Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Office, "Night Out": All in the game, yo

Spoilers for "The Office" coming up just as soon as I book a flight to Costa Rica...

Not as brilliant as "Chairmodel," but "Night Out" was another very funny episode. If you take away the whole "first episode after the long hiatus" issue I had with "Dinner Party," then they're three-for-three since the return, and the post-strike portion of the season is looking to be much stronger than what we got in the fall.

I love the direction they've taken Ryan as the season has gone along. He's got the stupid suits and the stupid face scruff and all the d-bag accessories. He's tossing around meaningless management buzzwords and coming up with predictably hip and edgy new business strategies that completely miss the point of what still sort of makes Dunder-Mifflin work. And now we find out that Dunder-Mifflin Infinity is a complete fiasco -- sexual predators! identity theft! -- that Ryan's fabulous place in the city is a tiny studio that probably eats up most of his salary, and that he's developed a drug habit that no doubt eats up the rest.

The conference room scene was a little masterpiece. We had Ryan ordering the staff to cover for his mistakes in a way that's only going to cut their own throats (see Stanley's complaints about losing commissions). We had Michael giving a slow-clap and discussing all of Infinity's failings in such great detail that it was hilarious whether you believe he was trying to support Ryan in his usual oblivious way or was trying to mock him in his usual unsubtle way. And we had Kelly's question, "Number one: how dare you?" (Oh, and we had Creed not understanding what the fuss was about all the pedophiles on the site.)

Then we had Michael's ongoing quest for aesthetically-pleasing companionship (Sort of; he was considering sleeping with Meredith) crossing with Ryan's downward spiral. B.J. Ryan played Cokehead Ryan very well; I love that being under the influence is the only way Ryan can tolerate Michael or Dwight's company, and his reaction to Michael wanting to undress him. Mindy Kaling also did a good job playing with our perceptions of Michael's perceptiveness when Ryan asked about his "friend" with the drug problem; for a minute there, you start wondering if Michael might understand that Ryan's talking about himself, and then all of a sudden Michel goes off on a tangent inspired by his viewing of "The Wire" ("I don't understand a word of it!"), and you remember that Michael's powers of perception can only go so far. Remember, he's the guy who calls his mom when he's striking out at a hot club.

I'll admit that you have to overlook a metric ton of contrivances to buy into the locked-in storyline. Why wouldn't Hank the security guard have noticed the lot full of employee cars? Why couldn't anyone call a locksmith? Or the cops? Or have Phyllis call Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration, who almost certainly has a key? There were plot holes you could have driven Hank's SUV through, definitely. But I still liked it. This is the second time this season they've done the "Jim is the new Michael" story, and while the birthday party subplot from "Survivor Man" was funnier and felt more organic, this one had a number of brilliant moments: Creed (Creed!) being the only one who knew Hank's name, Pam throwing a football in Meredith's face, Toby taking his crush with Pam too far in full view of anyone and (after invoking his Costa Rica dream from "Branch Closing"), leaping over the fence to escape the humiliation. (If you're Toby in that situation, what else are you gonna do?)

If there's a problem with these episodes, it's that the writers are squeezing 14 episodes of story into a 6-episode bag. We had to quickly gloss over the details of Michael's split with Jan so we could get into the dating story, there wasn't time to drop a few hints about Ryan's coke use, and even Jim's struggles with being Michael's number two man haven't gotten as much play as they probably could. But Mindy Kaling is such a funny writer that she was able to overcome a lot of the logic leaps.

Some other random thoughts:
  • Dwight's always in danger of being a cartoon, and I can't always put my finger on what separates Funny Dwight from Annoying Dwight, but I got a kick out of him throughout the episode, whether he was accusing Ryan's short friend of being a hobbit ("Do you have powers?") or being so stand-offish with the basketball-playing hottie that she desperately wanted him.
  • Speaking of the basketball team, wasn't the fictional Jersey State also the home of the women's basketball team from that "Flight of the Conchords" episodes where the guys go on a road trip?
  • I liked the moment where Ryan called out Jim for complaining to David Wallace about D-M Infinity. We know Jim no longer has any designs on that job, but Ryan -- especially coke-using, paranoid Ryan -- absoutely assumes Jim's gunning for him.
What did everybody else think?


Nicole said...

Cokehead Ryan was funny, and a lot like Michael in some ways.

I loved Toby's leap over the fence, but I do hope he doesn't actually go to Costa Rica, because his sanity is needed.

So if Jim is the new Michael, then is Pam the new Jan?

Jake said...

I deeply loved watching Toby jump the fence. That was a great scene (and, I presume, a nice cutaway for the stuntman to replace him).

I thought the coke problem was maybe a little too blunt, but not overwhelmingly-so. Overall, it was a very good episode. It's always funny watching Michael strike out with women. I thought his awkwardness was more plausible than usual in this episode (not too over the top, but still very painful). I wonder if that's a writer-by-writer phenomenon--I don't pay enough attention to tell if, for example Mindy Kaling consistently writes Michael at this degree of weird.

At any rate, if it weren't for 30 Rock, I'd say this was the funniest sitcom of the week, and if it weren't for Lost, I'd say it was the most compelling dramatically. Poor Office just can't win, except in terms of ratings/spinoffs.

Byron Hauck said...

Toby and the fence may be the greatest Office moment ever. I almost hope that he never shows up again, so that we can always remember how he left.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, these past three episodes have been really great and have restored my faith and love for the show (the opening of the season was decent but not great).

I think they had Michael and Jan split too quickly. I know the dinner party was a big step towards that but I still think we should have seen the break up since they spent so long getting the two together. Or maybe the joke will be at the end of the season that Michael isn't really split up from Jan at all and is just doing this dating thing on the side (although that seems a little too cruel for Michael).

However, I think they lead up to Ryan's coke problem with good pacing. At the end of season 3 (or was it the beginning of season 4) where we first saw him with the beard and all, my first thought was that he was strung out on the blow.

Adam said...

Which of the writers/cast members went to Connecticut College? Nice little shout-out.

They rarely have Jim look this bad in an episode -- the only other one I can remember recently was his bluff getting called on Angela's Ashes.

Anonymous said...

"Speaking of the basketball team, wasn't the fictional Jersey State also the home of the women's basketball team from that "Flight of the Conchords" episodes where the guys go on a road trip?"

I think it was a waterpolo team on FotC.

Anonymous said...

It was North Jersey University in Flight of the Conchords. But the subtext is the same in both shows: NJ state college women in NYC = seediness. One more example and it'll become a disturbing trend.

I will say I didn't think this was a "Jim is the new Michael" episode. I thought it was an "Everyone at the office hates Jim and Pam (because Jim and Pam think they're so cool)" episode. (The show of hands reminded us, for example, that Stanley doesn't like Jim and Phyllis doesn't like Pam.) This is another one of those office details that feel deeply true, much like the superb conference room bit.

And I, too, thought Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration would save the day.


Anonymous said...

If the writers had included a shout-out to the best television drama of the past decade. Dayenu.

Anonymous said...

I thought this had the most depth of the three recent episodes, even if it wasn't the funniest.

We definitely had glimmers of Ryan's drug problem earlier. And he is pretty funny as an urban d-bag. Although the idea that the company bosses would go along with ridiculous ideas just because they have the word "Internet" attached to them is about five years old... these days, executives are a lot more cautious. (Of course, it's possible that Dunder-Mifflen is exactly five years behind the curve on everything.)

I guess the "Jim and Pam screw up" theme is one way of allowing them to have a happy relationship without it getting boring to watch... but this clearly could be taken too far. As in "Seinfeld," their worst offenses occur when they're trying to do the right thing... hopefully, they won't end up punished for it the way the "Seinfeld" characters were.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was really funny when they all got the picture of Dwight on their phones at the same time -- do wish we'd seen whether Angela was upset, even though I know they're having to hide the real Angela's pregnancy.

P.S. on the previous anon comment -- I don't remember Phyllis not liking Pam. I know she can't stand Angela, but don't remember any Pam animosity.

SJ said...

Toby jumping the fence was brilliant.

And a Wire it.

Sorta off-topic: Alan I get the feeling that The Wire is huge among TV writers/creators. My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia also proclaimed his love for it a while back. Do you think that is true?

"Poor Office just can't win"

You know it did win best comedy at the Emmys in 2006...

Anonymous said...

Just to further go along with the whole Jim filling in for Michael theme- Jim had 2 uncomfortable conversations dealing with racial subtexts that are usually Michael's bag: the comment asking Hank if he was the African-American gentleman that sits behind the desk and his comment to Oscar about the Spanish-speaking cleaning crew.

I had an inkling that Dwight was going to do well at the club- in the British version when the gang hits up the nightclub, Gareth ends up making out with some girl as well (if I remember correctly).

...and to re-affirm an earlier comment, it was a water polo team in Flight of Concords (the mermaid song).

Grunt said...

This episode didn't seem right to me and it was exactly for the plot contrivances that you list.

Ryan's drug problem and Michael and Dwight going clubbing were wonderful. The conference room scene and all the stuff about the website was gold, but getting locked in to the parking lot was dumb.

Overall I was disappointed.

Interestingly, I suspect if Jim had told everyone he was really sorry people wouldn't have been quite so pissed at him. I don't recall that he ever did.

And I wonder if Toby's move will prompt him to make a similar confession to Pam about his feelings at the end of this season. Could be an interesting corollary.

K J Gillenwater said...

My favorite line of the night was Pam talking to the camera about Dwight having both the backup key and the copy of it...and how Dwight had told her if he were dead, the rest of them would have been dead 'for weeks.' Hilarious!

I liked that Jim can never seem to do well when in charge. Because it shows that, one, Michael's managing isn't nearly as bad as some of them think, and, two, that Jim will never want to take a job of any responsibility b/c he has failed every time. His 'great ideas' seem to backfire.

Toby's hand on Pam's knee was classic. How desperate he was to teach her how to throw a football. How much he glowed under her praise when he had the phone number of the security guard programmed into his phone.

Good episode...and I didn't even need to touch on the hilarity that was Michael hitting on women in NY nightclubs. Disaster.

Tony Dayoub said...

"I'll admit that you have to overlook a metric ton of contrivances to buy into the locked-in storyline. Why wouldn't Hank the security guard have noticed the lot full of employee cars? Why couldn't anyone call a locksmith? Or the cops? Or have Phyllis call Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration, who almost certainly has a key?"

I think that a lot of people have had a security guard, like Hank, that sleepwalks through his job enough to do everything by rote, including locking up on a Friday night with a lot full of cars. As for Vance, I'll give you that one.

"If there's a problem with these episodes, it's that the writers are squeezing 14 episodes of story into a 6-episode bag... there wasn't time to drop a few hints about Ryan's coke use..."

Here, I have to completely disagree with you. This was no surprise. In fact, all the signs have been there since day one. Though not tangible, they have been implied in Ryan's performance. I think anything more obvious would have been perceived as a setup for something more serious than the amusing subplot it currently is.

The last thing we need is a "very special episode" of The Office.

Anonymous said...

The parking lot lock-in bothered me, mainly because my first reaction was the same as yours, why doesn't Phyllis call Bob Vance.

It would have been funnier had they played off last week's meeting with the Five Families -- and had none of them willing to come because of the whole parking lot summit that wasted their time.

I loved the part where the security guard finally showed up at the end, because that has happened in my business a lot. You call someone in from home (usually in the middle of the night) to solve some problem, it's solved before he/she arrives, and no one bothers to call the person to tell them not to come.

Anonymous said...

Funniest line of the night:
Dwight to basketball team outside of club, in reference to the Hobbit, "Don't step on him".

Anonymous said...

Michael and Dwight in a hip Manhattan club? Comic gold. Toby hopping the fence to go to Costa Rica RIGHT NOW? Hi-larious.

The Wire is stuff white people like.

Anonymous said...

I liked this one. It was fun seeing Jim and Pam in the doghouse with everyone since they always seem to be above it all.

Everything that happened in NYC was great! Especially learning that ryan is a coked up loser whose posse consists of a dwarf that runs out on him. Not to mention Michael's idea of a job in finance is bank teller.

I also thought at the end we were going to see "Strangely Perceptive Michael." The fake-out was hilarious.

AyPNancy said...

"Not as brilliant as 'Chairmodel'"? What now? :) This one far surpassed that ep just based on the number of times my husband and I LOL-ed out loud.

I don't think Jim is the new Michael but I do think the writers do like to show that being a manager isn't as easy as it seems and yeah, incidents like that are going to help the "Jim has no ambition" problem they seem to be setting up for Pam and Jim. Gotta have some drama, right, lest they get boring?

I LOVED Michael's reaction when he saw that Ryan actually seemed excited to see them at the club and even double checked that Ryan understood it was them. "Ryan, it's Michael and Dwight." Too funny!

Way too many great lines, but these are some of my favorites:
- I gotta go mom, one of my friends is getting beat up by some girls.
- I’m just going to hop the fence and jog home then (and then he does exactly that)
- Stay real, Scranton, all right? Peace.
- If I'm dead you guys have been dead for weeks.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Chair Model, I saw Pam's landlady on a ReadyWhip commercial during Ugly Betty.

Anonymous said...

The most I can hope for this season is Michael figuring out it is Ryan with the drug problem and then having the Office hold an intervention for him.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else think that one of the women Michael was hitting on looked almost exactly like Jan?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tony Dayoub said...

"I LOVED Michael's reaction when he saw that Ryan actually seemed excited to see them at the club and even double checked that Ryan understood it was them. "Ryan, it's Michael and Dwight.""

COnfirms Michael is not oblivious of people's opinions of him.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I heard a possible spoiler somewhere (maybe Ausiello?)


Anonymous said...

The early comments on the TwoP board worried me because they were mostly saying the episode was ultra-dark, not very funny, humiliating for Michael and Toby. But I thought this was a terrific episode, one that really hit a bittersweet target and felt true to the characters. I'd say it was the show "Dinner Party" aimed to be before tiliting into horror and embarrassment over Michael and Jan's interactions.
One interesting subtext of this episode was the way many of the D-M males were truly acting like the "Boys" Michael was talking about. There was Michael calling him mom while striking out at the club, Dwight brushing off a woman's interest and cheerfully lying about making contact later on, Jim making stupid statements because he was embarrassed and stressed out about the lock-in (that's my interpretation of his comments about Hank and to Oscar), and the two most shocking examples: Ryan brokenly trying to relate his addiction to a kind but clueless Michael while he's exhausted and ashamed, and Toby fleeing over a fence after his creepy but forgivable faux pas involving Pam.
Broken people, but not worthless ones by any means.

Tony Dayoub said...

"The early comments on the TwoP board worried me because they were mostly saying the episode was ultra-dark, not very funny...Broken people, but not worthless ones by any means."

You sure made it sound ultra-dark in your comments.

Anonymous said...

I LMAO, plain and simple. Great episode.

Anonymous said...

Tony Dayoub:

Oh it was DEFINITELY ultra-dark but Mindy Kaling pulled off a miracle and it was also very funny. It's a tough needle to thread (I think that's why a lot of diehard fans had mixed or negative views of "Dinner Party") and she got it done. And as far as these people being broken, well, that's the strongest link between the British and American versions: the humor of people in an abysmal work situation and often a worse personal one who find brightness in the gloom.

Anonymous said...

Why is B.J. Novak still in the main cast??

Anonymous said...

Maybe it was just me, but Toby seemed too prepared for the lock-in, with the football, and having the phone number - which he went out of his way to mention how he thought it would never come in handy - maybe Toby knew the gate would be locked and didn't say anything about it because he wanted to hang out with Pam.

It kind of makes the whole hand on her leg thing make a little more sense, like he had built up what was going to happen that night in his head so much that he failed to realize what a horrible faux pas it would be to actually touch her. He was just living in his fantasy world, and then after he reached for her leg, like he would in his fantasy, he saw everyone else's reactions, realized what he was doing, and immediately pulled the ripcord.

Anyhow, I felt that Toby actions were a little too intentional - and I'm not criticizing the writing - I think it was true and on purpose.

Anonymous said...

Know what I like? Michael ordered Midori Sour. Michael obviously doesnt know much about alcohol (Wasn't sure that 15 bottles of Vodka would get his office drunk at the Christmas Party) and Midori was Jim/Josh's drink joke on "The Convention."

Anonymous said...

There's a deleted scene on from this week that sort of hints at not everything being perfect in the world of PB&J.