Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Office: Good night, Mary Beth, whoever you are

Spoilers for "The Office" just as soon as I put "Lost Boys" in my Netflix queue...

Of course they gave Joss Whedon the episode where Jim turns into a vampire. Of course they did, even if it was already written (or at least planned) well before Joss offered to direct, even if they didn't tell Joss about that particular subplot, even if everyone who works on the show does a pinky swear that this is all some brilliant coincidence.

But I'll get back to Undead Jim and Dwight beating on the bat (with a bat? I forget what implement he was using at the end) in a bit. I want to start at the end, with that incredibly sweet scene at the art gallery between Michael and Pam. As Pam's gallery ordeal just got worse and worse -- I think Roy shamelessly trying to use it to get laid was worse than what Oscar's roommate said -- I assumed that Jim would show up to sort of save the day as he always does, only he'd have Karen with him, so it would be bittersweet. Instead, Michael got to be the hero, without even realizing it -- and then almost ruined the moment with a leftover prop from his lecture. (It was both a more poignant and funnier version of the Dwight/Pam scene from "Back from Vacation.")

The writers have done some interesting things with Michael and Pam this year: her directing her bird funeral eulogy at him, her driving him home from the Diwali celebration (after totally shooting down his advances), and now this. Most shows would keep playing the one easy note of Pam being rightfully appalled by Michael, but these writers have the wisdom to know that human being are more complex than that -- even overgrown eight-year-olds like Michael Scott -- and so they can occasionally show Pam feeling protective of Michael, or in this case Pam feeling grateful towards him. And it was so perfect that the drawings he loved were of their office and things in it, because Michael is such a purely literal person. She drew their office -- the be all and end all of Michael's existence -- and she drew it accurately in a photo-realist style. Was there any way he wasn't going to be over the moon for that stuff?

I complained last week that Michael's behavior at the wedding made me uncomfortable, even if it was in character. He made just as big a fool of himself in front of Ryan's class, but this one didn't have me squirming nearly as much, because the stakes were lower. Michael was on the verge of ruining Phyllis' wedding day, a big deal in any woman's life, whereas he wasn't doing any real damage to anyone but himself in that lecture hall. (If anything, Ryan's professor probably gave him extra credit after seeing what Ryan has to deal with in the real business world.) The storyline was evocative of a couple of Brit "Office" plots (David taking over the company seminar, and David the disastrous motivational speaker), but in a good way. Best parts of this plot: Ryan's complete lack of conviction as he said "it would be stupid not to do it, right?" and Michael coming up with a far wiser, fairer and meaner punishment than firing for Ryan.

Now, onto the real reason the great and powerful Joss was so clearly hired: Schrute Vampire Slayer. This was very broad in parts, though no broader than "The Injury" or "The Fight" or "Gay Witch Hunt," and when you have an episode end in genuine tears, I think it's very fair to go broader on the other storyline. Loved how quickly Creed fell into an alliance with Dwight, and how he had stake-sharpening tools at the ready. (I hear Creed Bratton once stabbed a man in Reno just to watch him die.) Loved how seeing Pam back with Roy has Jim finally committing to Karen not only as his girlfriend, but as his prankster sidekick. Loved that, for once, one of Jim's pranks didn't have any real negative repercussions on anyone, including Dwight, but was just a way to amuse himself while engaging Dwight's fantasies about the paranormal. And I loved the garbage bag-errific climax.

And speaking of which, some other thoughts:
  • Hey, Meredith got something semi-significant to do! Woo-hoo! I'm biased, because Kate Flannery's really nice and wicked funny in person, but I've felt really bad this season at her minimal screen time compared even to the other second-tier characters. As I wrote in the comments a while back, the problem with Meredith is that her job doesn't automatically put her into contact with the other characters, and her defining characteristic as the office lush doesn't make her a go-to joke machine, the way Stanley's crabbiness or Creed's creepiness can be applied to any situation.
  • With Ryan banished to the Chatty Annex, does that mean Jim gets his old desk back? And what will having both of his women in his sightline do for that awkward dynamic?
  • At first, I assumed Toby's desire to ditch his daughter's play to go to Pam's show was a continuation of his lame attempt to ask her out earlier this season. Maybe it was that, too, but his line about kids plays and how "what they do is not art" had me rolling -- and crying just a little, since I'm not too far away from having to attend elementary school plays on a regular basis.
  • The "write that down"/laptop gag was nicely done, and reminded me for some reason of the bit in "Life of Brian" where Brian tells the mob of worshippers that they all have to think for themselves, and they say, "We have to think for ourselves! Tell us more!"
  • "Poop is raining from the ceilings! Poop!"
What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

When Toby was talking to Pam about her art show, I said to my wife, "Toby's still got the hots for Pam".
So, I guess I was on the same page with you on that one.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I thought Toby's willingness to blow off his kid's play was about his lingering crush for Pam (although what happened to the date from the gym last week?).

You didn't mention the genius candy bar lecture. Good call on that laptop/paper gag though, I hadn't thought of that parallel but it totally works.

My favorite part of the vampire subplot was the scene of Jim standing a little too close to Dwight while staring at his neck. Reminded me of "Prophesy Girl", when Xander accused Angel of being a little too interested in his neck when they were on their way to rescue Buffy: "I told you to eat before we left".

Anonymous said...

I liked the episode but was actually really disturbed by the garbage bag ending. My parents had one in their house and, though they never got very near to it, were told to get rabies shots just in case. I can't imagine having one trapped in a bag over your head.

Anonymous said...

Long time reader, first time poster. Excellent, excellent episode. Michael definitely wasn't as cringe-inducing (and actually felt bad that he is just so oblivious), loved the Jim & Dwight sublot & Michael & Pam were just too sweet. Although, when Pam was hugging him and horrified, I expected Michael to pull out a "5th Avenue", ("And once you make that 100 Grand, maybe one day you can live on...5th Avenue!") Some of my favorite quotes of the night:

Stanley: "Good-bye!"
Jim: "I've got a headache...the relfection off of Angela's crucifix is blinding."
Kelly: "Omigod, omigod, omigod!"

I think Toby still does have the hots for Pam, but also didn't want to go to the play. I have a 3 1/2 year old son, so I'm not too far away from the elementary school plays myself.

Anonymous said...

Oh! I almost forgot one of my favorite lines of the night:

Kelly: "You can't do that. The bat is a living, breathing thing!"

"Kill it! Kill it!"


K J Gillenwater said...

I was a little disappointed that Jim didn't show up at Pam's art showing, but I'm not sure she even invited him. I suppose we can guess that she did, but perhaps she is trying to break off the friendship she had with him?

Anyway, I was pleased that they made Roy true to his neanderthal character of last season. So obvious it was a booty call visit rather than any caring for the art she created.

Seems like Pam is headed for a very emotional low--each week she gets further away from happiness in her life. There's gonna be a breakdown at some point with Jim around. Because he isn't going to stick out his neck again for her...she's got to make the move.

The bat subplot was so silly...I loved it. Also, Michael was cringeworthy, but more believably so. The wedding show was just way too much over-the-top Michael. This week, I could believe him as a real person.

Anonymous said...

"My Momma told me son, always be a good boy, don't ever play with...bats?"

Anonymous said...

when Angela was cowering on the floor, was she reciting the Act of Contrition?

Unknown said...

Oscar saying that courage and honesty weren't Pam's strong suit was a nice "hurt's but it's true" moment.

"I'd be crazy not to do it" had be on the floor from the start. BJ Novak just sold that line with his expression, and I love Michael's punishment for him, exiling Ryan to the chatty Annex.

It's always fun when people under-estimate Michael just because he's got the emotional depth of an 8 year old whose social behaviour is based on things he sees on TV.

That episode was definitely some good crazy.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Can anyone who's watched the deleted scenes guess what the punchline is to Meredith's joke?

Anonymous said...

I'll go with the Toby likes Pam theory--I do have kids who have been in their fair share of elementary school plays, and when it's your own kids, it's not nearly so painful--Toby would be there, especially as a divorced dad, I think. The bat-garbage bag scene? I am not particularly bothered by bats, but I agree--pretty disturbing since it went on so long. My favorite scene was Jim walking away, flipping up his coat collar and looking back at Dwight...hilarious!

Anonymous said...

I used to be a Jim-Pam supporter, but lately I can't figure out why anyone would still be hung up on Pam when Karen has everything Pam has (arguably, even more). Jim doesn't need Pam as a prankster sidekick since Karen fills the role very well. Karen has always been direct with Jim about how she feels, and has been very understanding as well. I like Pam, but I've pretty much had it with this whole "Jam" situation. Karen + Jim 4ever, I say!

Anonymous said...

I've been amazed at the Karen hatred from fans of the show. I love Pam too but Karen's a woman who threw horns while bellowing "Call of Duty!" She's like the dream woman.

Abbie said...

I listened to Meredith several times, but I can't pick up the last half of it at all.

Speaking of deleted scenes, anyone who is questioning whether Toby harbors feelings for Pam (despite the gym date) should watch the deleted scenes from last week. There's a long one that makes it pretty obvious. Pam picks up on it and starts to avoid him.

Anonymous said...

I liked that Michael got to point out that Ryan has never made a sale. This is a really good slam on book-learned, business-school-attending, frisbie-throwing Ryan, and I'm glad the show chose to play it up (in a non-deleted scene). It's the type of childish but nonetheless insightful comment that reminds us why Michael's probably a good salesman.

But I would disagree about Jim's pranks. If you read the escalating pranks as depressive/self-destructive behavior -- he's willing to pull pranks even on his friends -- then this week was the capper, since he set himself up to be stabbed by Dwight. And I think everyone knows Dwight would do it.

I have a guess as to what the punchline to Meredith's joke is, but I don't want to suggest something so filthy and be wrong.


Anonymous said...

The "write that down"/laptop gag was nicely done, and reminded me for some reason of the bit in "Life of Brian" where Brian tells the mob of worshippers that they all have to think for themselves, and they say, "We have to think for ourselves! Tell us more!"

I was thinking "The jury all wrote down on their slates 'She doesn't believe there's an atom of meaning in it.'"

The final scene with Michael and Pam was just brilliant. I was also expecting Jim to show up, so this was a lovely twist. Although it's getting harder and harder for me to watch Michael because he reminds me of my own boss. He would never behave at someone's wedding the way Michael did, but the whole "work is my life" "40-year-old virgin" thing is eerily similar.

CM said...

Roy: "Your art is the prettiest art of all the art."

I was afraid that Jim would get staked.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

> I used to be a Jim-Pam supporter,
> but lately I can't figure out why
> anyone would still be hung up on
> Pam when Karen has everything Pam
> has (arguably, even more).

Can't say that I disagree with you,
but it seems that the writers give
Jim and Pam better chemistry than
Jim and Karen... at least, it seems
that way to me.

K J Gillenwater said...

Karen is trying too hard to make the relationship with Jim work. Worrying about every little thing. Having these long, drawn-out (late night) conversations about their relationship. That is a sign of a woman trying everything to keep a man that is not that interested in her.

If they were so good for each other, she wouldn't have these insecurities. They would just be comfortable with each other and know that everything was good between them.

Karen is only going along with the prankster stuff b/c she knows Pam used to play that role, and if that's what she needs to do to keep Jim, then she'll do it. I think deep down she believes it is childish as evidenced by earlier episodes when she rebuffed his attempts to include her in the pranks.

Anonymous said...

My wife has suggested that I am being foolish about Meredith's joke. Since we can see her lips, even with bleeping what she says can't actually be naughty -- lip-readable naughty is still a no-no for the networks, right?


The Franchise said...

I'm thinking the reason that Michael showed up rather than Jim is because Pam and Michael are going to mirror the relationship Michael and Jim had last season. On the booze cruise it was Michael's words that made Jim go over and declare his love for Pam (which never happened due to Roy's setting a date..Damn u Rob Riggles) so I'm thinking we will see a similar scene later in the season where Michael inspires Pam to confront Jim, because of that they need to strengthen the Pam and Michael relationship. This was a great step after the awkward kiss attempt; it nicely builds off of Pam’s comforting of Michael after Ed Truck's death

Donlee Brussel said...

Maybe I'm missing something, but I'd say that it didn't look like Karen was in on Jim's prank and was genuinely just baffled by his behavior. Am I wrong?

Cinemania said...

Seemed pretty clear that she was hamming it up to me, donlee.

Donlee Brussel said...

Then I'm just mildly retarded.

Anyone else think that this is the episode that should be sent to Emmy voters to remind them of why Steve Carell indisputably deserves the Best Actor Comedy Emmy?

Anonymous said...

I love that Michael still had a Chunky in his pocket when he got to the art show. I wonder if he had planned to incorporate a Chunky into his speech and how he would have done that?

or maybe it was just for himself to eat?

anyway, I got a huge laugh out of wondering why he had a Chunky in his pocket and how it would've worked in his speech.

Anonymous said...

I hear Creed Bratton once stole a car in Wichita just to joyride.

Anonymous said...

Pretty sure they were implying that Roy told people from the office not to go to Pam's showing, including Toby and Kelly (the "safe" people he had no problem strong arming). Plus Roy's comment "how cool is it that I'm here and brought my brother and no one from the office came". Pam knew and it made the whole situation even more sad.