A review of "The Office" coming up just as soon as I incentivize murder...
Like last week's "St. Patrick's Day," "New Leads" wasn't an incredibly funny episode, but it felt like the show getting back on course in terms of tone and in terms of having some kind of bigger story to tell.
This was the first time we really felt the impact of the new ownership, as Sabre's "sales is king" corporate culture starts creating big rifts in the office, with Jim and the rest(*) treating the non-sales staff like serfs until Michael brings things to a head when he refuses to give them the new leads(**).
(*) I know there's been some complaining this season that Jim and/or Pam have become smug and unlikable, and I briefly worried that this episode would make things worse in that regard. But then we saw Jim's behavior being equaled (or surpassed) by Dwight and Stanley and Phyllis, and we also saw Jim as the one to convince the others to make a peace offering. So his soul's not gone just yet.
(**) Any mention of new sales leads means I automatically have to link to Alec Baldwin in "Glengarry Glen Ross." Have to. Don't have a choice in the matter.
Tension in the office, particularly tension that's not all based around Michael (even if Michael assumes it is, because every day is Michael's birthday), tends to lead to good episodes. It was fun to see Phyllis become so haughty, and then to see the sales staff have to bend and scrape to the others to get the leads (Stanley enduring a Ryan/Kelly argument about the Kardashians, Phyllis having to fill out meaningless paperwork for Angela, Andy getting too hot-and-bothered over Erin's Hot/Cold game), and then to see the non-salespeople unwittingly throw away some money at the sight of the cookies. (As Stanley, Leslie David Baker has a wonderfully expressive face that the show wisely lets him change only on occasion so it has more effect; the growing smile as Stanley realized what had happened with the cookies almost made the episode on its own.)
Michael and Dwight having a garbage fight at the dump didn't particularly work, in part because it was so goofy (as was Andy and Daryl's wrestling match for the pencil), in part because the green-screen effects had a very distracting quality to them. But I was glad to see the two have a heart-to-heart about how sour their friendship has gotten. (It's a situation that dates back to the Michael Scott Paper Company, though the Sabre corporate structure has only made things worse.) Michael and Dwight are the broadest of the show's lead characters, particularly in their interactions with each other, so it's important that they get to display their humanity together on occasion - even if it has to come in the same episode where they're throwing trash at each other.
Also, for those of you who missed Andy and Erin's first kiss (at the dump) because the tag spilled over into the "30 Rock" timeslot, do what I did last night and set your DVR to record the entire NBC Thursday schedule as a 2-hours-and-2-minutes bloc (because "30 Rock" then tends to spill over into "Marriage Ref"). It's incredibly annoying the way NBC lets the shows overlap timeslots, but they ain't changing, so you have to find a way to work around their annoying habits.
What did everybody else think?