plot wasn't that funny, it was easier to watch.

surferroop said...

The end of the interview scene made my wife laugh the hardest I've seen her laugh in months...and she really dislikes the show (which is odd because she really likes Steve Carell).

Anonymous said...

Agreed with kathy. I live about an hour from Scranton and my folks are about an hour from Nausea. I thought 7 hours seemed like a good time, if you can avoid traffic near the cities. And I'm actually surprised she's not further north, as IIRC, that's where the paper industry in New Hampshire is.

Moses Taylor said...

Agree with the Anon above and the Holly/Michael thing. She cried in the truck when they realized there was nothing halfway in between. I don't there was any hint of her seeing Michael as a manchild.

My favorite line was Creed's "It's not pronounced Cornell, it's pronounced Colonel and it's the highest rank in the military."

Dan Jardine said...

As others have noted, the Jim/Pam stuff was weak to the extreme. You'd think DNA alone would guarantee that Jim's bros would be funnier than THAT. Pam as Hitler almost redeemed things, but that lunch was PAINFULLY unfunny.

On the other hand, Dwight torturing Andy was a delight.

Heartbroken to lose Amy Ryan. She's been a stellar addition to the cast. And if this heralds in the return of Toby, my God, I pity the fool, cuz Michael is gonna shit all over him like a newly-dug latrine.

Dan Jardine said...

PLUS, Pam's not at the branch anymore, so poor Toby will me REALLY mopey, as well as getting shit on by Michael

olucy said...

Agree with everyone that this ep was really "off." I kept waiting for the twist in the Jim/Pam story that would give us the funny payoff, and it never came. It really fell flat and was just mean. But kudos to the great casting job of Jim's brothers, especially the one who played Pete.

I wish the cast had worn their Halloween costumes throughout the ep. That little opener was great, but all those great costumes for a minute of screen time. And we didn't need the second Joker costume from Dwight. Creed was more than enough (and fantastic!) Why couldn't Dwight have come as a Cornell student as his costume? That's where I thought they were going with it in the beginning, but...no.

Best part of the road trip: Darrell calling a friend in desperation for someone to talk to while Holly and Michael are squabbling.

Yes, that was a Dunder-Mifflin truck, but I was still surprised that Darryl went with them. But I guess someone had to load and unload Holly's stuff. Michael was the typical deadbeat, carrying only the lamp. And it was funnier having a third party along for the ride to add to the discomfort. Darryl's gotten some good scenes in so far this year.

Another great throw-away line: Kelly thinking that Gordon Gekko is "from the insurance ads."

I also didn't make the connection that Dwight was being Jim-like. He's capable of being that toolish without imitating anyone.

And I thought that Holly was crying because she was realizing that it wasn't going to work out and she wanted to break up with Michael. And the weight of the whole charade of pretending that everything was OK was starting to take its toll.

Steve said...

Creed's Joker was incredible. For a split second I thought it was Dwight. I loved Stanley's costume as well.

In fact, the whole episode was terrific.

marcus said...

Did anyone else have trouble understanding Darryl this episode? I missed a couple lines of his. What did he mention about babysitting on the phone?

Steve said...

Oh, and I thought the best part of the lunch was one of Jim's brothers giving Jim's trademark look to the camera.

Anonymous said...

Marcus, not really important what Darryl said there---it was just to show his desperation to find someone else to talk to during the long, awkward ride up.

I'm in agreement with most here---the Pam/Jim/Jim's brothers stuff wasn't funny and I don't see the point as drama either since they didn't take it anywhere. The one look at the camera from the brother was impressive, if predictable.

I can see both sides of the Dwight/Andy thing---Dwight was treating Andy like Jim treats Dwight, but I don't necessarily think he was imitating Jim to do so. He did it in a Dwight way, and some of it was funny, if pointless.

The Holly/Michael scenes were excellent though obviously not very funny.

So, overall the worst episode of the season (a lot to live up to there) but some redeeming qualities.

olucy said...

marcus, Darryl was calling a friend as a distraction because he was so uncomfortable overhearing Michael begging Holly to not break up. He said something about "I just thought I'd try you. I remembered that story you told me about running into that girl you used to babysit. Call me back. Please."

Andrew said...

Wasn't this supposed to be the episode that Stephen Merchant directed? I'm pretty sure I remember reading in pre-season interviews that he directed the Halloween episode this year.

Anonymous said...

The Michael-Holly resolution was pretty well handled, IMO. They like each other a lot, but they're not in love and they'd have to be to really pursue a serious long distance relationship. I don't think Holly saying they wouldn't make it had anything to do with Michael's behavior; it was bad luck, bad timing, distance and other real-world factors.
It seemed like Daryl respected Michael more after he decided not to stay in Nashua, but I wonder: how was Michael going to get back to Scranton if Daryl was heading back in the truck? Odd that.
Creed as The Joker, and then the other 2 Jokers (both hilarious, neither seeming to channel Heath Ledger's character like Creed did) was the apex of laughs here. And for the record, I don't think it's too soon to have Heather Ledger Joker costumes. He was the most memorable character in the biggest hit movie since Titanic. It feels like another tribute to greatness.

Dan said...

And I'm actually surprised she's not further north, as IIRC, that's where the paper industry in New Hampshire is.

I'm actually from New Hampshire, and you're half-right, although there's not anywhere near the number of paper companies there as opposed to 40 years ago.

Northern NH is where most of the actual timber was harvested, and then sent down to the Nashua/Manchester area where all the millyards are.

Anonymous said...

Another important part of this ep that'll play out hopefully in the future: Michael saying for the 1st time that he explicitly hates Jan, but also saying he's weak and will end up back with her anyway without Holly. Wonder if Jan's ignored-order for Michael NOT to date Holly is part of that in some way.

olucy said...

I don't think Holly saying they wouldn't make it had anything to do with Michael's behavior; it was bad luck, bad timing, distance and other real-world factors.

I respectfully disagree. There's a reason we heard Holly tell us that the subject of a compromise came up, then got dropped and never came up again. She was disappointed that Michael wouldn't take more initiative in trying to make things work. Although the two compromise scenarios she cited were silly: if either was willing to quit their job, why would either of them have to move? They could just stay together in Scranton...they would no longer be co-workers.

And I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one who wondered how Michael was supposed to have gotten back to Scranton! Rent a car, I guess.

Another "hint" I think I missed the first time around: Jim saying that his brothers used to beat him up. Basically, that's what they did here...but as grown-ups instead of as children.

Hey, Andrew, you're right about Stephen Merchant supposedly directing. It's even in his IMDB listing. I wonder what happened there?

Anonymous said...

I laughed at Darryl leaving the phone message because I automatically assumed it was Kelly he was trying to call..

Alan Sepinwall said...

I assumed it was Kelly as well, as a sign of just how desperate he was to hear anything other than Michael and Holly's fight.

Andrew said...

To corroborate the other Andrew, Stephen Merchant is credited as the director in IMDB credits for Employee Transfer.

LA said...

Maybe not the strongest episode ever, but still more watchable than Earl, Kath, or Kim.

Darryl and Dwight totally brought it, and Kelly as Carrie Bradshaw was priceless.

Bryan Murray said...

Kind of a dud for The Office standards. The episode peaked in the pre-credits sequence (most of which was shown in the previews.) I was really excited about the return of 30 Rock though so that may have distracted me a little. Dane Cook and Jack Bauer--two great inspirations if you ask me. Although Bauer is overqualified, fictional, and unavailable. And Dane Cook is kind of a tool now.

dan said...

When Ryan came on screen my mind screamed "Lumberg"!

I was actually saddened when he said he was Gordon.

I enjoyed the episode, but sentiments are like everyone elses. I liked Dwight/Andy confrontations. The lunch was losing me, the the moving scenes started funny then went downhill from there.

olucy said...

When Ryan came on screen my mind screamed "Lumberg"!

That never occured to me, but now that you mention it, that's funny. I loved that Kelly thought he was supposed to be Larry King! And I also laugh that Dwight greets him as "good morning, temp."

Anonymous said...

Forgive me if this has been covered before - but do you think Holly is the character that may have been originally intended for the "spin off" ? Knowing that Amy Ryan was not going to be on the show for long I kept thinking how great it would be if the new show were to be centered around her. And Amy Poehler would not have been available for these episodes of The Office. Or is the companion show going to be completely non-Dunder Mifflen related?

BF said...

personally, I loved that they used the Cochran version of "Life is a Highway". Rascall Flatts can suck a (family blog).

Does Cornell and/or NBC sell that bear bobblehead? I MUST HAVE ONE!

DolphinFan said...

Theory about Jim after watching the subplot with his brothers: His treatment by them is the main reason he is kind and protective towards Michael. Having been teased by idiots, he wants to keep Michael from being treated the same way (as Jim's brothers were to him, so the adult world is to Michael). And just as Michael constantly seeks approval from the jerks, Jim was visibly happy--and Pam was ELATED--when the brothers sent that you're-good-people text.

Mark said...

Maybe I'm misreading this, but here's my interpretation of the scene with Jim's brothers: You would think they would be master pranksters (because Jim is so good at pulling pranks), so the joke was that they're actually terrible at it (and they thought it was hilarious). I'm not sure the joke fully paid off, but I think that's what the writers were going for.

Mark said...

Darryl and Michael in the truck made me think of The Negotiation. I'm not sure if it was the same truck, but at least this time Darryl gave Michael a ride back to Scranton.ca

Michael said...

In one of the deleted scenes, Darryl said that Michael paid him to drive and to help move, that he got more from that than he would have had he stayed at work.

With the Jim/Pam/brothers sequence, I thought that they were going to end up pranking Pam in the end, where Jim was in on the prank that his brothers concocted, a sort of double-reverse prank on Pam.

Anonymous said...

I was really surpised to hear all the negative, weak comments. I loved this episode. Loved IT! I laughed the whole way through. Loved the interaction between Dwight and Andy. It never occured to me that Dwight was acting like Jim. Dwight was acting like Dwight. Loved the road trip scenes. I did not think that she suddenly thought Micheal was a child. Holly just realized that the long distance thing was not going to work. Loved the scene where Micheal woke up screaming. I really don't know why eveyone hated this one. I really loved it! I think it will hold up better on second viewings.