Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Office: My dinner with Lan Jevinson

Brief spoilers for "The Office" coming up just as soon as I pack my own wine glasses...

As with "30 Rock," I've got conflicting feelings on this one. On the one hand, I'm so grateful to have "The Office" back, as it's been gone the longest of any strike-affected show. (Steve Carell refused to cross the picket line to shoot this one.) On the other, I wish that the first episode back wasn't quite so high on the squirm factor.

"Dinner Party" wasn't as cringe-inducing as something like "Phyllis' Wedding," in that I found most of the behavior here believable and in character. This is what Michael and Jan's relationship is, and this is how painful I imagine a dinner party of theirs would be. But I feel like team "Office" did such a good job of making us feel like we were as trapped at that thing as Jim and Pam that I was almost relieved when it was over. For what they were trying to do, I think they nailed it. For a feel-good, laugh-until-your-sides-hurt return from a prolonged hiatus, this wasn't ideal.

Some random thoughts:

-The writers pick up where they left off on the idea of playing with "That's what she said," first with Michael telling Jim "That's what you said" about the lack of evening plans, then with the angriest "TWSS" in the show's history right before Jan broke the rinky-dink plasma TV.

-Because she's not a regular part of the branch office setting, we never see Melora Hardin as much as the other castmembers, but she always delivers when called to serve. Her dance to Hunter's CD was a masterpiece of self-absorption.

-Speaking of "The Hunted," interesting use of the song at the end for the show's first-ever musical montage. We almost turned into a "Rescue Me" episode there for a second.

-I would think silly party games would be one of the rare things Michael's good at, but 'twas not to be.

-Was anyone else hoping we would never find out the identity of Dwight's "date" and/or her relationship to him? The babysitter revelation was funny, but I think her continued unexplained presence might have been even funnier.

-So I take it Andy and Angela are still at the "necking" phase -- and, by that, I mean the nuzzling of their necks -- based on her reaction to his attempt to kiss her.

What did everybody else think?


Alan Sepinwall said...

Forgot to mention: highlight of the episode, by a mile, was Pam's reaction to Jim's near-escape with the flood story.

Jake said...

Very good, very painful. That was almost Office UK level awkwardness. I am thrilled to have it back, though, even at its most difficult to watch. Poor Michael.

Anonymous said...

Overall I enjoyed this episode, if only because I missed the show so much. However, the vasectomy/reversed/vasectomy bit reminded me too much of Dr. Cox on "Scrubs." Also, Jan had said in "The Client" episode that she got divorced because she wanted children and Gould did not. Why the switch? Is the thought of bearing the spawn of Michael Scott too much?

Anonymous said...

That was my highlight too, Alan. And stealing the CD was classic Jim Halpert.

I enjoyed the episode, but it was strange to have the first episode back be almost completely outside the office.

Oh! I also love Michael's trick to get Jim and Pam to come to his dinner party.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I was just desperate for scripted comedy (although not desperate enough to enjoy 30 Rock tonight), but I thought this episode was very funny. I laughed out loud several times, which is odd for me during such a squirmy episode. I'm surprised that you didn't think it worked very well, Alan, but my need for a laugh may have damaged my critical faculties. Or maybe I don't have any critical faculties.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you were luke-warm on this. I thought it was full of laughs. The lyrics of the song alone were almost worth the 5 months plus of waiting. Pam's reaction to learning of her and Michael's "history".
Not to mention, "My apartment's on fire." "Flooded" "Flooded."

The squirming was priceless. Loved it!

cpennylane said...

I thought it started off as classic office -- in the office, with Michael making everyone stay late so he could "save them"... then it got weird, uncomfortable, and hilarious. I loved Jan's reaction to the wine that Pam brought, the videocamera still in the bedroom, Michael and Jan's "babe", the candles that smelled like fire (and Jim's look of nausea).

I love Andy, him trying to harmonize with the CD was amusing. I actually feel bad for the guy, because Angela is not very nice to him, but her reaction to the flower was priceless.

The police knowing Dwight, Jan rushing out into the yard, like a meth addict on COPS was pretty funny, so was the part where she was "the devil" and sitting infront of the fire with a red shirt.

I loved that Michael ran through the glass door but they didn't show it to us. That's one of the things I love about the office, when they do things right.

Oh! And was that an Arrested Development shout-out when they were in the garage? The first thing I ever thing about anymore when I see "hand chairs" is Buster.

Anonymous said...

To be fair to Michael (who deserves all the fairness after this), he was only bad at his party game because Jim was purposely guessing wrong.

Anonymous said...

In the She Deserves Her Own Show Category: Melora Hardin as Claire on Cupid.

My favorite parts:

Jim and Pam's reaction when they realized that they would have to wait a minimum of three hours to eat.

Pam's reaction to Dwight showing up.

Dwight and his date sitting in lawn chairs, eating food out of tupperware containers.

Dwight's overly full wine glass.

"That's a $200 plasma tv!"

"Sometimes I stand here and watch tv for hours."

Michael's bed.

Anonymous said...

My highlight was Pam's "Awesome!" when Dwight showed up with a random.

Nicole said...

Other great moments...

Michael's "oaky afterbirth" in describing the wine

Jan trying to dance with Jim, who totally blew her off

Andy trying to harmonize the crappy Hunter song (and I totally think that song is about Jan making him a man or something similar)

I liked the awkwardness and it's a nice balance to the zaniness that occurs in other episodes.

Definitely worth rewatching.

Nicole said...

And was Dwight's "date" the same woman who was the Sparkle Motion chaperone in Donnie Darko?

Anonymous said...

Wow... Frankly, this episode made me laugh about as much as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," which seemed to be its model. It's one thing to have a terrible job (which anyone can identify with, at least a little), but seeing how awful Michael's home life is made me feel too sorry for him to laugh at much of this. Instead, I just found myself wondering what the documentary cameraman was doing there, and how he possibly was able to maneuver around the cramped condo.

I agree that the Jim-Pam interactions were brilliant as always, and lightened up the proceedings a little (as did the ever-reliable Dwight). But overall, I found this the least enjoyable "Office" episode so far.

Anonymous said...

Nicole said:
"Andy trying to harmonize the crappy Hunter song (and I totally think that song is about Jan making him a man or something similar)."

I thought the exact same thing! I wonder if it'll come out that Jan and Hunter had "one night" together.

And I agree that I felt really bad for Michael by the end. He has to sleep on that bench, go to work with people that tolerate to mildly get along with him, and then come home to Jan and her crazies. And the vasectomy thing is the part that made me feel too sad to laugh, especially considering how badly Michael has always wanted a family and kids. But props to Melora Hardin, who was, as always, incredible.

Anonymous said...

Two quick casting questions:

Did Nicholas D'Agosto, who played Hunter, actually sing that hilariously earnest song?

And was Dwight's date the phenomenal Beth Grant?

Anonymous said...

I loved this episode... some other things I liked that I hadn't seen listed yet.

- Jan's reaction to Pam's merlot: "This will be great for cooking".

- Angela throwing Pam under the bus to Jan with her theory that about Pam holding faxes.

-Pam's expression when Jan checks on the ossobuco and says "not even close"

- The blue glow of the St Pauli girl neon sign.

Anonymous said...

I love that they returned to the show's painfully awkward roots of the UK version. But the focus of the awkwardness was the Michael/Jan relationship which I think has been overplayed. I am just waiting until something goes wrong with Jim and Pam's relationship. That is when we can start to feel the real squirm-in-your-seat hilarity. Their relationship is going well, it cannot last. If the Office has taught us anything, it's that life is miserable, and that's hilarious!

Kenrick said...

I laughed when Michael said, "I'll take the fall." And then I just felt a deep sadness for him.

Anna said...

I agree that this episode was a little too uncomfortable and sad to be truly enjoyable. But it still made me laugh quite a bit, and I think Pam and Angela really saved it for me. Especially Angela, when Michael tried to hug her and she just said, "No. No." And her reaction to the flower (because I'm totally like that too), and telling Pam that she's seen how Pam looks at Michael in the office. And then, of course, smashing her ice cream cone against the side of the car after Andy took a lick of it.

It seriously makes me so sad that Dwight and Angela aren't together, but it makes me feel better that Angela's sad about it too and is taking it out on Andy. I really hope those crazy kids can get back together someday soon.

Oh, and yes, Dwight's date was the phenomenal Beth Grant, AKA sparklemotion lady, AKA children's beauty pageant lady, AKA muffin buffalo lady, AKA passenger lady on the bus that couldn't slow down, AKA literally over a hundred other things.

Alanna said...

Despite the almost unbearable awkwardness, I laughed aloud at several moments during the show. Haven't done that with The Office in quite a while.

I love that Jim was quite willing to abandon Pam to the dinner party wolves. I'm usually a sucker for TV romances, but theirs was getting a bit too cutesy for my tastes. Here's hoping the writers will muddy things for them, though without all the artificial tension that too often intrudes with other TV couples.

Could've lived without Dwight and his date showing up. While I do like the character, his presence didn't really add much to the proceedings.

And poor Angela Kinsey is now at the "wearing large coats and holding up pillows" stage. I'm glad, though, that the writers haven't sidelined her out of fears of how to camouflage the pregnancy. She's one of the show's biggest gems.

Alanna said...


Beth Grant! I thought it might be her, but she looked somewhat different. I'm glad. While I adore her in so many other things, this is the type of show where I don't want to recognize the guest stars.

K J Gillenwater said...

Both the spouse and I loved it. We both agreed this was one of the best. I laughed all the way through. Some of my favorite moments...most have already been mentioned:

1) Everyone around the dinner table, but only Dwight and his date eating...from Tupperware containers of food they brought with them.

2) Pam, starving, but too afraid to eat because she thinks Jan might have poisoned her food.

3) The candle room and the look on Jim's face at the overpowering odor

4) Jim deliberately guessing incorrectly during Michael's turn in the game, even when the answers were painfully obvious.

5) Dwight driving right past his 'date' who was waiting at the bus stop with a bunch of freaks b/c he had Michael in his car.

Alan Sepinwall said...

To be fair to Michael (who deserves all the fairness after this), he was only bad at his party game because Jim was purposely guessing wrong.

No, he was also bad because he had no comprehension of the rules of the game (no use of the actual names, no rhyming, etc.).

JJB said...

I will always think of Beth Grant as the woman who mistook blow up dolls as angels in the opening death scene of an episode of Six Feet Under.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, his clues were something like "His name is Tom and he goes on a cruise!" and "Rhymes with Narnold Schmartzenegger!" Not exactly all Jim's fault it didn't go well. :)

Anonymous said...

One thing I haven't seen mentioned yet was Michael's facial expression after Jan found the camera tripod still setup...

His face seemed to convey "Oh yeah, I "accidentally" forgot to put it away but that's right - I tape our hanky panky."

It was subtle and such a great acting job by Steve Carell.

Anonymous said...

Melora Hardin is truly a gifted comic actress.

I always love any episode where we get to see a lot of Jan. I hope she goes on to a lead role of her own at some point, because she definitely could carry a show.

I also agree with everyone that it was great to see Beth Grant - "Sparkle Motion" lady herself (aka "Rapture Lady"). But the character really didn't give her much to do.

She's one of the great character actors that everyone remembers from something.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was great. I guess it depends on how dark and mean you like your comedy. Jan has an office and a workspace and "space issues" and has pretty much never been both so evil and so pathetic.

I was listening to Hunter's lyrics to see if they rhymed "Jan" with "made me a man". I couldn't tell, but I love the way they allude back a minor character/point like that.

I didn't know Angela Kinsey was pregnant. That could be hilarious if they work in a who's the babydaddy thing for the fundie ice maiden.

barefootjim said...

Count me among the people who thought that Melora Hardin completely knocked it out of the park.

I thought that her performance was brave. It's a character that could be totally awful and hated, but I found myself amazed at how she balanced Jan's need to be the boss -- which is a huge aspect of her relationship with Michael -- with her deep immense sadness and embarrassment at being in the situation in which she finds herself.

And, despite everything, funny.

Anonymous said...

This episode was directed by Paul Feig, who also directed the "Survivor Man" episode and "E-mail Surveillance" (Jim's barbecue party). He seems to be the go to guy for non-office Office shoots.

I thought he did a good job in navigating that small condo space, and I think he earned the closing musical montage.

He's the only reason I'm considering watching the "Kath & Kim" remake.


So it goes said...

But the focus of the awkwardness was the Michael/Jan relationship which I think has been overplayed

You have to keep in mind that this is the episode after The Deposition so they have very recently viscously undermined each other in front of coworkers. Watched one after the other this will just be a fluid continuous theme, it was just bad timing with the strike.

Anonymous said...

Is that song real? If so where can I find it?? Does anyone know?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that if the spinoff is going to traditionally spin-off from the universe of The Office, that Melora Hardin's Jan is the obvious character to anchor the new show around. To some degree, I hope that the spinoff simply takes the style of the show into a very different environment-- as if it's the same documentary filmmakers working on a different project.

Anonymous said...

of course the song was about jan! that was the joke! he was her former assistant, and all the lines ended with words that rhymed with "jan" (hand, man, etc), so you kept thinking that the next line would say her name!

Anonymous said...

- I love when Michael said he bought a condo so he could fill it full of kids.

Good episode, but I kept thinking to myself - poor Michael. I felt bad for him...
Andy is really growing on me.

I'm so happy it's back.

Zach said...

I thought it was a really good episode. I loved Jan dancing to the song because it was so clearly about her (and explained her affection for Hunter). I also liked Michael dipping his meat into the wine glass, and near the end when Pam reminded Jim that his apartment was flooded, not on fire. And I thought Jan putting the Dundy back together was sweet.

Anonymous said...

His face seemed to convey "Oh yeah, I "accidentally" forgot to put it away but that's right - I tape our hanky panky."

I admit I didn't catch Michael's expression, but I thought - and correct me if I'm wrong - that Jan was the one who was into sex, role-playing and videotape. I seem to recall Michael telling "the girls" in the office that Jan liked to tape the sex and critique his performance afterwards.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the episode though the premise was basically a retread of the classic "Dinner Party" episode from The Mary Tyler Moore Show with Dwight filling the Ted Baxter role as the uninvited guest who shows up anyway. Of course, Mary's party didn't have the awkward sexual tension that Jan and Michael's soiree had, but she did have Henry Winkler sitting at the little table, sharing Rhoda's salad.

I really watch too much TV.

And, I don't know if it counts as an AD shout out, but Michael's hand chairs did make me blurt out "Buster".

Anonymous said...

I really watch too much TV.

Oscar, the name of Henry Winkler was in my mind before I finished reading your post.

And Sue Ann made veal prince orloff that they pretended Mary had made, and Lou took three portions and had to put two back.

par3182 said...

loved how hunter's cd was titled 'the hunted'

jcpbmg said...

just realized there's a small continuity error...

in 'the deposition' we learned that michael keeps his diary on jan's side of the bed because he "doesn't like the lump in the mattress" yet in this episode we see that michael sleeps on the bench

Anonymous said...

Angela's "The thought of popping one of your beets into my mouth makes me want to vomit" was wonderul.

Also, I enjoyed Michael referring to his co-workers that he attempted to hit up for an investment as his "rich friends."

And, the neon beer sign that "ties the room together": Big Lebowski reference?

Anonymous said...


They're not going to write Angela's pregnancy into the show.

Anonymous said...

In another continuity error, didn't Andy in one of his first faceoffs with Dwight say that he drove a Nissan Xterra, which is Spanish for "X-Earth"?

That little hybrid-looking thing he and Angela are sitting in while eating ice cream.

Anonymous said...

Anyone care to wonder why in the world Michael decided to "confess" to Jan that he and Pam used to date? It seems that Michael pretty much wrote down his life story in his journal. As revealed in the "Deposition" episode, Jan had read everything that he wrote.

It's been shown in other episodes that Michael has a slight crush on Pam. I'm just wondering if he was fantasizing about Pam while "making love" to Jan one night, accidentally called out her name, and used the dating as an excuse to cover that.

Anonymous said...

I think Michael just lied to Jan about it at some point in the past, maybe even before they were a couple.

CM said...

On all the comments hoping we see some tension between Jim and Pam -- I hope we don't, or at least not major relationship-threatening tension. It's a relief to see one relationship that actually works on the show.

erin said...

I loved the quick shot of Jan's bed with the 100 pillows on it--it says immediately what a complete anal-retentive control-freak she is. No wonder Michael has to sleep on the bench!