Friday, February 06, 2009

The Office, "Lecture Circuit, Part One": The closure

Spoilers for last night's "The Office" coming up just as soon as I pack my toboggan...
"Who is this?" -Dwight
"It's Mose." -Jim
"Mose doesn't even know how to use a phone, so the joke's on you." -Dwight
"Lecture Circuit" didn't feature anything quite as insanely funny as Angela throwing her cat through the ceiling or the rest of the teaser from the Super Bowl episode, but it was still terrific. (And the above exchange came close to "Save Bandit" levels, proving that Mose is such a great character that he makes me laugh even when he's not in the episode.)

Often, we'll see an episode split between one largely comic subplot and one that's more emotional, usually with Michael and Dwight in the former and Jim and Pam in the latter. Here, Mindy Kaling cleverly switched up those pairings, so we got Pam aiding Michael's quest for closure with Holly(*), while Jim and Dwight proved to be an incompetent -- and hilarious -- team as the reluctant new heads of the Party Planning Committee.

(*) I don't have high hopes of seeing her next week, unless team "Office" has gotten really good at secret-keeping. Then again, I hadn't heard about Rashida Jones coming back until I saw the ad for this one after "Stress Relief," so maybe they smuggled Amy Ryan onto the set without Ausiello or Kristin or anyone being the wiser.

Both of these combinations have been used to good effect before, like Michael saving the day for Pam at the end of "Business School," or Jim and Dwight teaming up earlier this year to figure out who sandbagged them in the customer surveys, and I think they work so well because it's not an every week thing.

If Jim and Dwight had to work together (as opposed to just trying to drive each other nuts) all the time, it would get old, but seeing their personalities clash while in pursuit of a common goal works as a change of pace now and then. It was particularly funny to see them both so clearly out of their element. Dwight's too literal-minded to be a party decorator -- he buys brown and gray balloons because "They match the carpet," and his banner is the factually-correct but nothing more "It is your birthday." -- and Jim's not as good at massaging all of the branch's egos as he thinks he is, and so of course they're both doomed to failure.

It's also wonderful to see how Pam and Michael's relationship has evolved over the years. I think she does actually like Michael -- or, at least, her pity for him overwhelms her potential hatred -- but she's also less willing than ever to put up with his more obnoxious behavior, and has gotten much better at shutting it down. Their time in the car wasn't as overtly farcical as previous Kaling road trip episodes like "The Injury" or "Branch Wars," but there were a lot of good smaller gags, like the battle over whether to use the radio (Michael can only prepare to "silence or Sam Kinison"), or Pam making it clear that the cameraman knows they're sleeping in separate rooms. The final scene in the car, where Pam indulges Michael's belief that he has to remind her who Holly was -- and where she doesn't even blink as she says, "Perfect boobs. Of course I remember Holly." -- was as sweet as it was funny, because it showed this weird equilibrium boss and receptionist have achieved.

The scenes at the Utica branch, meanwhile, gave Rashida Jones a welcome reprise before she starts duty on "Parks and Recreation." Like Pam, I was happy to get some closure with Karen, to see her and Pam make some level of peace (and to see Michael nearly ruin it by bringing up their "old hatreds"), and also to see that her level of contempt for Michael hasn't abated over time.

What made the lecture scene work was that, while the execution was off the mark, Michael's ideas were sound. He is a great salesman, he does know how to read people in a selling environment, and his mnemonic game, while offensive, did allow him to remember everybody's names. Michael's idiot savant qualities allow us to understand how he survives all those clueless moments, and while Karen was probably right to shut it down -- especially before he brought out the chainsaw -- there was definitely some wisdom to be gleaned in the middle of all the usual inanity.

Some other thoughts:

• I imagine that Andy's subplot will be the one bit of business that won't be continued next week, but it was funny as a C-story to round out this episode. I like how matter-of-factly Andy explained that they lost the account after his failed parking lot seduction.

• In a bit of a callback to "Business School," Michael's still using candy bars as lecture props. I loved how Pam just threw them at the Utica people with no enthusiasm, knowing she had to as Michael's lovely assistant but realizing how poorly it would go over.

• Either Stanley has very quickly given up on his attempt to live a stress-free lifestyle, or this episode was written and produced without anyone knowing if it would air before or after the Super Bowl episode.

• Was the Utica branch always located in nearby Mohawk?

• Creed Bratton, man on fire: first he gives Andy romantic advice that begins with the phrase "This is how I got Squeaky Fromme," then he conveniently has a three-dollar bill on his person (with a picture of Dubya, right?) to help Jim pay for Kelly's party.

• I loved the moment, right before Creed made the Squeaky Fromme comment, when Oscar beat a hasty retreat to avoid having to give Andy dating advice. I guess their bromance was a Canada-only thing.

• So if Angela and Phyllis are ineligible due to past bad deeds, and Jim and Dwight are incompetent, who should be in charge of the Party Planning Committee? Pam and Karen did throw together a rockin' Christmas party a few years ago, so I guess Ms. Beasley, but who else? Oscar? Toby? Kelly?

What did everybody else think?


Unknown said...

Hilarious - Jim and Dwight working together always cracks me up.

Couple small moments that make this show so great - Pam's body language following Michael and Karen back the hallway after she shut it down - she was so embarrassed. And Creed in the background looking out the window up in the sky when Michael was on the PA.

One question - when I first heard it I thought Kelly said "Screw you "Beaker"" and laughed my ass off because I though she was referring to the muppet. But after hearing it again I think she said "Beeper" - I don't know what or who that is.

Unknown said...

I thought that was one of the best episodes of the season, which isn't even relative praise. It was a legit good episode with only a few missteps -- Michael's hilarious PA set ruined by the sitcommy mole conversation and the Pledge of Allegiance deal.

I liked Andy's plot and wished it had been saved for an episode with just an A and B story because it felt too cramped in a C story. It reminded me a lot of Michael and Katy in season one, and that's not a bad thing. My eyes felt like they wouldn't open all the way after the failed kiss attempt. But I've missed that horror (I also got it last night in the scenes with Michael and Karen), and so it was good to feel sick for the right reasons.

I was worried that Karen's scenes would be superfluous, but they ended up being a really good and surprising device to lead to Michael and Holly's reunion. Though I grew tired of her by the end of her run -- nothing against Amy Ryan, it's just that the writers weren't being creative -- I was really excited to see Michael decide to go to her.

Jim and Dwight were absolutely killer planning the party, with Dwight's hilarious and factual banner and the "Do you think I called you for your approximations?" slaying me. I also loved that Dwight's feelings heal twice as fast as normal humans. I miss those Dwight facts. Completely in-line with his character without being too over-the-top or wacky.

Good episode, better than the Super Bowl episode and better than a long string of episodes before it.

bsangs said...

As a native Utican living in NJ for the last 20 years, I can tell you that Utica is located in what's called "The Mohawk Valley" Alan. (Also, it's about 15 to 20 miles West of the town of Mohawk. Sorry for the Central New York geography lesson!)

Very funny episode. I think Pam does like Michael, because I don't think Pam dislikes anybody. She may get annoyed or offended by them, but when she told the camera person that she can't bear the thought of anybody hating her in reference to Karen, I think that pretty much summed up her personality.

Dwight and Jim were brilliant. "It is your birthday." still has me laughing this morning.

Anonymous said...

Also loved Creed, while giving Andy advice, saying, "Have I ever steered you wrong before, Jim?"

Also, Michael, trying to tell Pam to not be nervous as they're just seconds away from seeing Karen, blurts out, "Is it Jim's" after noticing she was pregnant lol.

Anonymous said...

Even though I think they have used the joke before, the mnemonic game and the horrified looks of a whole bunch of new faces experiencing Michael for the first time just got to me, and was the funniest segment of the night.

It was good to see Karen, but she looked a bit ragged if I'm being honest. Like she (Rashida) hasn't been getting much sleep, with dark circles under her eyes. I also think it is a bit too convenient that Karen married a successful guy and is already pregnant very quickly so that the audience can fully side with Pam, without seeing Pam as the 'other woman'. Karen was quite popular, and I personally always thought she was a better catch and more fun (her awesomeness at Call of Duty and better sense of humor was very attractive).

I don't think I've seen such universal agreement in the print and blog spheres that Amy Ryan was just the nuts and that Holly was the best new character on the Office of all time. Her mix of geek, carefree-ness, sensitivity, and deep vulnerability was so refreshing. I still think she had the most outstanding acting moment in the series when she hugged Michael.

I think the Office producers know of the universal love for that character and are smart to tease a "to be continued..." frame with the implied promise that we are going to go visit Holly. I hope to god it is true, it would be a great surprise so early. But I will be just as disappointed if it ends up just being a tease. I was just beginning to forget how much I liked that character, so it would be cruel.

Brandon said...

I thought Creed's $3 bill had his own picture on it. But I didn't look too closely.

Omagus said...

And Creed in the background looking out the window up in the sky when Michael was on the PA.

Yeah, that killed me too.

I thought this was a really funny episode. Then again, any episode that featured Rashida Jones got extra attention from me. I do think that this was good closure to Karen's story and I think that it's nice that she and Pam were able to end on a positive note.

IF Amy Ryan does happen to show up next episode, is it too much to ask that it be the episode that introduces Idris Elba's character? Just as a small shout out to fans of The Wire?

Unknown said...

One question - when I first heard it I thought Kelly said "Screw you "Beaker"" and laughed my ass off because I though she was referring to the muppet. But after hearing it again I think she said "Beeper" - I don't know what or who that is

Nevermind - I'll answer my own question. My wife just informed me she said "Beeter" - duh. (I think Beaker is funnier though)

Anonymous said...

I thought Kelly called Dwight "Beet Farm" in that exchange.

This worked on so many levels. They really pull things together nicely. Even the Oscar thing, while it might go against what happened in Toronto, is very clever because who would want to get in that conversation with Andy?

The PA thing was genius. I think we all have seen an intercom system abused, although not to that level. My favorite line was from Jim when he explained how Michale discovered it from the phone guy ... "and then he just left" as if everyone should know not to give Michael a toy like that.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

"It was good to see Karen, but she looked a bit ragged if I'm being honest. Like she (Rashida) hasn't been getting much sleep, with dark circles under her eyes."

It's almost like Karen was eight months pregnant or something.

Anonymous said...

Did I miss something or has the office given no explanation for why Ryan is missing? I know why Novak isn't there, but I don't think we got an explanation for the character. I guess they'll tell us when ever he comes back, like they did with Oscar and Andy when they disappeared.

Also my favorite quote from this episode was "What kind of cake do you want imbecile?"..."ice cream", I'm going to try to work the word imbecile into every conversation now.

Anonymous said...

I thought Kelly called Dwight "Beeper". As Rainn Wilson explained on Fresh Air, Dwight still carries a beeper, because some client, somewhere, might still have that number.

But "Beaker" would've been funnier to those of us who remember the Muppet Show. "Beet Farm" pretty good, too.

I thought Stanley's interaction with Andy worked, b/c at first he seems like he's going to do something nice for Andy, per his new life philosophy, then he says "Give me two clients". Kind of like Phyllis sweetly congratulating Pam on her relationship with Jim, then warning her that she better not steer all new clients to the man she's currently sleeping with.

(and what anon said above: Wilson's delivery of that imbecile line was great)

K J Gillenwater said...

Ryan gave his own explanation many eps ago. He asked Kelly if they could have sex one last time before he went to Indonesia, I think? And then asked her for money.

LOVED this episode. I haven't laughed so hard watching "The Office" in a long time. First, the horrible Dwight party decorations. Then, Michael and his horrible mnemonic nicknames for everyone. "Black woman." I was dying.

Plus all the other side jokes.

P.S. I also thought Kelly said "Beaker" and thought it fit very well. LOL.

Abbie said...

Closed captioning read Kelly's line as "Beefer", but that makes no sense and closed captioning often makes mistakes. I'm assuming that it was a beet joke.

Ryan went to Thailand with some high school kids. He broke up with Kelly last fall and then 'borrowed' money from her. I don't remember which episode that was, but we were given an explanation.

Amy said...

Beeker (muppets) Beeper (pager) or Beeter (farm) would all be funny.

I thought (from information on this blog) that Holly didn't do all the episodes she was originally slated for? In fact as soon as Pam suggested they go see her I said outloud "What's Alan Watching was right...there is a fifth episode coming"

Anonymous said...

The best part about the "It Is Your Birthday." sign is that it wasn't even her birthday any more.

Unknown said...

I'm just catching it again on Hulu during lunch.

"your sheets are yellow and wet with your urine"

Anonymous said...

Kelly as head of party planning committee would be hilarious. Im sure her parties would be something outta super sweet 16.

Anonymous said...

I liked Michael's description of Pam's role as a combination of a roadie and a magician's assistant. And then the running gag through the episode of Pam struggling with Michael's luggage & equipment.


Anonymous said...

I thought it was a really funny episode. There were a few moments where I wanted to close my eyes but I was still laughing. As bad as it was, I was ready for a Michael disaster during the presentation.

At my office everyone brings in goodies on your birthday and they seem to get offended if you don't eat them. But who wants cake or brownies at 8:15 am when you just had breakfast a half hour earlier? This year I was wise to the game and skipped breakfast so I wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings by snubbing their pastry…Of course this is the year everyone forgot my B-day and was left starving until lunch.

floretbroccoli said...

Oscar WAS on the party-planning committee for a while, immediately after he was outed by Michael. His interpretation was that one thing led directly the other.

Anonymous said...

Best episode in a LONG time. And since I didn't see any previews leading up to it, it was great to be surprised by everything.

I love Andy's character. He's so oblivious to the personalities of his co-workers that he's able to interact with them unlike anyone else. Stanley's, "Have you lost your damn mind?!" followed immediately by Andy's, "Have you lost YOUR damn mind?!" and not backing down was great.

Loved Jim and Dwight. Not just because they annoy each other, but because now we see both of them completely incompetent and harassing each other.

Plus, this was the most Creed has had to do in an episode in years.

Anonymous said...

Mindy Kaling did an online chat for the Washington Post yesterday. You can read it here:

I don't recall any major spoilers but she did say that Ryan (B.J. Novak) was going to be returning later this season and that there would be more Ryan-Kelly drama.

Anonymous said...

"I liked Michael's description of Pam's role as a combination of a roadie and a magician's assistant. And then the running gag through the episode of Pam struggling with Michael's luggage & equipment."

Yeah, I also loved the random Canadian flag still on Michael's suitcase. Like he's this great world traveler.
Also loved the "It is your birthday." banner.

ghoti said...

I thought this was the best episode of the season.

One thing no one has mentioned that cracked me up was the perfect delivery of this line -

"What kind of cake do you want, imbecile?"

ghoti said...

Oops, I see someone did mention it!

Still chuckling.

So many great lines in this episode. I think I'll put it on my phone to de-stress me during the day.

I put the awesome Christmas episode of BBT on there and it's done wonders.

Anonymous said...

I laughed a lot at all three story lines. I thought it was a brilliant, understated episode.

It warmed my heart to see Pam and Karen bury the hatchet. I loved the episode where they team up to form the committee to plan parties.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's possible for a show to jump the shark, and make it back. Amazing what can happen when Jim and Pam are separated in an episode. And to think I'd almost given up on the folks in Scranton.

Is it Jim's baby? The father dying story. And Pam with the candy bars is The Office I remember. Who knows what cringe inducing moements Michael will cause next week.

Someone asked if Amy Ryan will appear. Well sweeps are in November, February and May if I'm not mistaken, so I'd say it's a fair bet. Goodness knows NBC can use the ad revenue.

Glad to see more Creed in this episode. Just need more Phyliss and Bob Vance. The guy cracks me up for some reason. Bob Vance, Vance Refridgeration.

Anonymous said...

If you watch "Branch Wars" immediately before or after this episode, you'll notice some continuity of style/character that's apropos considering Ms. Kaling wrote both episodes:
*Karen is a major success after leaving Scranton, first professionally as Utica's Branch Manager in BW, then personally as a married woman due to have her first child in a month. I hope Mindy wrote this material as a screw-you to the "fans" who hated Karen in Season 3 for, well, basically coming between Jim & Pam.
*Jim isn't Superman. Maybe he looked like more of a dork all the way around in BW, but here he was unable to put together a simple birthday party wit Dwight (another parallel, their prank in BW went as badly as their party planning did here) and got stuck with that hilarious $3 bill.
*Andy goes way over the top in search of an out of his range goal--joining the Finer Things Club in BW and getting a date with Julia here--but he's so feckless and desperate that it's impossible to dislike him.
Terrific show all the way around. I do think that Amy Ryan will return next week IF the storyline really does take Michael and Pam to Nashua; I can't see things being satisfying if Amy Ryan remains offscreen, no matter how good the rest of the acting and writing is.

Nicole said...

I thought the Office was much funnier than 30 Rock this week, and loved the Jim/Dwight antics.
I too will try to incorporate the "what kind of cake do you want, imbecile?" in my daily interactions from now on.

The Pam/Karen reconciliation was also nice to see as well, even though it was probably a little quick for Karen to get married and get pregnant, while Pam is still "just engaged".

Le plus ca change....

Peter Lynn said...

What is with Dwight's inability to blow up a balloon, though? You'd think that Dwight would have twice the lung capacity of a normal man -- or at least, he'd have normal lung capacity but he'd brag about how it was twice that of a normal man. I wonder if this foreshadows any possible health problems for Dwight.

dronkmunk said...

Anyone feel like this show is becoming predictable? Don't get me wrong, I love this show; it's my only must-watch show, but that is why I am getting concerned. As soon as Pam said the part about getting closure I slapped my forehead and thought 'There is totally a pattern of some imagined threat to J&P's relationship, and then it always sweetly resolves itself.' Is that what episodes gonna be about? C'mon.

Anonymous said...

Great episode! After being rather disappointed with the ludicrous and over-the-top antics of the Super Bowl special, I was happy to see The Office return to a more subtle, realistic approach. Michael's comments were so perfectly awkward and uncomfortable ("Is that Jim's?") and all the characters hit on all cylinders for me.

I loved how the premise of this episode was based on one of the episodes of season 2 of the BBC series. Pam struggling with Michael's huge luggage bag was a direct callback to Dawn and David, as was his failed "motivational" speech. Mindy Kaling did a nice job incorporating it in a way that fit the style of the US version.

Anonymous said...

I'm really hoping that the show has a few moments where Michael can explain why he does what he does so well, even if it comes after a series of bizarre lectures. David Wallace was right when he told Michael it's hard to analyze yourself, but I think he does get that unless he shows he and his staff are devoted to their clients and they go above and beyond, their business will be eaten up by the discount chains. And as others have pointed out, the reason corporate puts up with his antics is that he gets results.

I remember the "Traveling Salesmen" episode where the sales staff teamed up and Michael and Andy went to visit a client but failed because Andy acted like an idiotic big shot. As much as Michael acts like a jerk and offends people, he was conducting business in that man's office like a smooth professional and would have likely made the sale, had Andy not screwed it up. In other words, he knows when to buckle down and act like he's running a business, and it shows.

If he can somehow articulate why his branch is doing so well while the others are struggling, it'll make the show that much more valid.

As for the rest of them, nothing was particularly memorable but it was all very good. I find it strange that Stanley would give up a client so easily, but he did get two in return, and perhaps he knows that this lady's business wouldn't be able to buy products from Dunder Mifflin. And yes, it's always great when Jim and Dwight team up, because despite all of the silliness and childishness that goes on, they are both have far more depth than one might think.

Anonymous said...

Karen's husband looked remarkably like Jim!

J.J. said...

I loved Pam's talking head comment where she said she thinks al-Qaeda would probably like her if they got to know her.

It's one of those things that shows how amiable she usually is.

And yet it also shows kind of a dark side underneath it all. Because when you think about it, she was basically saying in a roundabout way that Karen is less reasonable than she imagines al-Qaeda to be.

You could feel the residual resentment from all that time of having to watch her with Jim.

Anonymous said...

Then, Michael and his horrible mnemonic nicknames for everyone. "Black woman." I was dying.

My fave was "Sugarboobs." Michael sure does like him some boobs.

Dwight's carpet-matching balloons were a hoot.

Paris Nicholls said...

Great episode overall, but I wish the writers would play hardball a bit more on the Jim/Pam stuff. I've loved the darker turn much of series has taken (particularly during last season), but now it seems that they are determined to make us think that there will Jim/Pam problems only to show that everything will be just fine. Jim buying the house turning into a sweet gesture instead of creating problems, Jim's talk with Pam's dad seeming to be troubling but only helping the relationship, and now conflict with Karen looming only to find 'resolution'. The sick side of me hopes that the writers are using this to get our hopes up so that they can pull out big surprises later on. If they do plan for the show to continue, I think there needs to be some sort of change here. While I do think it is a testament to the adaptability of the show that it continues to be enjoyable despite the fact that the best part of the show during the first 1-3 seasons (Jim/Pam) is now the weakest aspect. Of course, it also makes me wonder what the could be if it turned the weakness into the strength it once was. Perhaps, however, they are setting the show up for an ending, in which case I can understand the attempt as resolution in the Jim/Pam storyline.

Anonymous said...

I loved how they used the "Amazing Race" set up in the car, with Michael in the back seat so the camera operator in the passenger front can film both him and Pam. Much more realistic than most of the other car scenes! (Although still a fave is the one where Michael drives into the lake and they have to rescue the cameraman.)

I think it would be hilarious to have the rest of the season work through a rotation of party planners. Meredith or Kelly might be a little too predictable, but my money's on Toby. After all, as a charter member of the Finer Things Club, he has demonstrated a level of taste that might translate into a great party.

J.J. said...

Toby doing the party planning would be hilarious.

Because it would force Michael into situations where he has to interact with Toby, and where he finally gets to sort of demand things from Toby (whereas Toby is usually not so much under Michael's jurisdiction).

Not to mention they could revisit the delicious Toby-and-Pam awkwardness when it came time to plan a party for Pam's birthday.

Anonymous said...

I thought Kelly called Dwight "Beet Farm" in that exchange.

I heard "Beet Farm," too.

Loved this episode, and I hope Holly is back next week.

Anonymous said...

My favorite moment of this brilliant episode was Creed's line "Would I ever steer you wrong, Jim?" to Andy's reaction, "wait, what?" Brilliant.

Jackie said...

I really liked Karen and thought that giving her story a perfect bow ending like this was kind of insulting. She seemed more complicated than that. I'm not sure what I wished for her, but I was hoping for something edgier--not exactly sure what though.