Friday, April 10, 2009

The Office, "Dream Team" & "The Michael Scott Paper Company": Close quarters

Spoilers for last night's "The Office" double-feature coming up just as soon as I write some song parodies...
"I do my best work when people don't believe in me." -Michael
I am really enjoying what "The Office" is doing right now with this Michael Scott Paper Company storyline. It's not the funniest stretch of the series, by any means. But five seasons in, "The Office" is as much light drama as it is comedy, and so it's pleasure to watch characters like Pam and Michael struggle with the implications of an impulsive decision, even if the laughs are a little light. The scene at the end of "Dream Team," where Michael has to talk a panicked Pam out of the car, was both a nice payoff to the earlier talking head where Pam explained about staying calm when your partner freaks out, and yet another reminder that Michael does know what he's doing some of the time, which means Pam wasn't a complete idiot for following him out the door. Very nicely played by Carell and Fischer.

"Dream Team" was the more overtly serious of our two episodes last night, though I also thought it was the funnier one. "The Michael Scott Paper Company" was going more for humor throughout, but the jokes about the cramped space of their closet-turned-office were less effective than the ones sprinkled through "Dream Team," like Pam trying to motivate Michael by peppering the checklist with attainable goals (big breakfast, song parody titles), or Vikram's horror at realizing that "Nana" was Michael's grandmother.

That said, "Michael Scott Paper Company" did have the hilarious Dwight/Andy competitive duet on "Take Me Home, Country Roads," Kelly's plan to make Charles want her, and Michael stewing as he listened to Toby talk in the bathroom about "Damages." There were definitely funny things there; I just preferred the funny things in "Dream Team."

I'm surprised but amused to see this latest incarnation of Ryan, who's basically a combination of all the worst qualities of Ryan 1.0 (bitter temp) and 2.0 (d-bag executive) without any of the good qualities of either. I figured that Ryan would be eager to, like Michael, shove it in Dunder-Mifflin's face by coming up with a great business model for the MSPC, but it turns out he's just a lazy tool who's 100% become That Guy. (Note that, after Pam closes the company's first sale, Ryan says, "We did it!")

The one element I'm tiring of is Jim's constant humiliations from Charles, which are getting repetitive. It would help if the writers ever gave Idris Elba something funny to do (even his hilarious talking head two weeks ago about the effect he has on women was largely funny because of the context), when instead Stringer Bell is turning out to be the more blatantly comic character.

Some other thoughts:

• I'm a huge fan of fake new opening credit sequences -- see also the intro to the otherwise-lame "The One That Could Have Been" episode of "Friends" -- and so I, of course, loved the revamped title sequence for the second episode, which managed to cleverly work in both Dwight (going to the bathroom) and Jim (photo on Pam's "desk"). Think they'll stick with that for as long as this arc lasts?

• The opening of "Dream Team" with Kevin's struggles to man the phone was great, particularly the payoff with the call being about the death of Andy's maid.

• Kevin's replacement, New Kelly (or Erin, or whatever), meanwhile, did the only sensible thing she could after witnessing the "Country Roads" duet: she ran.

• Note Charles seeing "productivity czar" Stanley reading his crossword book during the staff meeting.

• Creed, as always, makes the most out of his brief appearances, first with his absolute certainty that Charles goes to the bathroom, then with his refusal to steal the paper-shaped pancakes.

• Damn Ryan for putting the Montgomery Flea Market rap back in my head, just when I thought I had flushed it out.

What did everybody else think?

58 comments:

dronkmunk said...

I thought it was hilarious that they had Ryan watching the Flea Market video. It could be a reference to the fact that the new secretary upstairs was played by the girl from the Blowjob viral video on youtube.

Anyway, the creators of this show have obviously been watching a lot of youtube.

Jordan said...

I think you nailed it Alan, the Office is now light drama, and a damn good one. There were some great acting performances and I'm really excited to see where they go with all of this.

Zil said...

First off, Ryan 3.0 is almost unwatchably unpleasant. The fact that Pam didn’t smack him is amazing.

And I agree that Jim’s repeated humiliations are getting old. I liked how they did a bit of role reversal with Dwight messing with Jim for a change (humming in the meeting, manipulating him into having to play soccer) but his constant humiliation in front of Charles is getting a bit repetitive.

It also seems strange that Jim is struggling so much with the new boss. Jim was a bit of a golden boy there for a while. David Wallace seemed to really like him, he was promoted when he came back from Stamford (although whether that actually happened has now been called into question) and he was up for the job at corporate. Wouldn’t the new boss have some idea of that? At the very least, it seems like Jim would realize the way to win over this boss would be to just keep his head down and hit his sales numbers. I do like that Jim is starting to recognize that despite the daily horrors of Michael’s actual management style, Jim really preferred working for Michael than Charles.

Ryan said...

I enjoyed both episodes, but running them both on the same night worked against them a bit, as they were - somewhat understandably - similar to each other. Having Pam march up there and ask Charles for her job back felt a bit like they were already running out of ideas, perhaps because I had already watched Pam freak out in the car about an hour earlier.

The Dwight and Andy stuff was great, though, I thought, especially seeing Toby in the background during their duet.

Justin said...

I like how the entire premise of "The Office" is that Michael is a nightmare of a boss. But Charles is pretty much the exact opposite of Michael and yet may still be an even bigger nightmare of a boss. Oh delicious irony!

Matter-Eater Lad said...

Michael's speech about doing his best when no one believes in him was raw and painful and wonderful to watch. Phenomenal writing played perfectly.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Michael's speech about doing his best when no one believes in him was raw and painful and wonderful to watch.

And yet still funny, because Michael's example of how well he did when someone didn't believe in him was a complete non-sequitur (math teacher threatens to flunk him, so he does well in a hockey game).

Alan Sepinwall said...

Dammit, I just watched the Flea Market video again. Am I going to get any work done today?

Omagus said...

I was actually pleasantly surprised with what they did with Charles' character in the first episode. Showing him getting excited about soccer seemed like a good way of slowly making him more of a human being and less of a bureaucratic boss caricature. But by the second episode he was back to the same.

I also agree that the constant Jim humiliations are getting repetitive (although I agree with Zil that the Jim/Dwight reversal was nicely done).

And I have no idea how she is doing this...but I am finding Jenna Fischer more and more attractive with each passing episode.

J.J. said...

I don't know that I can buy Dwight rationally listening to Andy's theory that all those songs are better a capella.

Nobody who gets pumped up by doing a air guitar and karate moves to metal music would let that nonsense slide.

EOTW said...

I'm just going to say it: I HATE BJ NOVAK. I am sorry, but the guy has no talent at all as a performer. Not funny, bland, one note hack. Sorry, but thems the facts.

While I am mostly enjoying this recent run of shows, despite that IE is underused (he was funnier on THE WIRE), where can they really go. Only one thing is bound to happen:

1) DM loses biz to TMSPC and buys him out and puts Michael back in power.

Last night, two things made me laugh out loud: 1) Creed trying to steal the pancakes and 2) Stanley's look when Dwight mentions Andy's penis blood rushing.

Anonymous said...

dronkmunk:

Why would the writers reference that crappy video in the first place, and how would it even be a reference anyway, besides that the blowjob girl and the flea market rap are videos that both exist on the Internet?

Sometimes people stretch really hard to find references in these shows, as if the writers must all like the same exact things that we like.

Drew said...

I thought the first episode was pretty blah and typical of this season. Good ideas ruined by shoddy and uninteresting execution that rests on sitcom cliches like Michael with his robe, his stack of toast, and his vigorous beating of the eggs. (To be fair, I did like the soccer storyline.) The end, though, sold me, and the logic of Michael doing well in the hockey game actually makes sense.

I thought episode two was much, much stronger, despite some similar sitcommy moments (Toby in the bathroom, for example). I liked that was it contained in the office park, and I liked the MSPC dynamic. Michael calling his mom to complain was a highlight for me. And I loved the way he helped Pam with the right things to stay as she closed the sale.

I haven't been a fan of Dwight this year, but the Dwight/Andy dynamic (complete with Stanley face) was terrific, and I loved how their duel this time led to a mutual respect and admiration that sent New Kelly running away. Terrific stuff. Ed Helms has, for me, carried this show for a while now. Despite being stuck in an unfunny story for most of the season, he's remained hilarious.

The Charles/Jim stuff is perhaps overkill, but it is nice to see him continually knocked down. He's probably a better worker than Charles gives him credit for, but this is the first time where he's judged, it seems, on pure work ethic, as opposed to work plus charm. He can't get out of this one with funny faces.

lungfish said...

I enjoy it when they give us reminders that Michael's not completely incompetent also. I thought the introduction of his sales team to the potential investors was well written, as well as Dwight's initial pick-up attempt. A bit understated, and not as over the top as their character are sometimes portrayed.

Also- Idris Elba seems like a pretty good soccer player. I guess not surprising given he's British.

DolphinFan said...

First off: TMSPC was a lot funnier than Dream Team, IMHO. I'm frankly I'm enjoying the painful travails of Jim as he has to face the first boss he's ever had who can't stand him. And that doesn't mean I hate Jim by any means, it's just good to see him dealing with adversity that isn't romantic (Pam) or from a cardboard villain (Ryan), and the show has carefully set things up by having Charles be off-base on enough things (Jim's #2 post being real, a deleted scene from TMSPC where he gets completely set up by Dwight and Andy to be humiliated by Charles) that his redemption will be both earned and funny. I also think it's interesting that the more Charles treats Jim like he's a failure and a loser...the more Jim's work efforts are proving him right.
Not a fan of Shoe Bitch Ryan at all. I like that he's become sleazy in addition to stupid while still thinking he's superior to Pam (of course you could run GM right now, you worthless scumbag!), but he isn't really all that funny yet. Michael inspired Pam to not quit; hopefully soon he will inspire Ryan to scrape together a few brain cells.
Two great low-key laughs from TMSPC: Meredith taking the horrible, Creed-rejected pancakes "for my son" and Angela's dismay at realizing Dwight and Andy are over her, being friendly...and that she actually had sex with BOTH of them!
Looking forward to more turmoil in that Scranton office park.

Nicole said...

I missed the first episode initially and watched the second one first. It was the better episode and I didn't notice that I had missed anything in the sequence until I checked "other sources". That said, the Michael speech to Pam was a good moment, and possibly on the Carell Emmy reel.

I am really disappointed with what they are doing with IE's character, which is not that much. If it wasn't for my love of Stringer Bell, I would be blaming the actor.

LeeZy said...

I liked the look and delayed reaction on Pam's face (during the MSPC episode) when she realized the woman that Ryan was sizing up and rating about on the phone to his friend, was in fact Pam. This was of course after he added that the other person in the office was a former manager at Dunder Mifflin.

You all have to admit... that was very very very good writing...

Anonymous said...

What I can't figure out is Michael's obsession with Ryan. Its like he has the inability to see others flaws.

Why isn't Michael calling on all of his old customers?

Are banjo classes offered at Cornell?

I would like to see more of Vikram. He was excellent.

Steve said...

I liked both episodes, but I think this season is the least funny. I can only attribute it to Greg Daniels leaving the show to work on Parks & Recreation.

Sean said...

My favorite moment by far was Ryan getting picked up by his mom at the end of the workday on TMSPC

Anonymous said...

Micheal did well in a hockey game? Really?
I figured he was remembering a movie or something, not his childhood.
But having never seen "The Mighty Ducks" I thought I missed a reference.

55 said...

It's pretty well established that Michael is an excellent ice skater.

Drama is OK, I wish they'd get back to being funnier. I'm also already tired of Jim v. Charles.

giles said...

did anyone else think it was ridiculously hilarious when toby knocked on the window after the country roads duet and goes "you guys have to stop" in that toby way?

Anonymous said...

I don't mind the Jim/Charles overkill because it has happened to me twice! The first time it lasted a whole year, and there wasn't much I could do about it except work hard and mind my own business. The second time (in a completely different job), my supervisor learned that I was actually a good worker from TPTB, and if anything, it made the situation worse!

It has been cathartic to watch them.

Castaway said...

The "idea" of Jim being seen as a screwup by Charles is a good one because it gives Jim something new to do, but it's already gotten old and repetitive. It's very "sitcommy" to me and not the usual level of Office writing.

The parts of the two episodes with Michael and Pam's storyline were very good, but the rest (call it the comic relief from the "light drama") felt desperate and underwritten.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else flash on Noser doing his "stump the band" routine in Middleman when Andy was affirming the superiority of a capella for every song Dwight shouted out?

Well, I mean, of the 17 or so people who watched Middleman...

Sarah said...

I love the way The Office is headed right now.As much as I've always loved the show,it was getting a bit repetitive but I think that this story arc just shows how the writers are really skilled at planning stories.

Personally,I liked both episodes but I LOVED "Dream Team".The speech Michael gave at the end to Pam was just one of my favorite Office moments.And Steve Carrell played it beautifully,changing his tone of voice so you could take Michael seriously.I think the relationship between Michael and Pam is so interesting and well written.

I love that we're finally getting Pam character development.She developed when she went to art school but coming back,it just felt like something was missing but here is the real Pam story arc.

The Office is so much more than a comedy these days.There are not many shows where I find myself so emotionally invested in so many of the characters.

As far as the Jim/Charles stuff goes,I can't say I'm tired of it because I actually like watching Jim squirm.Love him to death but usually,he's 'Mr. Slick' and I'm enjoying him not being in his comfort zone.

Grunt said...

I appreciated the episodes but didn't really enjoy them. I find Ryan's character now both two dimentional and deplorable. Ryan would never have said, in front of Pam, that she was a 6 in NY but a 7 in Scranton. He would have said it behind her back. And at a certain point Michael has to realize that Ryan is horrible, not just to Pam, but to himself as well (he's pretty self deluding, but not that self-deluding...at some point he realized his relationship with Jan was terrible and he at least got sex from Jan).

And while I liked Jim not being the golden-boy at first this storyline is getting old. It's been established that Jim is a good salesman and he has some big clients. That should account for something. I also hate this stupid sitcom crap where he's asked to give a "rundown" of his clients and instead of going to Charles and saying, "look, I don't know what you mean by a rundown. Do you want me to do X?" there's all this stupidness. At some point Charles is going to realize that Jim did not "fax to the distribution list" whatever that list may be, and then he'll really be up shit's creek. Just profoundly stupid stuff.

Bryan said...

Why would the writers reference that crappy video in the first place, and how would it even be a reference anyway,

yeah - I think it's just to point out Ryan (like many people) will watch anything just to get out of doing work.

btw EOTW- little hard on BJ Novak aren't you? Does he remind you of somebody you really, really hate? It's not a FACT that he sucks as an actor - in my opinion he's not going to when any Emmys for acting but he does a fine job. I've, unfortunately, known many people in the workforce that behave just like that. He's believable - that's how I know (sorry think) he's doing a good job.

Anonymous said...

What is the name of the actress that played "new" Kelly?

jasctt said...

I don't know who played the new phone girl, but she has that weird thing going on where she's both hot and ugly, too (a la Maya Rudolph).

Bryan said...

yeah - or Madaline Albright

pras said...

Here's what bugged me about the "rundown" thing. That sort of thing is simply not a workable joke anymore because Jim can look up the answer on the internet. It would have been one thing if he had asked Oscar immediately after the meeting with Charles, but hours afterwards?

I thought both episodes played like the old hourlong episodes -- about 35 minutes of material padded out to 42. But the stuff that was good was very good.

Also, new Kelly is played by Ellie Kemper.

renton said...

I don't think "rundown" is one of those things you'd necessarily find on the Internet. I think it's more a vague term that you'd hear at work and assume someone would know what it means.

I also want more Vikram. Loved his line about confidence being the food of the wise man and the liquor of the fool.

Omagus said...

Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention: I love how Michael had the clocks from the different time zones around the world. Not only is there absolutely no reason for a regional start-up paper company to have them, the minute hands in all of them were at completely different times.

Alan Sepinwall said...

And the inspirational quote on the whiteboard was Michael quoting Wayne Gretzky.

Bob Timmermann said...

I thought the part about the "rundown" was funny because it is a vague term. Did Charles want a detailed description of every customer? Did he wants sales figures for each one? Contact info?

And then Charles told Jim to send it to "distribution list." Which is something that the Scranton office doesn't have.

If I had been in Jim's shoes and not wanted to look stupid, I would have made up something about "I did a rundown like this in the past, is this how you want it done?" And if it's completely wrong, Jim could just blame Michael for it.

You finesse the "distribution list" question by asking if it's by fax or email and then say that you had a technical problem and need a new list.

Bryan said...

I agree that the rundown was not something that could be found on the internet. My assumption was that it was something that Michael did but was normally delegated. I thought they were going to show how Michael did more work than they realized and that Jim was going to go down and ask Michael for help.

That to me would have made more sense- as it was it was just the weakest part of show.

renton said...

With my non-HD set, the first time I saw the Gretzky quote, I thought it said something other than "shots".

And I was expecting a huge FCC fallout.

But then we got a close-up look later on.

(The other way is kind of funny, too)

LA said...

I cracked up when Jim said he was on the "orange team" in school (second through fourth grade). LOL.

Also nice when Michael came out the door finally dressed, Pam - without verbally commenting - checked an item off her list.

Andrew said...

Loved that the clocks in the MSPC office were Paris, London, Beijing and USA. Brilliant.

"Rundown" works because it is so indescribably vague, and, assuming that it's something like a TPS report, obviously something that Michael never would have cared about.

And Creed is always funny.

wjm said...

Add me to the "tired of watching Jim squirm" list. When Jim is the golden boy, he's also a helluva funnier. I've rarely laughed as hard as I did over "Future Dwight," the (unaired) scene where he finds Dwight's wallet in the parking lot...or a pair of $2 glasses at the drugstore...Andy's phone in the ceiling....

Anonymous said...

I'm loving the Michael Scott Paper Company storyline, but agree that Jim looking dumb to Charles is getting very tired. The problem for me is, it's a good idea that's been really poorly executed.

It would have been great if Charles had taken a dislike to Jim because he pegged Jim just as he is, a smart who's managed to skate along doing mediocre work, half-heartedly (as Jim admitted). Instead they've resorted to implausible contrivances like the ARM job being made up (which it clearly isn't) and Jim not being able to figure out what a rundown of his clients is.

Big said...

The one think that struck me as false was the way the new receptionist was so friendly to Dwight and Andy in the beginning, despite the fact that they were being so obviously creepy. I imagine someone in her position is wary of being hit on in the first place, and her seeming enjoyment of their banter and "music" struck me as being thrown in just for the sake of the joke.

SteveInHouston said...

I think Andrew's got the "rundown" situation pegged.

Whenever we had consolidations at my previous employer - which was often - there was always at least one, and often several, new supervisors that we had to report to.

And each of those supervisors brought his/her methods of required tasks along with him/her. Sometimes this included tasks like "rundowns", and the supervisor always made this sound routine, important, and universally done.

Those of us who had these multiple new bosses to please were often so bewildered by the change - and worried about layoffs that inevitably come out of consolidations - that we were terrified of asking what these tasks entailed because a) we'd look stupid and b) we'd get an answer like Charles gave: "Just do it like you've always done it".

Funny thing is, after a few weeks of doing ... whatever with the things, it became apparent just how irrelevant they were, and how little the new bosses really cared about them. Inertia can be your friend.

Sort of related: I love how Ryan's chief contributions to the new company seem to revolve around creating spreadsheets. My guess is that entails clicking "New" in Excel, filling in a couple of column headers, then saving it. I knew a guy at that previous job who did this all day long. He'd proudly announce he created new spreadsheets in the way that toddlers announce how they made poopies.

And he expected the same praise.

dark tyler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dark tyler said...

This is the best this show's been in years.

From the alternate title card, to the Beijing-London-Paris-USA clocks, to the heartfelt and funny and awakward "Take me Home" scene. Perfection.

dez said...

Stanley's look when Dwight mentions Andy's penis blood rushing.


That look was perfect. I love Stanley.

I liked both eps, especially the glimpses we got of Michael's confidence (whether it was food or liquor).

Jackie said...

First of all, I was at a Maundy Thursday service and missed the first part of Dream Team. ugh!!

I love the new Dwight Schrute--the first time I detected the looser, more casual Dwight was in his conversational voice he took on when he called corporate with a faux kidnapping threat to get through to David Wallace. It's hard to describe, but he's more uninhibited--dare, I say sexier?

Also, Jim's character is at his best when he is put-upon. I am not growing weary of his "can't win" relationship with Charles. In fact, I find him a bit tedious when he's always on top. Maybe it's schaudenfraude (or however it's spelled). Again, I LOVE Jim Halpert!

When Charles gave Stanley "the teacher look" when he was doing crosswords in the meeting, it was as if the writers had visited this very page for the comments from previous episodes. Long live, Stringer! Who else would have liked to have seen his reaction to this kind of behavior? "You need to start looking at the world in a new $&*#ing light. Start thinking about this like some grown $&*#ing men, not some slackers off the $&*#?ing office."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPS9YKGaKQE

Finally, I'm surprised no one noticed the Michael Scott "Pap" signage that suddenly became Michael Scott "Pape" in an instant near the end--when Charles runs into Michael and Pam in the lobby. I found it hilarious--or perhaps an editing snafu that was adorable!

P.S. Pam / Jenna is getting more and more adorable!

Jackie said...

More Vikram, Please!

ZeppJets said...

Did we ever find out why Ryan urgently needed to watch TNT? Perhaps a deleted scene would have made sense of that? My best guess is that he's gambling on NBA games.

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for the next episode to deal with the fact that the MSPC doesn't actually have any paper to sell. Will they get caught trying to "appropriate" paper from the DM warehouse?

Colm said...

I swear, Ryan's boss at the bowling alley looks like Frank Sobotka to me. Same actor?

Magic Pants Jones said...

I wish Charles had come from pharmaceuticals instead of steel. It'd be a nice shout out.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm surprised it took a reader long enough to point this out to me: The Michael Scott Paper Company website.

Anonymous said...

I can't tolerate much more of Charles' character. Elba is a good actor and he is completely wasted in this role - they give him nothing to work with. Why is Jim the bad guy for ducking a hard kick aimed right at him? I get that he's supposed to be a soccer player, but why was Charles kicking it like that?

The other problem is that a hard ass boss would not work at this Scranton office. there just isn;t that much going on (telephone paper sales and accounting?) to justify a tough task master situation. It's fine that Charles is from the steel industry, but "The Office" isn't a unionized production facitlity. The whole concept is stupid and boring. They've previously said that the Scranton branch is great, so they would have just put Jim in charge when Michael left (I know that would prevent the Pam and Michael storyline as it stands, but come on).

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one that thought Pam referring to the sale as hers was a bit over-zealous? She didn't really do any selling, just gave the guy the number for the company.

Jason Potapoff said...

I finally realized where I saw Ellie Kemper before (it took a google image search but..). She was in that fantastic website fake failed sitcom thing The Harry Situation.