Friday, April 23, 2010

The Office, "Secretary's Day": C is for suspension

A review of last night's "The Office" coming up just as soon as I send out a snail mail blast...

There were a lot of good things in "Secretary's Day," including maybe the best showcase yet for super cast addition Ellie Kemper, and a fine subplot about Oscar's joke video about Kevin. But several pieces never quite fit together well.

The Cookie Monster video has irrevocably changed the way I will hear Kevin's voice from now on in the same way that I can no longer watch the "Parks and Recreation" credits without singing "Jabba the Hutt!" That whole subplot was a very funny portrayal of an office joke run amok, and had a nice payoff with Kevin taking control of the joke by turning everyone's impressions onto Gabe. And, for that matter, it was good to see Gabe doing something other than playing middleman between Michael and Jo Bennett. The idea of him as the corporate bogeyman whom no one actually fears because they can see he has no power is very promising, and I look forward to more of that.

But when Kevin went to Gabe to complain about the video, all I could think was, "Why isn't he going to Toby?" Had they done this as an episode where Toby wasn't at work that day, it would have been fine, but once we saw him at the fax machine, it became a distraction. Toby eventually figured into the story (by giving Jim and Pam the ammo to get two extra paid vacation days), but overall it felt like they shoehorned Gabe into what should have been a Toby story because they needed to give the new guy something to do (and/or because, as one of the showrunners, Paul Lieberstein has less time to appear on camera these days). It's something that could have been easily fixed either with Toby absent all show, or even with a brief scene of Toby sending Kevin to see Gabe because he didn't want to deal with the problem, but we got neither in the final cut.

As for the Erin story, it worked if you were able to completely forget every previous Michael/Erin scene. Until now, the idea has been that these two have a mutual admiration society - that Erin not only worships Michael, but that Michael in turn is grateful to finally have the fawning sidekick and partner in crime he always hoped Pam would be. Here, though, Mindy Kaling's script tried to portray the relationship as entirely one-sided, with Michael barely tolerating Erin's presence as a favor to Andy. As much fun as some of Erin's non-stop chatter was ("then it became a full Taco Bell and I couldn't keep up"), and as well as she played the freak-out at the restaurant (pictured above, with Erin trying to turn her hair into her room), it wasn't until the final scene on the bench that any part of the episode resembled the previously-established dynamic between those two.

Still, it was good to have the Angela cat finally come out of the bag, and funny to see Erin throw a cake in Andy's face, and also to hear the phrase "a novelization of the movie 'Precious, Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire,'" but as with the Kevin subplot, this needed some tinkering.

A few other thoughts:

• I was afraid to go back and freeze-frame, but did we actually see Meredith's exposed breast in the scene where she was using Pam's breast pump? Also, should I even ask why she would be using it, or just block the whole moment from my memory?

• TV-savviness: Dwight thinks of "Sesame Street" as "that program where all the puppets live in the barrio," while Gabe suggests everyone leave the impressions to "the pros at 'Mad TV.'"

• I should also say that I liked how Kaling's script and Steve Carell's direction gave us a slightly more grown-up, recognizably human Michael, after we've seen a few episodes this season (including the Kaling-scripted "Manager and Salesman") that set him at a more cartoonish angle.

What did everybody else think?

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

THe previous state of the relationship wasn't overtly in the mutual admiration territory. Michael still didn't think of Erin as the equal of Pam. The last episode where they shared lots of time together was with the trip to the school where Michael sponsored some kids and had many moments where Michael was exaperated with Erin. They got on the same page at the end, tho. Not an egregious cheat, I'd say.

Kenny said...

Alan,
You're a bit off: they have previously established that Michael didn't exactly like Erin...he wished for Pam to be his secretary on the road trip. Maybe by the end of the episode he had started to warm up to her, but he has never really been as comfortable with Erin as he was with Pam.

I feel tremendously dorky writing this.

Keep up the great work!

Brian said...

I was just going to post what the first commenter did. I saw the Scott's Tots episode the other day, and they arc of the Michael-Erin relationship is the same in both episodes.

They seem to have Erin in the same place with Michael that Dwight was early. He loves the fawning to a point, then has a problem with it.

Also, very funny at the end with Michael the only one liking Kevin's reply to Oscar.

Sirfuller said...

This episode made Jim and Pam look totally smug. Much like the episode when they interviewed at the day care center.

Swedge said...

I thought it was a contender for best episode of the season. It was the first time in a long time that after it was over I wouldn't have changed anything about it. No complaints at all.

Crcala said...

Hmmm, I can see both sides of the are Erin and Michael friends debate. They do get along better since the Scott's Tots episode (and Michael even tried to set her up with Kevin). But I think their relationship is kind of similar to how Michael and Dwight's used to be--Michael likes having someone blindly follow him around and support him, but is always trying to find someone cooler to hang out with, like Ryan and Jim, if he can. So it kind of makes sense he was trying to find a way out of lunch.

Also, I didn't think that Jim and Pam were being smug about going home--they had just been unfairly suspended for 2 days over a minuscule offense. Gabe was being a jerk (although I felt bad for him at the end). They found a way to get one over him and spend 2 days with their kid while getting paid. If you think about how Jim is and pranks he's played in the past (making Dwight think it was Saturday instead of Friday so he wouldn't come in to work comes to mind) he hasn't really changed.

Overall I thought it was a good episode.

olucy said...

Huh. I had the same reaction Alan did about Erin and Michael. I kept thinking "who are these people?"

Now that some of you have put it in context, I can see your point. But considering Michael *has* warmed to Erin more recently, his disdain for her seemed to come out of the blue. Maybe it was brought on by having to spend lunch alone with her. It just felt a little stronger than it needed to. And she was even ditzier than usual, too. I love eccentric Erin, I just thought they went a little far with her this ep.

Liked the rest of the ep more than I have in quite awhile. Everything else rang true for that office.

As for the breast pump....I think you should try to forget about it, Alan, but I Meredith said it felt good, so I think that's why she was using it.

Andrew said...

Michael never really likes people who like him a lot ("wouldn't join a club that would have me as a member"). See Andy, Dwight, even Toby, who has tried to be Michael's friend and obviously failed hilariously. Their interactions felt a bit off, but I think that's because Michael is usually pleased as punch to find out that anyone considers him an authority figure/mentor/superior in any way, so it was weird that he was so not into taking Erin to lunch. But he definitely has a cool kids club at the office that he wants to join, and Erin isn't a member.

Decent episode, although I thought some of the Gabe stuff was almost too mean. Laughed out loud at Kelly and Ryan arguing over whether parody was necessarily derivative. I know they are both busy writing and producing the show, but I would like a little check-in with those two soon.

If you've watched the webisodes you had to feel particularly bad for Erin - Angela was her mentor! Such betrayal.

belinda said...

Awesome picture choice in the post.

I liked that this episode portrayed Michael as someone who would be bothered by Erin (as other posters have said, I do think that relationship has been established in the show) - and that he was actually kind of a normal guy - from him agreeing to take Erin out to lunch, to accidentally tellling Erin about Angela, to him trying to cover it up, to him comforting Erin at the end - it was all a pretty normal reaction to a colleague who one don't particularly care for - for Michael or for anyone really.

Now that you mention it, Gabe does resemble Toby maybe a bit too much as the butt of the office. But at least, it was more enjoyable seeing Gabe struggle at his new job where he can't fire people yet still have to garner authority than seeing the earlier eps with Kathy Bates as the Sabre boss. Makes me wonder if the show would have been better this season had they concentrated on Gabe a little more in the Sabre takeover story.

Matt Wilstein said...

Here's the clip of Kevin as Cookie Monster in case you missed it (or just want to watch it again and again):
http://bit.ly/dfjFAs

Col Bat Guano said...

I enjoyed some of the Erin/Michael plot line, but it seems like they don't have a good handle on what Erin's character really is and so each week we get some new personality quirk tossed in just for laughs. Plus she is getting a lot of screen time for someone who has only been there a year. If I'm any of the actors playing the accountants I'd be a little pissed. I suppose I can only hope that this is the end of the Andy/Erin story?

HarrySTruman2 said...

I think that Michael not wanting to take Erin to Lunch had something do with it being Secretary's day and not Boss's day.

Michael want to make every event about him.

Kathy said...

I think we've all had co-workers that we get along with at work but really don't have much in common with outside the office. I think the idea of spending an entire lunch away from the office with someone other than one of the "cool kids" was just too much for Michael. I'm sure he would have welcomed a group lunch where he could have celebrated the secretary while interacting with Ryan and Jim.

I kept waiting for someone to explain to Erin how badly Angela had treated Andy so she might have felt some sympathy for him.

DirtyKash said...

I rewound the DVR several times and even zoomed in as much as possible: we do see Meredith's exposed breast, but her nipple is very conveniently blocked from view by the breast pump itself. So there we go.

olucy said...

Thanks for taking one for the team, DirtyKash.

Anonymous said...

I didn't have a problem with the Erin/Michael relationship, but I found it a bit hard to believe that no one had previously told Erin about Andy's engagement to Angela. Both Kelly and Phyllis seem pretty gossipy, so I would think that one of them would have delighted in telling Erin the whole ugly story.

Overall I thought it was a pretty good episode. It was great to see Pam and Jim joking and working together to get 2 paid days off. And both of their imitations of Kevin were spot-on.

Anonymous said...

Alan, you didn't mention the absolute best line of the episode, Michael's "I'll have what she's having." Of course Michael wouldn't use the quote in quite the right context, although he was oh so close.

Schmoker said...

Alan, you are starting to come across a bit likes this is real documentary. Why didn't Kevin go to Toby?

Ok, I'll play along. Ummm... has Toby ever been able to stop the inmates from running the asylum these past five years?

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that most people are defending the Michael vs. Erin dislike. I'll admit to not remembering the details of the Scott's tots episode, but I spent the entire episode asking "who are these people and what have they done w/ the original version of these characters?". The justifications for Michael's extreme dislike seem like a stretch...For example, if part of his reason for not wanting to go involves the fact that he wishes it was "boss' day", then why did he let Andy, his employee, tell him what to do? Why didn't he warm up at all when Erin wished him a happy boss' day? Michael was 100% unwavering in his dislike, and then the only way to explain it was to turn Erin into a character that she was not. She's sweet, simple, naive, not insane.

I hated the entire main plot, and it made it hard to laugh at the subplot, which i thought was funny.

drbluman said...

I liked the Kevin as Cookie Monster joke, but it struck me as something the writers have been holding on to for years waiting for a rainy day, so I'm still worried the show is running on fumes.

shushie said...

Erin's "hair room" freak out was the absolute best part of the show and probably one of the funniest things I've seen this season (in addition to Michael's poorly placed "When Harry Met Sally" reference). I am totally enjoying how bizarre Erin's character is turning out to be -- not like crazy weird, but just normal office/workplace weird.

That being said, as funny as it was I laughed ten times harder within the first minute of "30 Rock" with Tracy Morgan's character's admission that he shouted "BabaBooey" at Walter Kronkite's funeral. I still fear that the best "The Office" has to offer us is in the past :(

And Meredith/breast pump – I’m just trying to forget that part of the show.

iamnoahjames.com said...

I actually loved this episode, even with the cringe-worthy scenes.

Ever since you, Alan, made mention how Gabe is such a sad character that's how I've seen him. The fact that his character IS so tragic made me laugh harder at his storyline.

I wouldn't be so quick to call "BS!" on the Michael/Erin relationship. For one, they haven't really had TOO much interaction. even with the horrible Scott's Tots, their interaction in the car was very muted due to Michael being so in his (8-yr old) head about how he'd break the news to these kids.

And let's say they HAVE gotten to know each other. When you first meet people, a lot of times we hide our true selves. But when we feel comfortable with others we open up. SO MANY relationships die because after so long, people being fake end up acting like their true selves (or is that just what kept happening to me in the past. Stupid fakers!).

So in that sense, maybe Erin had started to be more comfortable around Michael; so she talked more; and more; and he realized that she's actually weird to him.

Moving on, has Toby put on some weight?

Melissa S. said...

One of my favorite moments was when Pam tried to comfort Erin by telling her about her own previous engagement to a co-worker... and Erin replies that she hopes she finds what she's looking for someday. I missed having Pam around!

Raked said...

I'm so glad you mentioned Michael's relationship with Erin. That bothered me to no end, especially since (thanks to NBC reruns), we just saw "Scott's Tots," where Erin and Michael had this nice moment in the car of mutual respect--and if I remember correctly, Michael saying Erin reminded him of himself. This was completely off-base. (I see Brian mentioned this in a comment earlier.)

Now, if Michael had been preoccupied with the latest Michael-related drama, so much so that he didn't want to deal with a formal lunch, that might be different. But then again, we didn't get that.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to go all the way back to "Scott's Tots". Just re-watch the end of "Manager and Salesman", where Michael and Erin had moved all of his stuff back into his office, and they ended up dancing to the keyboard music. To go from that to "Secretary's Day" just seems off.

Mark S. said...

Why would Jim and Pam want 2 extra days off paid? They are in sales. They get paid commission. If they take 2 more days off from work, then they don't make sales and don't get commission.

Brian said...

"To go from that to "Secretary's Day" just seems off."

But isn't Michael Scott built completely around being "off?"

Anonymous said...

I don't have much else to say that others haven't said, but Mindy Kaling has always had a somewhat different take on Erin than the other writers, in my opinion. Nevertheless, I thought this was one Kaling's better scripts, in recent memory. It did some things well that I don't usually attribute to her.

I'm a bit disappointed that NBC hasn't posted some of Oscar's videos on its website yet.

rks said...

I thought this episode was really entertaining and a lot of credit goes to Ellie Klempfer's acting (hope I didn't mangle her name too much) and Mindy Kaling's script.

Confession: I couldn't stand either Andy or Erin until they got together and then, somehow, they just clicked for me so I hope they find their way back together.

Oddly enough, I found Erin's hair scene very touching. She's weird but in a uniquely endearing way. As for Michael, it always seemed to me that he couldn't stand her, that as someone else pointed out, Michael desperately wants to hang with the cool kids and doesn't consider Erin one of them.

After watching this episode, I've decided that Cookie Monster is far more lively in his speech than Kevin is. Also, Creed and Meredith belong together---their creepiness knows no bounds.

Word Verification: Hystorba, Zorba's highly-strung older brother

Ryan W said...

My wife and I thought the episode was fine but I was bugged by a very different continuity problem: did Angela and Andy ever have sex? IIRC, Angela always kept him at arm's length during their engagement and, as we found out later, she was only having sex with Dwight.

This issue ties into my larger problem with how much Andy has changed over the years. I suppose we can write this off to his time in anger management, but he bears almost no resemblance to the hound we met in season 3.

tribalism said...

Hmm...not nearly as good as "Happy Hour" (I mean, who can resist the charm of Date Mike?), but it was nice to be reminded of Angela. The last episode focused on her continued interest on Dwight and after this, it's quite apparent that she really didn't have significant feelings for Andy despite their engagement.

Now I thought that one of the big jokes was that Andy and Angela never actually had sex. I remember Andy saying something a few years back about how he wanted to work on his six pack for the wedding night since it would be the first time Angela would have seen him naked.

Anyways, you can find the rest of my thoughts on this episode on my blog including my favourite lines, favourite exchange, and favourite mental snapshots. Click my username for the link.

Anonymous said...

I remember the reason Dwight ended his "duel" with Andy last season was because Andy said that he had slept with Angela twice and Dwight thought she was only sleeping with him and had cheated on him with her fiance(awesome twisted logic!).

leor said...

interestingly, i had the same reaction to the Michael/Erin dynamic as Alan, but after reading the comments here, i did start to think back to their past interactions and it seems like the evolution does make sense. it's also important to remember that Erin has actually gotten weirder the longer we've known her. at first she seemed naive and wide-eyed, but fairly normal...but we've since seen that she has some very unusual quirks! (not that i'm bashing the character...i think she's been a great addition!)

BigTed said...

Gabe reminds me a lot of Guy MacKendrick, the new owners' rep on "Mad Men."

He'd better hope Michael never brings a lawnmower into the office.

Dave T said...

did Angela and Andy ever have sex?

She admitted to Erin that they had sensual relations, but didn't mention sex.

AbbyG said...

Going to completely geek out over here- Andy and Angela did have sex, I think once. Dwight was under the impression that he was her only sex partner then when all the **** hit the fan felt betrayed when Andy revealed there had been actual sex involved.

iamnoahjames.com said...

Twice. Angela & Andy had sex twice. He says it in the Duel episode.

Ted Frank said...

I got the impression that it was Gabe who went to Kevin in the hopes of using the situation to assert himself in the office, which would solve the "Why didn't Kevin go to Toby?" issue.

DolphinFan said...

It is getting harder and harder to suspend my disbelief that Angela hasn't been ridden out of the office on a rail, or at least gotten the living **** beaten out of her. She cheated on Andy the entire time they were engaged and SHE's embarrassed people knew they had sex (just like they knew the worst details of her and Dwight's fornicating)? Needless to say, the details of what happened with Andy would probably have made a sane person understand why he didn't talk about it (not sure that covers Erin so much at this point), so of course she didn't share them at a point where it would have helped him. I get that Angela is who she is, and having her being nice would be as bad for show continuity as a focused Creed, a well-mannered Meredith, an ascetic Kevin, etc. But it's bad when a character is this unlikable this consistently and both fans and the other characters have to pretend there's a good reason she's still tolerated by them. Michael's the boss, Dwight is a good salesperson, Ryan's no longer central enough for his behavior to matter to anyone. What's the rationale for Angela?

Anonymous said...

Secretary's Day... wow. They really use holidays as a crutch way too often over at The Office.

Anonymous said...

Not a bad episode compared to some of the others this season. I agree, it always nice when Michael acts halfway normal, as opposed to the hard to watch Date Mike. That being said, I have no idea where this show is going. The Erin/Andy thing is a nice side story, but it should never be the main plot to any episode. They are not Jim and Pam. Speaking of whom, those two grow more and more unlikeable every show. The sad thing is there is no other substantial angle they can go with them besides infidelity, which I really don't see happening. They used to be the driving force of the show. Now they are no more interesting than Kevin or Phyllis. I say they do one more season, have Michael and Holly reunite and get married, and call it a day.

Mayn Man said...

Come on guys! The funniest line in the episode is definitely:

"If it wasn't for secretaries, I wouldn't have a stepmother"- Andy Bernard

Col Bat Guano said...

What did Jim and Pam do to become more unlikable in this episode? I've heard this complaint a lot this season, but I haven't seen what people find so objectionable about them.

forg/jecoup said...

Jim and Pam were likable this episode, they were a bit smug earlier this season when Jim was co-manager but this episode I found them likable again.

I love the "Precious" joke

Scott Hollifield said...

Just wanted to throw something out there, if a bit late, concerning the debate over the Michael/Erin dynamic. It was pretty evident to me that this shifted, to the degree that it did, because Erin was genuinely excited over getting to asked to a Secretary's Day lunch by her boss, and hence felt free to open up to him. Michael, for his part, already nonplussed over the obligatory ritual, was transparently annoyed by Erin's endless blather. This wasn't a contradition to earlier characterization, it was a natural adjustment.

It also just so happened that we got a sudden, unusually potent dose of new Erin weirdness as she felt free to chatter on about topics that generally interest six-year-olds, which I thought was wonderful and a welcome expansion of her character.

King Killer Dave said...

I think the Michael / Erin discomfort felt very contrived, and I believe last year's Cafe Disco ep is why.

Finding Michael Scott fun and/or entertaining is social currency for him. I would think the blast the two of them had together in that episode would have cemented the friendship forever, and I don't think Michael would just forget about it (in fact, I think he would cling to any memory of someone treating him so favorably).

His mere "tolerance" of her didn't work.

Anonymous said...

Dwight's apology was by far the best part of this episode, though I enjoyed most of it. "I kiss your hand as a sign of contrition..."

I nearly died. No, literally. I was drinking some water when I saw that and I choked. Seriously.

Good episode. Not quite "The Delivery" or "Happy Hour", but good.

Josh M. said...

I think they missed one good joke - Pam should have been mad they never celebrated "Secretary's Day" when she held the job.

Anonymous said...

Josh M., the issue of Pam and Secretary's Day is covered in a deleted scene you can watch on nbc.com and probably hulu too.

Oaktown Girl said...

Add me to the list of folks who were baffled by Michael's seemingly sudden and extreme dislike for Erin. That scene a few episodes back where Michael and Erin were reunited and dancing geekily to Michael's synthesizer sound machine was one of the sweetest and most likable moments in Office history, at least for me.

I could understand if Michael was feeling lazy and felt "put upon" by the obligation to take Erin to lunch. But his absolute aversion to spending any time at all with her was a total mystery to me, and I found it very sad.