Thursday, October 18, 2007

Alan Sepinwall's day off

October 19 is my birthday, so I'm pulling a Ferris and taking Friday off. (Playing the role of Cameron: my daughter.) I wrote my "Mad Men" and "Friday Night Lights" reviews in advance, so those should be posted close to on time (if either one's delayed here, check the blog, which allows me to auto-schedule posts), and I'm going to deal with "The Office" and "30 Rock" really quickly right now. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I make a reservation under the name Abe Froman...

Paul Lieberstein, who plays the most melancholy character on "The Office" in Toby, writes and directs a very melancholy episode that I found oddly compelling in a way that none of the previous three were, even though I would argue all of those were funnier, minute-to-minute. Lieberstein really understands what makes these characters tick, so while Michael's second job and money problems or Dwight literally moaning over Angela weren't gut-bustingly funny the way the DVD screensaver gag or the Alfredo's Pizza Cafe/Pizza By Alfredo gag were, I felt invested throughout. And by the time Jan gave Michael the pep talk in the train yard and Jim opened up to Dwight about heartbreak -- and then professed his love of Pam/Italian food -- I was genuinely touched.

Which isn't to say there was no comedy here, just of a lower-key variety, like Michael pointing out to Ryan that he wasn't going to figure out the Power Point presentation even if he didn't have the second job, Kelly being baffled by Darryl's straight talk, the protracted "whoever" vs. "whomever" debate, or Kevin telling Michael to call someone in the mob for gambling advice. Also, any episode in which Michael can cogently explain why the original "Die Hard" was much better than the fourth gets major bonus points from me.

Meanwhile, any "30 Rock" episode that comes out and makes the obvious but brilliant Jack Donaghy/Tim Donaghy joke automatically gets a pass from me. Fortunately, there was some other brilliant stuff in there, including Kenneth's reaction to Jenna licking his face, Steve Buscemi saying of Jack's cookie jar collection, "You wish it was a gay thing!," Angie explaining that Tracy wouldn't play Obama because "we support Kucinich," or Jack explaining that "businesswoman" isn't a word. They still haven't knocked one out of the park yet this season, but they've made me laugh a lot.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

Honestly I'm a tad peeved that there were zero repurcussions to the kidnapping of the pizza boy. I think they usually do a good job with continuity, and i would've loved to see Michael in the slammer for a night, asking Dwight to google "shiv" and telling lame jokes to the guards.

Anonymous said...

It was one of the finest hours of TV I've seen in years, frankly. Jan explaining to Michael that for all her madness, she DOES appreciate what Michael has done for her had me in tears.

Anonymous said...

Have a great birthday!

Maybe you can talk your daughter into Twisting and Shouting with you.

audie said...

favorite parts of office that weren't mentioned by the birthday boy:

the literal powerpointing of michael
karen's whatever loser, go die send off
the flinging of poo by moses
how everyone liked michael at his second job
michael talking to stanley on the phone. and him being on speaker haha.

Mapeel said...

Libras rock.

Anonymous said...

This was absolutely the best Office so far this season. I had actually just caught a repeat on TBS of the episode where Michael makes the sale to Tim Meadows (also the episode of Jan and Michael's initial hook-up) and noted how broad and slapstick the show had strayed since then. Tonight, I felt it finally returned to form. Thank you, Paul Lieberstein!

I loved: the touch that Dwight had kept Angela's porcelain figurine, the writers finding a nice way to show Jim and Pam kiss, Pam's reaction to Kelly and Daryl, and Andy's ridiculous wide-legged stance when he was talking to Pam--and the fact that it got wider the longer he was standing there.

Anonymous said...

great episode of the office - not as high on laffs per minute as some episodes maybe but very much nailing what's great about the show and the whomever/whoever scene ranks with my favorite moments on the show ever - involving like half the cast at least and ending with more toby/michael tension, a never ending source of joy for me.

30 rock was funny but still not at peak performance yet this year.

Anonymous said...

Alan, you've described so well what's great about this week's "The Office"! I loved the episode! And happy birthday! Love all of your blogs :)

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your birthday!

Anonymous said...

With "The Office", it always seems like BJ Novak gets the drudgery stuff down pat, where Paul Lieberstein gets the relationship stuff down cold.

So I found tonight's episode really solid when it came to the interpersonal workings of the workplace.

Which is plausible, given Paul is the HR guy.

There was a lot of "coupling" going on tonight: Jim and Pam, Jim and Dwight, Pam and Dwight, Dwight and Mose, Dwight and Angela, Angela and Andy, Ryan and Kelly, Kelly and Daryl, Michael and Jan, Michael and Oscar, etc. The relationship stuff felt really organic to me.

The business side was a little off, but I can't resist any show that makes fun of Microsoft (i.e., the incessant updates of its products) or the completely typical arguments over essentially trivial matters (i.e., the difference between whoever and whomever).

And before anyone jumps on me for the latter, please understand that I am the son of an English teacher as well as a former journalist. I can see the placement (or non-placement) of an "m" as both critical to the viability of Western Civilization AND something utterly pointless at the same time.

Hope you had a happy birthday, Alan!

K J Gillenwater said...

This was a great episode...merely because Michael was used in the right way. He wasn't too out there, he was more 'human' than usual, which always works a lot better for me.

And I really liked that Jan wasn't Ms. Crazytown. I mean, she is messed up in the head and has severe problems...but she can be supportive and kind when necessary. Michael is really all she has, and it's obvious that she doesn't want that to end.

Love that Angela gave a bunch of stipulations to Andy about their dinner date. They make a much better couple, I think. I could believe the two of them would be dating.

Kelly with warehouse guy was perfect. I love it! And I loved that Ryan was actually jealous. Hee, hee. I'm just waiting for the day he is fired from his job and comes back to Scranton...although I kinda like him as the 'boss.'

Jim & Pam was perfect. They are playing their relationship just right. I also liked that Jim did feel sympathy for Dwight and wasn't a jerk to him.

The Pale Writer said...

wow. i thought the office continued its downward trend; i found little of the episode funny or enjoyable; more labored. is this the last hour-long? i hope so.

i don't know... there's something inherently funny about NOT seeing the shrute farm but instead having dwight tell us about it; always felt like a real, live character, ala vera or maris.

Artemisia said...

Happy birthday, Alan!

I could have written the Pale Writer's post and agree especially that the beet farm is much funnier unseen. I kept looking for a shark for Michael to jump or something.

And hell YES, we need some repercussions from the kidnapping. In the past, the show has been a master of the delicate balance between over-the-top and dead realistic. Last night had some annoying "Three's Company" moments. Yuck.

I *hated* how shmoopy-sympathic Jim and Pam were with Dwight. Laying off the pranks, making a slight gesture of sympathy would be more in keeping with the dynamic they've sustained from day one. Did they bill this as A Very SPECIAL Episode of the Office or something? Jeez.

And I didn't much like how both Oscar and Michael dealt with Jan - if I understand correctly, her credit card spending is the reason Michael's in debt. So when she berates him, no one says, hey, you need to stop using his card? Maybe trade in the Porsche? Or get a job at Staples?

Unknown said...

I think that Oscar discovered (and explained to Michael) that the "black scary bar" was due to purchasing things that no one ever needs - like 2 magic sets - which I took to mean that Jan's spending wasn't the sole cause of Michael's money troubles.

Unknown said...

I really liked the ep, it got away from the "Top This..." driving into the lake stuff.
I do have one significant complaint. Stylistically, there were several scenes that were written and/or directed like a traditional narrative rather than the verite style the show lives in. A lot of the dialogue seemed "written".
The Dwight stuff was really great, but I wonder how the show will deal with Andy and Angela. They are a funny pairing, but it's gonna be hard to watch Dwight twist in the wind and still enjoy that.
I really liked Michael having a sweet scene with his Indian coworker while offending him at the same time. I also loved the way his new coworkers ("The Others"?) really liked him. It would be really great if Michael got a part-time movie reviewing job.
This episode really points up the ways in which the American "Office" is superior to the British version. While the original really excelled at ratcheting up the cringe factor, this show maintains a decent level of that along with tons of heart.
I hope the show continues away from the broader, absurdist humor and finds more things like the DVD screensaver and the whoever/whomever debate. I love the Ryan as villain dynamic, and the slow, incremental ways he gets his comeuppance.

Anonymous said...

I loved the post-Kelly/Darryl-kiss confrontation between Ryan and Darryl, where Ryan glared at Darryl for oh, about an eighteenth of a second before backing down.

Anonymous said...

You are exactly right.

Happy birthday!

Anonymous said...

Please don't ever say the American version is superior to the British version again. The American version is good (personally haven't been able to describe it as great since the second season)but the British version is absolutely trascendent.

No one ever drove a car into a lake on the British version, no one was ever held hostage on the British version, it was never over top. All the comedy in the British version was the result of one man (Brent) having a skewed image of himself, his status and his perception among his co-workers. I can't recall it ever straying from that basic idea just for a laugh.

The American version has become a farce (literally). Many (and lately most) of Michael's actions and reactions are so unbelievable that it just takes me out of the reality of the show, and I find myself wondering what was going on in the writers room during particularly ridiculous scenes.

I think they need to sit down, refocus on the core characteristics of their main characters and build from there. I think Jim and Pam are fine examples of this philosophy in action, they are basicly the same characters today that they were in Episode 1, I don't think the same can be said of Michael or Dwight. As they have both become self parodies. The show needs to get back to what made it funny at the start, and it wasn't whacky craziness.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!

BF said...

Didn't the cat Andy gave to Angela look awfully familiar? If I didn't know any better, I'd say Garbage escaped from that office and was living in the warehouse when Andy found it.

Anonymous said...

Count me in the camp that thinks this is the best episode of the show this season and that's because Paul Lieberstein consistently writes some of the best episodes of the show that combine laughs with genuine pathos and heart. He also wrote last year's "The Job" and "The Coup," and seems to be one of the only writers who knows that humanizing the clowns (Michael and Dwight) makes the show that much richer.

K J Gillenwater said...

bf, that's exactly what I was thinking. Dwight tried to do the same thing for Angela that Andy is now, but Andy does it with a little more style. I find that to be very funny...

Abbie said...

I was trying to figure out if that's the first time that Steve Buscemi and Alec Baldwin have worked together. Anybody know? I'm feeling lazy.

It really goes to show how great your guest stars can be if you write good material and film in NYC. Steve Buscemi!

That was definitely Garbage the cat. I'm glad he found a home. Great Office episode. Kelly is hilarious but not as much as her constant application of purple eyeshadow.

Anonymous said...

That was definitely Garbage the cat. I'm glad he found a home.

Same here! I wonder what Angela will rename him?

Anonymous said...

the whoever vs. whomever debate was great, Kelly's input: "Ryan used me as an object" was priceless and perfectly timed - had me loughing out loud

Anonymous said...

P.S. - Happy Birthday, Alan!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Captain T's comments. The American version of the show is good, but it can always be counted on to go for the cheap laugh. The problem is that comparing the two shows is not an apples to apples comparison. The BBC version had 12 total episodes without the pressure to come up with an overly commercial show that would work for over 20 episodes each season. There are still nuggets of greatness in the American version.

Michael's comment about Oscar not being a native speaker in the Whoever, Whomever debate was classic.

Great blog, Alan. Happy Birthday.

Ryan said...

Continuing the Sorkin/Studio 60 watch on 30 Rock--got another nice shout out to the "walk and talk"

barefootjim said...

A couple of things:

Haven't we been to the farm before? Didn't Dwight take Ryan there when they went on the sales call?

What I found weird is that they went there on a work night.

I think that it is wholly in character for both Jim and Pam to feel sympathetic for Dwight -- they know that he's way more bark than bite. And I think that he's been nice to Pam in similar circumstances, as well.

Oh, and anybody who doesn't think that the U.K. version ever went over the top doesn't remember either the training session or the David Brent live appearances.

There should also be some love here for the weird-ass episode of "My Name is Earl." Any show that teams Randy up with H.R. Pufinstuf (sic?) is OK by me.

BF said...

I was trying to figure out if that's the first time that Steve Buscemi and Alec Baldwin have worked together. Anybody know? I'm feeling lazy.

Does that crappy Final Fantasy movie count?

genevieveyorke said...

just want to add to what everyone else is saying - this was easily my favorite office episode so far this year, maybe even my favorite episode of any show of this season. furthermore, i thought it was funner as well as better than all of the other episodes i've seen this semester.

Kat Coble said...

Happy birthday!! Hope you do something magnificent.

I did love the Office episode on the one hand, but was more in the mood for the laugh-out-loud stuff we've had in previous episodes.

In the larger context of the season I think it was a good idea to use a more droll episode such as this one to move the stories of the central relationships along, but I still missed my LOL! moments.

We had one big one with Kelly's "Ryan used me as an object", but that's about it.

In retrospect, though, I'd rather have a solid character-driven hour like last night over an uneven half-hysterical, half-cringy episode a la Pizza Kidnapping Thing.

Anonymous said...

I think the strength of the American version has been the development of the secondary/tertiary characters, as seen in the who/whom debate and the running feud between Michael and Toby.

Am I the only one who loves Creed? Nobody's mentioned him. "Bankruptcy is like a get out of jail free card, but better cause those things cost thousands!"

Anonymous said...

The best part of Jan's little speech to Michael at the end is where she just kind of throws in "...and my entire family still won't speak to me, on the advice of counsel..."

Priceless delivery.

Anonymous said...

I liked a lot of moments -- most of them have been listed here -- but it would've been much better as a half-hour, I think. Possibly even less pathetic.

And the overnight at Dwight's farm just took me out of it altogether. Not only would I rather imagine, but I can't in a million years see Jim and Pam actually choosing to spend their time that way. They don't even want to have dinner with Michael, after all, and that, at least, would be over in a couple of hours.

But Pam figuring out that Michael's watching Million Dollar Baby -- and that he might try to kill her next -- was priceless.

-- Ellen

Alan Sepinwall said...

Haven't we been to the farm before? Didn't Dwight take Ryan there when they went on the sales call?

Yup, as part of his "initiation" of Ryan last season. At one point, Mose dressed up as "Fear" and attempted to wrestle Ryan.

Happy birthday!! Hope you do something magnificent.

Does a trip to the Crayola Factory with my daughter count? :) (Actually, I'm doing a kind of extended birthday celebration, with a bunch of cool things spaced out over the month rather than trying to condense everything into a day. Today was family time.)

And the overnight at Dwight's farm just took me out of it altogether. Not only would I rather imagine, but I can't in a million years see Jim and Pam actually choosing to spend their time that way. They don't even want to have dinner with Michael, after all, and that, at least, would be over in a couple of hours.

See, I think totally buy that Jim and Pam would do this. First of all, it began as them teasing Dwight, and then Pam took it too far by requesting a room -- you could see the look of dismay on Jim's face. But beyond that, they knew they'd be able to spend an evening having fun at Dwight's expense, whereas time spent with Michael tends to just be mortifying.

Please don't ever say the American version is superior to the British version again. The American version is good (personally haven't been able to describe it as great since the second season)but the British version is absolutely trascendent.

The Brit version, as others have pointed out, only produced 12 episodes plus the special, so of course the American show is going to have the occasional clunker.

Without going into too much detail (because I have a birthday to get back to), while the American show sometimes resorts to cheap jokes, so did the British one, and the American show has done a far better job of deepening all the characters -- not just the boss and the young lovebirds, but the entire staff.

As Ricky Gervais himself has said, the only episode of the British series that was as emotionally rich as the American show is on a regular basis was the Christmas special.

K J Gillenwater said...

Okay, so now I have to know...does the U.K. broadcast OUR version of "The Office"? Wouldn't that be absolutely bizarre? Watching an American version after having began the British original? And then I could see it spurring a spin-off of the spin-off in the UK where they try to incorporate more of the American stuff.

Hee, hee.

Unknown said...

The British version was lovely but sometimes veered into cheap, unpleasant cruelty towards its characters -- especially David. Overdone slapstick notwithstanding, at least Michael Scott gets the occasional moment of dignity.

Unknown said...

it was amazing.
and dwight playing the recorder! i had to pause to make out the song it was so quick, but it was so worth it when it dawned on me: "You Give Love A Bad Name!"

afoglia said...

kristin wrote, "Okay, so now I have to know...does the U.K. broadcast OUR version of "The Office"? Wouldn't that be absolutely bizarre?"

They do. They call it The Office: An American Workplace. I don't know how popular it is though.

I liked this episode. I didn't notice that Paul Lieberstein wrote it, but that does explain Toby's near-complete absence. Lots of good stuff with Michael at his second job. Though I, like barefoot jim, wondered why Jim and Pam stayed at the Schrute farm on a weeknight.

30 Rock was also very good, but I don't hae much to say about it.

But My Name is Earl somehow found a way to make an even weaker episode than last week's. Earl has always had a unique feel and pacing, but it's gone from being entertaining and energetic, to babbling. Hopefully Earl has an actual interesting adventure next week, not another flashback or concept show.

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