Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Office, "Chairmodel": Bring me the heads of The Five Families!

"The Office" spoilers coming up just as soon as I tie my shoes...


We had to wait through those four uneven hour-long episodes, and then through a bunch of good but not great half-hours, and then through the longest strike hiatus of any show on any network, and then through last week's unfortunately-timed masterpiece of claustrophobia, but we finally, seven months and 10 episodes into season four, got a classic "Office" episode out of these guys.

I would actually argue that "Dinner Party" was classic "Office" too, but it was a different type of classic, and, as I said last week, not the type I hoped to get first after the long hiatus. It had to air first to set up the events of "Chairmodel," but the latter was a far more ideal post-strike return, because it had everything you expect from "The Office" at its best.

We got Michael behaving inappropriately, but not in such an extreme way that we didn't believe him, or didn't believe that other people would put up with him. We got Kevin and Andy's quest to reclaim the parking spots, and Pam and Creed's efforts to trade up with their office chairs, the sort of God is in the details comedy this show can do so well. And we got a Jim and Pam subplot in miniature that I'm sure had every PB&J lover out there swooning, if my wife's reaction to the engagement ring was any indication. It used every single character well except Meredith, who always seems to end up on the cutting room floor, and Ryan, who was absent because his alter ego was busy writing this sucker.

Of the show's three regular actor-writers, Mindy Kaling tends to write the most explosively funny material, while Paul Lieberstein has the best grasp of the melancholy of these characters' lives. With this wonderful script, B.J. Novak split the difference.

Michael's quest for love (or just sex) was played for a lot of laughs -- his interrogation of Phyllis about softball players and rowboats was hysterical in its deadpan intensity -- but also just enough pathos that you understood why Pam would be willing to subject her landlady to a blind date with the guy, and why Michael and Dwight's trip to the cemetery was only 98% ridiculous instead of 100. We know that Michael's greatest dream in life is to have lots of kids -- if only for some guaranteed companionship -- and that wasn't going to happen with Jan. (Nor will it happen unless Michael's willing to get his fourth surgical procedure in a row in that area.) So when he talks to the entire staff about wanting to find the mother of his children, it's with enough sincerity and self-awareness that it makes sense that nobody overrules him (not even Toby), even though they all hate his guts.

Meanwhile, Kevin's quest for a closer parking spot to lower his sweat levels started out silly but completely relatable, ala the Finer Things Club, or the never-ending battle for thermostat supremacy, or the wagering, and then took a beautiful turn at the end with Kevin's final talking head. What had been a running gag for years -- Kevin has an often-mentioned, never-seen (unless she attended Phyllis' wedding and I forgot) fiancee -- led to this beautiful, true emotional moment here. Yes, it's funny that Kevin's life is so mundane that he could get that worked up about the biographies of the Five Families, or about reclaiming his parking space, but it's also sad. Those laughter-into-tears moments usually go to Carell, or Jenna Fischer, or Rainn Wilson, but Brian Baumgartner milked his spotlight for all it was worth. I genuinely felt sorry and yet happy for Kevin as he talked about how badly he needed this teeny, tiny victory.

Some other thoughts on "Chairmodel":
  • Why exactly does Creed need two chairs? More importantly, why does he need three? (His "only one to go" line implied that he's waiting for another one in addition to Pam's.) Do we really want to know what he intends to do with them?
  • In addition to the aforementioned rowboat/softball moment of hilarity, I loved Phyllis' delivery of "Call us when you get there so we know you're okay" after Andy realized he'd left his cell phone in his car.
  • "What part of 'suren't' don't you understand, Kevin?"
  • Now that we've met all the heads of the Five Families, whom would you most want to work for? Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration, seems like the nicest guy, but would he be as cool as Paul Faust the motorcycle guy, or as badass as W.B. Jones? Tough, tough call.
  • I can't speak to every single thing that happened in the coffee shop sequence, simply because there are moments, both on this show and on the Gervais/Merchant original, where my brain will turn itself off to protect me from experiencing whatever mortifying thing the hero is saying or doing. I emerged from my trance in time to catch Michael inadvertently dialing Jan, which was a nice nod to his problems with technology.
  • Have the writers and Jim now set the bar too high for the eventual proposal? And can we all agree by now that a happy and functional Jim and Pam coupling hasn't been the death of this show?
  • Andy's "Joe Sixpack" monologue suggested that he's studying well at the knee of Michael. The line about "my kid's orphanage bills" is exactly like the kind of thing Michael would say.
  • I've been ambivalent about past closing sequences where Michael shows of his musical chops, like the Diwali song or the singalong on the beach day. They're often funny but also feel like the actors stepping out of character. I felt the improvised version of "American Pie" in salute to the late Chairmodel worked, both as something goofy and as something I believed Michael and Dwight were capable of doing, particularly after the cut to darkness and the shift back to a mangled version of the real lyrics.
What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

WAY too early to see that PB&J haven't killed the show. Face it, this show ain't ending any time soon and that's a LONG time for a TV couple to be together, but I find it hard to believe they get tired of being together.

I have to admit something, though. Several years ago (7, to be exact), after two weeks with the lady who would be my wife, I bught the ring for her. I just knew it. She was (and still is) THE ONE. When I proposed and she accepted, she didn't believe that I had bought it that soon after we started dating, but I showed her the receipt. Needless to say, I got like 9000 texts tonight in about 5 minutes after that scene.

Oh yeah, the show was good too. especialyly dug Kebin's "I will quit!" while sitting at the curb.

Anonymous said...

Is the 'chairmodel' not Pam in a black wig?

Just asking; I guess Jan's Pam paranoia took me by surprise last week....

Matt said...

Did Kelly or Toby have lines (or even appear)? I'm sure they were probably writing away, but seemed odd.

Also, wonder how much they coordinated with NBCUniversal to get this particular episode used as the one with "Sarah Marshall" tie-ins, given the similarity of theme.

Two other points:

1. They're clearly setting it up for the proposal to come in the season finale.
2. Any question at this point that Ed Helms not only can, but probably should, top line the spinoff?

cpennylane said...

I am so in love with Andy Bernard it is totally creepy and wrong and if he weren't fictitious I would totally let him have my lucky penny for his loafers.

I didn't like Michael falling in love with the chair model, but everything else I liked.

Loved the Pam/Jim stuff. I was smiling like Jim was proposing to me.

I missed Kelly and Toby. I didn't miss them last week because I actually thought last weeks episode was a little bit better -- but I love Michael and Jan. I actually wonder if they will get back together or what because they so belong together.

Anonymous said...

yeah i don't think pb&j has hurt the show at all, it's not that radically different a dynamic from what was before anyway, they were always a team, now they just hold hands and the whole david-n-maddie timebomb has been defused. the fake proposal was really great. i do wonder though, i've been thinking for awhile that at some point they're gonna have them breakup and it was gonna be painful and now w/ the proposal hanging out there and pam knowing it i could see some bleak bleak turn happen there. maybe, maybe not. i do like them better as more supporting characters than leads, one big strength of this show and why it has managed to escape the gervais/merchant office's shadow is the large crew of supporting characters - the only office us characters w/ corollaries on the british version are michael, dwight, jim, pam, and kevin right? ryan arguably initially but not for awhile now - and alot of my fave office moments have involved these new characters. which is a longwinded way of saying i miss kelly and ryan.

Anonymous said...

jpsyche: The chair model was Jan in a wig, not Pam in a wig.

Anonymous said...

Alan -

Do you happen to have polling capabilities through Blogger?

I'm curious that amongst folk that DVR the Thursday night shows like me, what the preferred order of viewing is?

I usually do The Office > 30 Rock > Scrubs > Survivor with MNIE falling somewhere later in the week if at all.

I think I like to wash down my Office cringing with a double-dose of absurdity followed by a dose of back-stabbing and schaudenfreude before bedtime.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I have a DVR because I rewound several jokes tonight just to hear them again. And I don't think Jim & Pam being happy will kill the show.

Dwight and Michael obviously haven't seen "The Gravedancers" or they might have thought twice about their midnight cemetery serenade :-D

Anonymous said...

Great episode. It kind of shocked me that, even though Michael was his usual jerky self, as a single guy I kind of identified with a lot of his idealistic yet self-centered search for love.

I'm not sure about the prospects for Jim's proposal... I thought the half-second not-so-happy look on Pam's face after he brought it up foreshadowed trouble ahead. (It was one of those tiny moments that mean so much on this show.) I have a feeling either Jim will chicken out before proposing, or Pam will turn him down.

In the British version of "The Office," Dawn rejected Tim in part because he was too unmotivated to move up or away from the low-level job he disliked -- and Dawn desperately wanted someone who could help her escape from her own dull life and receptionist drudgery. There's less of that in the PB&J relationship, but we've had some hints that Pam is a little tired of Jim's juvenile pranking -- and he did take himself out of the running for that promotion, even if it was to be with her.

If the writers CAN keep them together, with an ongoing romantic relationship that's both committed and genuinely funny, it would be a great accomplishment -- one that few sitcoms have ever achieved, or even tried.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about the prospects for Jim's proposal... I thought the half-second not-so-happy look on Pam's face after he brought it up foreshadowed trouble ahead.

I had the exact same thought. My boyfriend thought maybe Pam just assumed Jim was kidding, but I got a definite sense that Pam's not sure that's what she really wants. And I'm hoping that theme gets pursued further in upcoming episodes: the idea that Jim and Pam have always imagined for so long what their relationship would be like, and now they have to face the reality of how it's actually going.

Anonymous said...

I thought Michael falling in love with the chair model was very in line with his character (remember the Hot Girl episode where Dwight asked him if he loved the Hot Girl, Amy Adams, and he said it was too soon to tell?) but I wish they had kept the joke going. How funny would it been to have Dwight trying to get information about her from the catalogue? Or an always classic Dwight-Michael-Jim roadtrip? And they could have made the chair girl a running gag. I thought her being dead had comedic value but they left some laughs on the table.

Bruce Reid said...

Almost perfection. My only complaint is that ditsily romantic Kelly should have had a talking head about Michael's search to fall in love, so he can get laid, so he can play ball with his kids. Because she would have sympathetically swooned at his yearning? Because she'd have found it gross? I've no idea--I'm not as funny as the people writing this show--but it makes such sense to me that she'd have something to say on the matter her absence was particularly striking.

Other than that, though, marvelously observed right down the line, from Michael's stilted bonding moment with Kevin to Dwight's childishly (thus somewhat charmingly) disrespectful hopscotching on the grave markers. And with Kevin's tiny but oh so needed victory and Jim's fakeout kneel, probably my two favorite moments this season.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yeah, in retrospect, I realize Kelly and Toby didn't have any more to do than Meredith -- other than the brief shot of Toby debating whether to shut down Michael's speech after the reference to getting laid -- but at least you could rationalize that as Novak making sure that Kaling and Lieberstein had time to focus on their own upcoming scripts.

Unknown said...

I think that Kevin's fiancee is in the Dundies. You see her when Kevin gets his "Stinkiest Bowel Movement" award.

Anonymous said...

Kevin is single now? That doesn't make sense. Wouldn't there be a ton of Scrantonicity groupies he can get?

K J Gillenwater said...

Moderately funny for me. Last week was so hilarious that it is hard to top in my book. I love the painful-but-true dark comedy this show sometimes has.

As for Jim & Pam, I think they will just continue on like a normal couple does. Because they are the only 'normal' people in the office which makes for a very interesting juxtaposition (Oooh, 5 dollar word!).

Their romance can go on this way for years. At the end of this season they get engaged. At the end of next season they get married. At the end of the following season they get pregnant, etc. Like normal people whose romances and lives stretch out over years. Not episodes.

Of course Pam will get a little tired of Jim's juvenile pranks, but that doesn't mean they can't have a long term relationship. No relationship is perfect, and they are a great match for each other...their 'fights' might be over his over-the-top jokes, but they can still have a normal, loving relationship.

**"Suren't" was my favorite laugh of the night**

Unknown said...

Who was the actress who played the landlady? Kinda cute.

Anonymous said...

Fred, you mean Scrantonicity 2 groupies, NOT Scrantonicity groupies. :)

Creed's "only one more to go" was my biggest laugh of the night. I can't think of a more perfectly absurd line. I loved it.

And I have to admit Jim and Pam had me. Nervous about where they're going to go with that, but in this episode, it was great.

Unknown said...

By the way, I don't know how Pam could really justify getting tired of Jim's jokes. She just did the elaborate CIA scheme on Dwight toward the middle of last season. In the last episode, she was playing around at being Dwight's secret Assistant to the Regional Manager. I think it's more likely that she would be frustrated by Jim's lack of ambition, as others here have mentioned.

Anonymous said...

I also watch them in this order: Office, 30 Rock, Scrubs, Survivor.

Next week is going to be a challenge, since I also watch Betty, Gray's and Lost.

I watch more shows on Thursday than the rest of the week combined.

Unknown said...

Ha, I love this blog--I was about to feel like a dork for knowing that Kevin's fiancee is in "The Dundies," and someone totally beat me to it.

I really want Michael to find out about Jim's buying the engagement ring so early and then try the same thing with every woman he dates, so that he has to sell a whole pile of engagement rings on eBay.

Tom O'Keefe said...

I have to ask, why wasn't the 800 number they displayed during the show updated?

I was kind of bummed. I called the number which apparently was the same number they use for the Dwight's "Anti-Flashing Task Force" hotline since the message was still the same.

Are we to believe that a joke fell through the cracks due to the strike?

Anonymous said...

The premise of the show is that these people are being filmed for a documentary, right? Since everything they has a chance of being broadcast for all to hear, why do they go off into the other room and record secrets they're supposedly trying to keep?

Apparently, none of them, nor anyone else they know, watches the finished product. Because if Pam's mother watches, she'd certainly tell her "Jim's going to propose! Eeeeeee!!"

(I'm also not sure why the documentarian wants to pay a crew to follow them to art-class shows, dinner parties or cemeteries, to say nothing of setting up another shop in Connecticut when Jim worked there.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Mark, the documentary hasn't aired yet. The writers still haven't decided when, or if, it might air during the series' run, and at one point there was even a suggestion that they were filming this to air overseas. (Hence the original, quickly discarded "The Office: An American Workplace" title.)

Anonymous said...

I imagine that within the world of the show, the subjects of the documentary at least have some date before which they know the film won't be released. I mean, presumably those girls on High School Confidential knew they'd be filmed for four years, then a couple years would go by before it went on TV. The Office documentarian will have been filming these folks for three, four years at most at this point, right? So it's not so outside the realm. I also imagine the filmmakers would follow the cast to things like the dinner party and the art show and Stamford for the same reasons the real-life writers wrote those scenes into the show--because they thought it'd make good TV.

barefootjim said...

Oh my gods, imagine How I Met Your Mother narrated by Michael Scott instead of Ted Mosby.

Anonymous said...

I actually was really bothered by Kevin in this episode. Pretty much every line he delivered just seemed so over the top and "actor-ish" in it's delivery that it was jarring and took me out of the moment. Not sure why, but it just seemed very off for me.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe nobody has mentioned this. For me, the biggest laugh of the night was Kevin submitting "Wendy. Redhead. Hot and juicy" as a girl Michael could date. That had me laughing out loud for at least 15 seconds.

Nicole said...

And the followup a scene later "What's her name, Burger King?" was also pretty good.

Anonymous said...

Were there two "As God is my witness" lines? (One from Kevin, about having to walk so far, and one I can't remember.) A third one would have made it funny, but with two, it was just a little weird.

I assumed Creed wanted three chairs to sleep on.

I thought Angela was not well used. I really hope the real Angela's pregnancy doesn't keep her screen time down.

I have to say I am worried about the spin-off. I don't really want any character leaving, except maybe Jan.

Paul Matwychuk said...

Creed's "Only one more to go" line is pretty classic, but for sheer random brilliance, nothing tops Dwight's "A Spaniard."

mo pie said...

Stacey is also in "E-Mail Surveillance;" she attends Jim's karaoke party!

I also though the chairmodel was Jan.

Unknown said...

I also enjoyed Andy talking about the Joe Sixpack's "mortage payments for his rental apartment" or something along those lines...

Anonymous said...

Just a random thought I had. I miss Jim and Pam working together to gang up on Dwight and play pranks.
But loved the episode overall. The five families part was great, as was Kevins role. We don't usually get to see him that much and it was a nice change. And I also loved Phyllis's one liner to Andy. So many things to say. Hope everyone else enjoyed too.

Anonymous said...

Best episode of the season so far, putting "Money" in close second.
One interesting element of this episode is how it highlights a dynamic regarding the boss' social problems that the UK version couldn't really try out: Michael Scott is not a bad looking guy in general let alone compared to David Brent, so Michael's horrible personality and complete lack of social understanding cost him even more than Brent's issues, because it was implicit that Brent knew he had no arrows in his romantic quiver. Based on appearances, Michael has some reason to feel he's deserving of more attractive women (like the blonde at the coffee shop), and he will never understand it's his disgusting attitude and persona that make him a first-class dateless wonder. Or land him a woman who's just like him, attractive on the outside and rotten to the core--like Jan.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed that everytime they show Creed's computer screen he is playng Solitare?

Anonymous said...

To quote Chris Farley on SNL, "That was AWESOME". I don't remember laughing that hard in a long, long time.

My idea for the spin-off: get Ed Helms to crossover and Will Arnett to play the boss. Those 2 could read the Bible out loud and make me laugh.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed that everytime they show Creed's computer screen he is playng Solitare?

And not even trying to hide it. Creed's the best!

the Stanfield Org. said...

Surprised no one has mentioned the striking similarity between Michael's date w/ Pam's landlady and D. Brent's blind date w/ the girl w/ the misleading profile photo on the British Office finale/X-Mas Special- that was the first scene I recall seeing in a while that appeared to be a direct borrowing from and/or homage to the original (although Alan did allude to the Brit version re. the viewer discomfort caused by the scene). While I now fully appreciate the two shows as independent entities w/ their own respective strengths and (relative) weaknesses, can't help but note that Carell failed to match Gervais in his ability to make the viewer squirm while trying to barely disguise his disappointment w/ the situation/ woman at hand.

Anonymous said...

I liked the "Dinner Party" better (who wrote that one? Who's got the mean streak?), but this one was good. I was hoping Meredith would set herself up as one of Michael's blind dates.

A solution to the Pam/Jim thing, and Jim's lack of ambition: Ryan gives Jim Michael's job, Jim hires Michael out of pity

Anonymous said...

I must be the only one who feels this way because no one else has stated it: I thought that there was an episode "missing" between last week and this week.

What happened when Michael broke it off with Jan? Where are they living? What happened to Jan's businesss venture based out of the condo? You mean to tell me that no one at the office had anything to say about Jan & Michael breaking up?

Matthew said...

I must be the only one who feels this way because no one else has stated it: I thought that there was an episode "missing" between last week and this week.

What happened when Michael broke it off with Jan? Where are they living? What happened to Jan's businesss venture based out of the condo? You mean to tell me that no one at the office had anything to say about Jan & Michael breaking up?

I didn't think there was time for that to happen. It wouldn't surprise me if this episode wasn't the day after the dinner party. it certainly was within a day or two. It felt like Michael had walked out on Jan, come into work the next day, looked at the chairmodel (who he'd been looking at for the past few week, probably thinking "If only I wasn't with Jan"), suddenly realised "Hey I'm not with Jan, and we saw hpow the rest progressed.

The whole thing felt like Michael trying to move on too quickly, which certainly would be in character.

Anonymous said...

Check the deleted scenes on the Office website at NBC. It suggests that it's been a whole month since the break-up. There's a funny scene of Dwight trying to bill Michael for his stay at the beet farm.

Anonymous said...

I think the best thing about this ep was what it did for our view of Michael. In The Dinner Party, we were very much sympathizing with Michael, and thinking that this poor, sweet bumbler really does deserve better if only he could go for it. This one started that way too--though the love-card thing was obviously "unprofessional", you'd have to have a heart of stone not to feel for him, especially with his speech about "before I can get laid, I need to be in love."

But then they proceeded to remind us, repeatedly, that for all his good intentions, Michael is still a shallow douchebag. I particularly appreciated the satiric pointedness of Michael constantly talking about just wanting someone nice, even as he obsesses about a model and is casually cruel to the seemingly sweet and vulnerable landlady (my wife and I nearly cheered when she finally told him off).

A running risk in the US Office has been that Carrell is such a likable guy, Michael can lose the essential soul-sucking awfulness that gives the show its bite, turning the whole thing into another sitcom about nice-nice people victimized by circumstance. They've been dancing at the edge of this for a while, and this episode did a good job of reminding us that deep down, Michael is missing the self-awareness that decency requires.