Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Office, "Prince Family Paper": Hot... or not?

Brief thoughts on tonight's "The Office" coming up just as soon as I find out how many members of the Communist Party are working at the local IHOP...

Well, that's two episodes in a row where the Michael plot wasn't nearly as much fun as what was happening back at the office. The difference is that last week Michael got a brief B-story, while here he got the main plot.

Michael and Dwight planning hijinks on their own, without Jim around to heckle or offer up some common sense, tends to make me squirm. Michael's conflicted feelings about betraying the kindly Prince family came up too late in the episode, and was resolved too abruptly, to really work. And the foot chase through the office building wasn't nearly as well-constructed as the similar bit between Michael and Meredith in the rehab facility parking lot back in the Christmas episode. Other than a couple of throwaway bits, like Michael equating Ryan with Jan on the broken heart scale, it was a misfire.

The rest of the office getting together to debate the hotness of Hilary Swank, on the other hand? Genius with a capital G. We all get sucked into these silly and superficial arguments(*), and Swank for whatever reason comes up an awful lot in them. (I remember an early Bill Simmons mailbag discussing the issue, though I can't find the link right now.) As noted at the end, it was less about Swank -- and note that the writers went out of their way to have even the haters admit that she was pretty, and that Kevin would have sex with her, so as to avoid too much offense -- than about the way people in 21st century America tend to get entrenched on one side of a debate and refuse to even acknowledge the other position's merits. I hope there are deleted scenes for Creed and Meredith and all the others who didn't get to make their own oral arguments, because the ones we did get to see (particularly Stanley's plea for optimism and Oscar's symmetrical face argument) were so hysterical.

(*) Admittedly, I probably get sucked into more than most due to the nature of my job; many is the press tour lunch that's descended into this territory, and proud we all are of ourselves by the end.

What did everybody else think?

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was a little surprised that there was no reference to the Angela, Dwight, Andy broken love triangle.

Jim said...

I like Dwight and Michael on their own. Dwight's goggle-eyed joy at the fact that he and Michael were making a joke together--the Jaws theme--and then his head fin; the lip licking; Dwight complaining about his boss; Michael screwing up the little girl's math homework. And the whole history you could sense behind the iHOP/Denny's debate.

The Angela and Toby were sucked in to the Hillary Swank debate was great, too.

Wendymoon said...

I get the feeling that the debate wasn't really over yet... surely someone would think to pull Dwight in, and I have a feeling he'd be on the "not" side.

jennythen said...

I don't know. I think Dwight likes sightly masculine women. "Ruddy cheeks, thick calves..."

Angela's not masculine, but Dwight certainly isn't Angela's type either.

olucy said...

I liked both story lines, but the one back at the office was definitely funnier. Just the thought that the entire staff wasted the better part of a day on such a stupid argument was hilarious. And taking it so seriously. Great stuff.

J.J. said...

"You will eat pancakes, and you'll like it."

Oh man, that line gave me a flashback to Michael's Season 2 gem: "Peach iced-tea -- You're gonna hate it."

david said...

i didnt much care for the prince family scenes. the family seemed to impossibly naive to ring true. the swank debate was great though. i particularly liked that stanley played against character and not only embraced the office shenanigans but argued passionately for hopefulness over cynicism despite the absurdity of the situation in general.

my personal favorite bit is when kevin returns the the anti-hot crowd after realizing that just because he'd "do" swank doesnt mean that he thinks shes hot.

"its not would you do her, its do you think shes hot."

"respect the game!"

Will Eidam said...

I checked the info of this episode before it aired, and it said "The Office debates over whether or not an actress is hot or not."

So waiting for the episode to start, I wasn't sure which actress they'd choose...PERFECT selection!

I also enjoyed how Jim didn't want to have the debate at all, and then ended up getting sucked in more than anyone, just hoping that his side would win.

(and I also thought of Peach Iced Tea immediately after that IHOP comment, too)

P "N" K said...

I had no problem with the Michael plot, because as soon as we got to see Prince Paper as a nice Mom & Pop paper (The Dad had a World's Best Dad coffee mug instead of World's Best Boss, I mean, ding ding ding) store instead of a real rival for Dunder Mifflin, it was pretty clear exactly what was going to eventually happen. Michael may be a juvenile with no common sense, but he definitely has some decency and would lack the "business, not personal" detachment.

Omagus said...

I laughed some but this was not one of the great episodes of The Office.

I do think the debate was hilarious stuff, especially Stanley's part.

Anonymous said...

Alan: Is this the Bill Simmons link?

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/050311&num=0

(Also: did you watch Law and Order this week; was just wondering if you had any thoughts about it...)

Anonymous said...

Of all people, Kevin is right.

Swank ain't hot. But I'd probably do her.

Anonymous said...

I like how Jim was saying Kevin wasn't necessarily a feminist. Ha!

JZ said...

To Alan: at what point do critics start wondering outloud if this Office should have followed the BBC's outline for success?

(Two brilliant seasons, one special, out).

Last night felt, to borrow a term from your assessments of HIMYM, "sitcommy."

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan: Is this the Bill Simmons link?

No, there's one where either he or one of his readers explicitly asks whether Swank's attractive.

Alan Sepinwall said...

o Alan: at what point do critics start wondering outloud if this Office should have followed the BBC's outline for success?

Given how consistently brilliant the show was from the end of the strike through this year's Christmas episode, and arguably even though last week's episode, I don't think we're remotely there yet. Even great shows have duds from time to time -- and that includes short-run British series.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with most of the previous commenters about the episode, i thought it was one of the better ones of the season precisely of the Prince paper tangent.
We now know that Michael Scott is a good manager and we are trying to figure out how this could be the case. Maybe its cause he has a heart. It's also brutally obvious to me the reason why he would feel for the Princes; he wants to be the owner/manager who he talked with. (Think about it, he has said he wanted kids so that he wouldn't be alone, he's fallen for numerous Dunder-mifflin employees and Mrs. Prince is the receptionist)
I think maybe Wallace put him up to this to see if this was the case, and in a way Michael failed because Dwight convinced him to shark it up.
Also, i feel the Hilary Swank debate was just filler. (Stanley's brilliant monologue aside) the emphasis of this story was trying to figure out Michael's blind luck as a manager not if an actress' hotness is acceptable for the Scranton staff.
PS- not hot

Kathy said...

I really wanted the episode to end with the Prince family laughing it up in their office at the expense of Michael and Dwight. Their secret is that they not only owned the storefront paper company but also the strip mall is sits in and they have just made a killing selling the land so a new Office Depot can be built there!

bsangs said...

Easily the worst episode of the season. The Hillary Swank debate was jaw-droppingly awful - a complete miss. But for a show that is as consistently brilliant as this, I'll give them a pass for a week. Can't hit it out of the park every time.

TL said...

This was far and away their worst episode in a while. The Dwight/Michael plot was uncomfortable and not funny enough to be redeeming. The Hillary Swank debate was a good idea, but poorly executed because they didn't spend enough time with it. All in all, I'm trying to forget this episode happened.

I'll chalk this up to BJ Novak being overextended.

Rachel said...

I've had a "Hot or Not" type debate with my office mates many a time, so I thought that storyline was hilarious.

The Michael/Dwight stuff was uncomfortable, but that was the point, I suppose. The two of them humming the Jaws theme in the car together was hilarious.

Drew said...

I agree that this was another bad episode in a string of bad episodes. The show is limping along at this point. With a few exceptions -- Business Ethics, Customer Survey -- this has been a truly dismal season, with the characters becoming more and more unlikable every episode. No one feels real anymore. Even a poignant and honest storyline like Michael being unable to hurt someone he wants to be is ruined by the cartoonish running through the building with Dwight.

Most importantly, very little about this season has been funny. The show is going to stupid lengths to try to get a laugh, and it's failing. It's just way too broad at times. I think back to Dwight's stance last week as he tried to protect his groin from an Andy attack. That was such an attempt at a sight gag, and it came off as groan worthy. Wilson is overplaying the hell out of Dwight, and it's ruining what had become a layered, fun character.

Last night's Swank plot seemed to try to capture the feeling of Office Olympics, but it couldn't because it didn't have that emotional center. That plot wasn't just about playing games in the office. It was about alleviating the boredom that comes with a 9-5 job. I'm not saying every episode has to have some kind of office commentary -- I don't want it to -- but I am saying that every episode should have an emotional core, or else it's just a silly string of 90s sitcom jokes.

Given that How I Met Your Mother has produced the same number of episodes as The Office (give or take one) and is firing on many cylinders this season, and that Earl is having a solid season as well, I don't buy that shows have shelf lives. I just buy that this one does. There's still hope and potential, but it's fading.

kathy said...

I literally didn't laugh once during this episode, it was painful to see how unfunny it was. I bailed with about 5 minutes left to go, could not take any more. The non-Amy Ryan episodes this year have been mediocre at best. Can Stringer Bell save "the Office"?

OTOH, "30 ROck' *killed* last night, it was a perfect return to what they do best, workplace-based comedy, hold the stunt casting.

Anonymous said...

it's funny how everyone can watch the same thing and yet have completely different reactions to it. Suffice to say, Drew, I pretty much disagree with every point you made in your post, about the Office, Earl, and HIMYM.

Anonymous said...

I thought they erred so far on the side of being nice about Hilary Swank that it really missed an opportunity for some great lines. I know they don't want to totally insult Hilary Swank, but the debate had an artificiality to it that even in the fictional show hurt those scenes. Someone should have pointed out that she does, in fact, look like a horse.

JamesG said...

I found this episode to be largely filler with very few laughs. The Michael-as-nice-guy angle has already been played many times. Did anyone really not see how this episode would play out within a few moments of meeting the Prince family?

I kept wondering if this episode was meant to fit into some larger storyline, be it Michael eventually leaving or getting canned a la David Brent by season's end. Perhaps the goal here was to reinforce Michael as a sympathetic character so we really feel for him when he goes?

Finally, was I the only one really frustrated with the fact that no one in the Prince family found it odd that an entire camera crew was with Michael? One of my biggest pet peeves with this show is how they use the documentary format as a gimmick for laughs and conveniently ignore it in most cases. In this instance, it was particularly jarring.

dez said...

many is the press tour lunch that's descended into this territory, and proud we all are of ourselves by the end.


Yoda! You're alive! :-D

I thought it was an okay episode with some funny moments, but not a great ep. I did enjoy Dwight doing the shark fin because I do goofy stuff like that a lot, but overall, it was just okay. I liked last night's "30 Rock" a lot more.

LA said...

I laughed my ass off at Oscar's and Stanley's presentations re: HSwank. Especially Stanley's since it was so unexpected.

zodin2008 said...

Have to disagree here Alan...hilarious episode. Not sure what you were looking for from the writers but this carried every element.

And while they didn't deal with the post mortem on Angela/Dwight/Andy head on, the way Jim and everyone tried to shun Angela early in the episode was a clear cut follow up to everyone's dsicomfort with how she treated Andy in particular.

To be honest, she's easily the most hated character now (and yes, funny but hated) and seeing Jim and everyone diss her was great.

Kevin's "Respect the game!" moment was my favorite of the Hilary Swank plot, but highly underrated was Kelly's bizarrely insecure reaction to it, running off and crying.

Oscar's "breakdown" was also a highlight.

I enjoyed the Prince Paper stuff. I thought Dwight and Michael were perfectly within character and I like their adventures on their own, because you smell the disaster coming, you're just not sure how exactly. The licking of the lips by both inside the Prince office was hilarious.

My favorite moment of the Prince paper storyline? Dwight offering to be their son instead. :)

Bryan Murray said...

I could see how this episode could be a little polarizing but I loved it as well--much better than last week. I thought the Michael/Dwight sabotage was great since it actually worked and they were both toned down quite a bit. Michael “Titan of Industry” Scarn the Shark was Carrell’s best overall episode in awhile. And I clearly side with the Kevin-Oscar team: Not hot. Where’s Stringer by the way?

Bryan Murray said...

Almost forgot the best line of the night and probably the meanest thing Jim has ever said—to Angela: “Nobody cares”.

Jordan said...

I thought that everyone was perfectly believably in character. Michael and Dwight were toned down, the in-office plot reminds me of offices I've been in, I even like Stanley's progression starting with Weight Loss.

Also, nice callback with Michael Scarn from Michael's script.

Brian said...

The chase was seriously funny if you take it with Dwight's just-finished analogy of the situation to Lord of the Rings. Dwight makes the perfect Gollum.

samuel.x.killer said...

I enjoyed this episode, though I understand the criticisms. One of my favorite things about Michael is what a dimensional character he is. I completely forgive the lack of humor in the Prince storyline simply for the look at Michael's heart. That Dwight essentially wins the race and Michael, as a loser, must call with the information wrapped up everything nicely for me. Additionally, Michael being out of the office provided the perfect ending to the in-office story.

I do think the Hillary Swank story was much funnier if only because it's fun to watch Jim run the office. He's a great manager who wants to make sure the employees have fun - exactly what Michael aspires and fails to be.

For the record - Hillary Swank: NOT.

Brian J said...

I guess I can see where some people are coming from when they say that the Prince family seemed way too naive, but then again, it's a family business in the middle of a relatively remote part of Pennsylvania. I could see it happening, if for no other reason than people I know who live in that sort of area seem to be more trusting than people who live in a more populated area like me. You also could imagine that the guy isn't as nice as he looks and knew that giving away a list of references and thus clients wasn't going to hurt him.

That said, as someone mentioned above, some sort of plot where Dunder Mufflin buys out his business would have made sense, whether or not the family had a different motive for wanting to sell. Hell, they could buy out his business, let the parents retire, and then hire the son to work for Dunder Mifflin. If the Scranton branch is doing so well, and if it just added a ton of new clients, wouldn't it make sense to hire someone who knows them and who could also possibly perform well with new clients?

I thought the office argument over Hillary Swank worked if for no other reason than it had some great lines and was something that, as other people have said, represents an argument that people get wrapped up in. It wasn't supposed to be a memorable event, like the fight between Andy and Dwight. Like the argument that was the center of its plot, it was supposed to last for one episode and no longer.

Melanie said...

I thought this was a very good episode, mostly because of the Swank debate.

Gotta say though, Alan, I don't quite see how Kevin deeming Swank as doable really mitigates the insult quotient here - I can't imagine her being anything but insulted by this story line!

(I'm on the fence about her hotness but, come on Anon@10:24, she's not horsefaced. She's a very attractive woman with strong bone structure that leans a little to the masculine. )

sc said...

thought this was a so-so episode, but I am very nervous about next week's show....it is an hour long, post super bowl show. Expectations to hit a "home run"might make it one of those silly episodes that don't really flow along with the weekly venue, because they try too hard to attract a bigger audience. And as Alan and others have stated here before, the hour-long eps really seem to ususally fall a bit flat.
Oh well, guess we'll see soon enough

Anonymous said...

I admit this was a dud episode for me. There were a few funny lines and the IDEAS were funny (I get the idea Jim would be a bad manager also for reasons different from Michaels), but it just wasn't a great episode for me.

-EmeraldLiz

Anonymous said...

This episode was the first in a long time where Michael was not a total buffoon. He was actually competent, effective in his espionage, and didn't make an ass out of himself. Not so Dwight, of course, but he's insane. Sometimes it's so hard to believe that Michael Scott is actually very successful at his job, and this episode gave us some insight into why.

Anonymous said...

I was also surprised that the reviewer did not mention the Jim gag about sending Dwight on a wild goose chase over the wire, very funny!!!

Anonymous said...

I thought the Michael/Dwight story was pretty good. It stretched a little bit too long, but it made perfect sense that Michael would feel bad about shutting down the mom and pop shop. After all, as Michael told Ryan in the Business school episode "Of course its personal, business is the most personal thing in the world"

Linda said...

What made the Prince Family Paper part of it work for me was how well I thought it played on Michael's desperate need for approval. It was SO SAD when Wallace is finally, FINALLY giving him the "you da man" business he's been dying to hear for so long, and he had to throw it away. That alone made the story worthwhile for me, even though I agree it wasn't hilarious. And the Swank debate I did think was pretty hilarious.

Anonymous said...

"I thought they erred so far on the side of being nice about Hilary Swank that it really missed an opportunity for some great lines. I know they don't want to totally insult Hilary Swank, but the debate had an artificiality to it that even in the fictional show hurt those scenes. Someone should have pointed out that she does, in fact, look like a horse."

Wow. That's charming.