Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Office, "Stress Relief": Boom, roasted!

Spoilers for tonight's super-special Super Bowl episode of "The Office" coming up just as soon as I save a cat...
"Stanley! Barack is president! YOU ARE BLACK, STANLEY!" -Michael Scott
I spent a long time deliberating on what quote I wanted to lead this review with. There were just too many to choose from -- from both a comic and thematic standpoint -- from this balls to the wall, gut-busting, amazing "Office" episode.

I thought about "Boom, roasted!," which I'm planning to work into everyday conversation now, and which neatly sums up Michael's unwavering belief in his own comic genius. I thought about "Turns out I'm the killer. You never expect to be the killer. Great twist, great twist," since it conveyed a rare moment of Michael self-awareness (sort of) in an episode that turned out to be largely about Michael being confronted with his own shortcomings, at his own request. I thought about quoting Creed's line about recognizing the CPR instructor from the parking lot, as it was the kind of hilarious non-sequitur that these one-hour episodes have room for. I thought about Stanley's monologue about working in his own casket, which seemed to sum up the national mood these days (for those of us lucky enough to still be employed, at least).

But in the end, I had to go with Michael's desperate plea for Stanley to not die, which was so explosively, absurdly funny that it had to come right before the opening credits, if only so the audience could catch its breath. I suppose I could have also chosen Angela's plea for Oscar to save her cat, which led to the incredible sight gag of Bandit going up into the ceiling -- and then immediately crashing back down -- but that one was all in the visuals.

By the way, time for the inevitable rant about NBC putting all of the best jokes into the ads, which featured both Bandit's brief flight and "Barack is president!" Everyone says they were funny in the promos, but I can't imagine them being as hilarious as they were in context, in the midst of that ever-escalating chaos of Dwight's fire drill. That was just a dazzling comic set piece, marvelously set up by writer Paul Lieberstein, fiendishly orchestrated by director Jeff Blitz, and played with the right mix of realism (from Jim and Pam and Phyllis) and over-the-top antics (from Andy and Kevin and, of course, Michael) to make it not only the best "Office" pre-credits sequence ever, but an all-time sitcom classic. I know there's a tendency for instant hagiography or demonization in the blogosphere -- to immediately put things in Comic Book Guy terms as the best or worst thing ever -- but I can easily see these five minutes going into a time capsule with the "Taxi" yellow light discussion, or Lucy doing a TV commercial, or the honkies shooting Jack Donaghy, or any of the other usual suspects. It was so meticulously set up, and so well paid-off, repeatedly (Andy thinking the fire was shooting at them, Kevin looting the vending machine), that I would have applauded it if I wasn't laughing so damn hard.

Lieberstein has said that "We wanted to do a stand-alone comedy episode that could bring people in" who had never seen the show before, and I think he more than accomplished that. Beyond the brilliant opening, the show featured a little bit of everything that makes "The Office" so wonderful, in a way that didn't really require previous knowledge to appreciate, but that also didn't spoonfeed things in a way that would annoy the veteran audience.

After the farce of the fire drill, we got to see Michael at an appropriate level of cluelessness -- Lieberstein, as always, seems to have mastered the right degree of obliviousness -- as he undercut David Wallace and the corporate lawyer, then failed to control the disastrous CPR class, and then conducting that ridiculous stress relief session. ("And none of them have shoes. And they give you a funny cigarette, and you feel even more relaxed.")

But the roast, and Michael's inevitable reaction to it, also showed the human side of Michael -- the unfortunate soul who never advanced past the kid in elementary school with no friends -- which led to the marvelous, simultaneously funny, awkward and heart-warming sequence where he returned to the office and insisted on "roasting" everyone. This could have been another unbearable moment for Michael (and the audience), but Stanley's uncontrollable laughter at "You crush your wife during sex and your heart sucks" -- less at the quality of the joke, I think, then at Stanley's amazement that this was the best Michael could do -- proved contagious, and gave Michael enough confidence to throw in an improvised "and you're gayer than Oscar" to Andy, which fully gets the crowd on his side (someone else even calls out "Boom, roasted!") and allows him to make peace with the staff. I'm sure he'll be back to annoying the hell out of them within two minutes of the next episode, but Michael does have his moments where the employees can stand him, maybe even like him a tiny bit, and those moments make the rest of the series work as well as it does.

In addition to Michael's story, and all the bits of physical comedy (including Dwight turning the CPR dummy's face into a skin mask, which led into the brilliant immediate cut to him and Michael back in David's office for another scolding), "Stress Relief" also provided yet another Jim and Pam moment that managed to be heartwarming without becoming overly saccharine. The bootleg movie they were watching with Andy wasn't really necessary -- except so NBC could have an excuse to promote the episode as featuring guest appearances by Jessica Alba (who was in it for all of 30 seconds) and Jack Black -- and I don't really want to see that much of Cloris Leachman again, but it was useful in that it provided a running gag to underscore the pathos of Pam's fear about her parents. Pam's speech about how the kids she has with Jim will really have soulmates for parents was a lovely moment, but what made it feel like more than blatant heartstring-tugging was Andy's presence in the background, mistaking Pam's confession for more commentary about the movie and again growing frustrated that he isn't that perceptive. (He is, of course, even less perceptive than he thinks, which only makes it funnier.)

Again, outside of maybe the Black/Leachman stuff (and even that had the funny bit with the malfunctioning chair lift), this was a home run. I don't know that it's going to create many new "Office" fans -- it's been a long time since any show got an appreciable, sustained ratings bump out of a post-Super Bowl airing -- but as a relatively standalone hour that showcased the many shadings, colors and comedy styles of "The Office," it was just splendid.

Some other thoughts on "Stress Relief":

My friend Phil astutely pointed out that Jim's choice of the copy machine as his battering ram was also a clever payoff to "The Surplus," since it will finally give corporate an excuse to buy the Scranton branch a replacement for the hated old machine.

• One of the key things about Michael is the way that he's built much of his personality on how he thinks people are supposed to act from watching so many movies and TV shows, but it's always a surface imitation. He knows that he's supposed to go stand at the window and sigh before chewing out Dwight in David's office, but he has no idea what to say after that, and instead winds up undermining David. He thinks that a lonely person is supposed to make some kind of connection by at least throwing bread to animals in a park, only he goes to an all-concrete park where ducks aren't likely to congregate. (Phil, much closer to Pam than Andy in his breakdown of this episode, says that Michael has a lot in common with Pete Campbell from "Mad Men.")

• Were all of the clips in the Angry Stanley montage recognizable from previous episodes, or were some of them from deleted scenes?

• Looking back at what I've already written, I feel as if I've given short shrift to the CPR scene, so let me add Michael saying to Kevin, "No arms and no legs is basically how you exist now, Kevin. You don't do anything." That entire sequence, and not just Creed's brief moment of clarity, was a nice example of the breathing room that the one-hour episodes can provide. (And, yes, I spent a good chunk of last season bashing the one-hour shows, but I think they've gotten much better at them lately.)

• For that matter, the gag with Stanley's stress monitor beeping like mad whenever Michael came near him -- or, when Oscar strapped on the monitor, near Oscar -- was a very simple and very effective gag.

• Greg Daniels once told me that, as he and the other writers began expanding the roles of the supporting cast, they came to the decision that not everybody in the office hated Michael, and that people like Kevin and Meredith actually sort of liked him. Based on Kevin's giggle fit in response to the news of the roast, and Meredith's blunt soliloquy about why Michael drives her to drink (after, of course, he tried to drive her to rehab), I guess the Michael fanclub has basically dwindled down to Dwight and Andy. (Though Pam and Jim have been warmer towards him since they got together, I guess.)

• Love that Michael thinks he has to call up YouTube to get someone to record the roast. Anyone have a favorite roast snippet? Andy's song was nice, but I'm inclined to go with Daryl's simple request for Michael to name the random warehouse worker. Actually, no -- I go with Dwight's "You pathetic, short little man. You don't have any friends or any family or any land." "You don't have any land" may have to go in my insult lexicon along with "Boom, roasted!"

• Yet another advantage of the one-hour length: they got to use a longer version of the main title sequence that included shots of all the second bananas, plus a few extra action shots like Jim kissing Pam.

What did everybody else think?


Alan Sepinwall said...

As always, a reminder: no talking about the previews. I wish I hadn't seen that.

Anonymous said...

Best. Office. Ever.

Too many highlights to list, but I screamed laughing during Stayin' Alive.

Anonymous said...

Well it was hard to get into it after just seeing the refs rape the Cards with no vaseline. I hate people who complain about refs and Im not even a Cards fan but they got fukked somethin awful. Pitt deserved the title in 05 even after some questionable calls in the title game, because they went on the road and won 3 games and beat the best Colts team during the Manning era. Tonight they did not earn the title. The refs gave it to them if I was a ref or an NFL higher up i would be embarassed.

The Offce was ok. The beginning was good and dwight cuttin the dolls face off was funny. The roast was very good. The stuff with Pam was stupid and I did not think the Jack Black stuff was funny.

Anonymous said...

The biggest laugh for me was Angela throwing her cat into the ceiling and it crashing back through. Sheer genius.

The movie within was lame, but I'm glad none of those folks were in the actual story.

When does Stringer show up, Alan?

Ann T. said...

I was laughing so hard during the "fire drill" sequence that I couldn't breathe for a second. This is definitely a classic ep.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

I won't comment about what was in the previews but seriously, can we file a complaint about that or something? That was just wrong.

The episode was very funny but the teaser was brilliant and if anything was wrong with the entire hour it's that the opening was the peak.

Anonymous said...

loved the fire drill, and was thinking the same thing when Jim used the copier to try and break down the door. The rest of the episode was just OK. There were some funny lines, but overall it was pretty predictable. The exception was the Jim/Pam storyline that seemed out of place (except for the awesome link to Andy). Maybe it was a way for the show to explain the Jim/Pam relationship to all the "new" viewers?

Oh, and if you're Jessica Alba, how do you feel about your acting abilities when a TV show only wants you for one line in a secondary bit that doesn't even interact with the main cast?

Anonymous said...

The opening had me laughing more than I've laughed at anything in a long time.

But I thought the rest of the episode was kind of a let down. The movie within the show wasn't funny AT ALL and there were so many storylines that most of them didn't get enough time to really work in my opinion. The storyline with Pam's parents could have been the center of its own episode, but instead it felt crammed in and like a complete afterthought. And Andy mistaking the conversations as movie criticism is great in theory, but something about the execution just made me feel like it never quite came together as well as it could have.

Cole said...

Is there anyway someone can translate what Oscar yelled at Michael during the roast?

Anonymous said...

Loved it! Classic episode. The cat falling, Stayin' Alive, You don't own any land, cutting off the doll face...all brilliant! I agree, the movie could have been cut off, but the pay-off with Andy at the end I think helped the Jim/Pam story like you said, so I am ok with it.

2 new offices in less than a week!

Anonymous said...

I won't comment on the preview either, but it was like a Michael Scott comment that hit to the gut.

Given the come-on to new viewers theory and the sheer genius of the episode, maybe the gut-check LOL was the personal roast to us?

Jonathan B. said...

Excellent write-up, Alan, it definitely helped me appreciate the second half a little more, which might have been hurt by too high expectations for the roast. I think similar let-down happened last season when Stanley went off on Michael in "Did I Stutter?" simply from disappointment of Stanley not going farther (While I sympathize with Michael, I also don't think he gets enough shit most of the time). Thought that part of the episode improved greatly upon second viewing, and it's now one of my favorite Office moments, so maybe time will help that scene for me too.

However, that opening scene needed no help. Angela's cats, Kevin breaking into the vending machine (And the shot of it later completely empty), Stanley's heart attack...Sheer, perfect comedy brilliance.

But I really hope the writers soon stop the PB&J faux-drama that seems to have happened every other episode so far this season. Though the pay off hear was somewhat nicely (bitter)sweet.

Austin said...

Best line was easily, "If it were an iPod, it would be a shuffle!"

Omagus said...

Far be it for me to be the instant classic label person but it will probably take me a LONG time to think of any scene that I've ever seen that made me laugh as much as that. The highlights were definitely Angel throwing her cat into the ceiling and Michael's "Barack" line. I hadn't seen any previews for this episode prior to watching it so it was all brand spanking new to me.

There were definitely some clips from the Stanley montage that I didn't recognize...I'm thinking some of those were from deleted scenes.

I vote for Andy having the best roast.

Omagus said...

The "that" that I am referring to in the first sentence of my previous comment is the fire drill scene, of course.

Anonymous said...

Allen, have you sampled women of every creed and nationality? .... Chuck reference, betcha can't name the episode

Bruce Reid said...

Sounds like a good thing I missed the previews.

Alan: "...I guess the Michael fanclub has basically dwindled down to Dwight and Andy."

Kelly's roast was a simple you're-not-hot zinger, and she seemed sincere in wishing him a happy birthday. I think Micheal still has her in his corner.

A generally excellent episode, managing to undercut its own pathos just enough. I knew it had to end with a Michael/Stanley reconciliation, but I never saw that one coming; beautifully played laughter by Baker at the end, a perfect mix of laughing with and at Michael. (It was a lame burn, sure, but the "crush your wife" bit at least got the spirit of roasting right, and "your heart sucks" is a goofy enough formulation to earn a chuckle.)

Maybe I'm being too charitable to Andy, but I took his ongoing praise of Jim and Pam's critical skills to be grasping at a necessary self-delusion less he own up to how calm and understanding they were about relationships in contrast to the abject failure of his own.

And speaking of Angela, how perfect that her paradigm for standup is Jeff Foxworthy?

As to the show-within-the-show, however, I was confused as to what they were watching: Was that supposed to be an intentionally funny parody of May-December romances, or was it a straight drama necessarily pushed towards absurdity because I'm watching it within a comedy?

Anonymous said...

I still can't stop laughing about Dwight going all hannibal lector on that doll.

Bruce Reid said...

Forgot to mention that, as clumsy as post-Super-Bowl shows generally are about mentioning the game, it was weird to have no reference to the Steelers from the Scranton branch.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

"if you're Jessica Alba, how do you feel about your acting abilities when a TV show only wants you for one line in a secondary bit that doesn't even interact with the main cast?"

I get the feeling Jessica Alba is not so much with the self-awareness.

Myles said...

Well, it's official: hour-long episodes of The Office not featuring Amy Ryan are still my kryptonite.

I'll admit right now, my review of this episode is totally unfair: I didn't think it deserved the timeslot, I don't like hour-long episodes, and the celebrity cameos were frustrating me before I even sat down for the episode.

And while I think almost everything that everyone pointed out was funny here, I find any hour-long Office that doesn't actually serve a story-driven purpose just lacks any sort of cohesiveness. I quite liked the second half of the episode, but the first half was just chaotic slapstick after chaotic slapstick: funny in small doses, but strung together they were frustratingly thin. The second half's story of Michael's humiliation, and the eventual conclusion, were really strong, and I thought built well, but we didn't need half an hour of chaos to get there, and I found it distracted more than helped in the end.

I think that, for me, there is a difference between classic moments (Angela throwing the cat), classic lines (Barack is President!) and a classic episode. I've always known that the show was capable of providing the first two, but this hour has me unconvinced that the show knows how to put them together to fill a well-paced hour of television (especially with the waste of space that was both the Pam/Jim and Celebrity Movie subplots).

Smfdoc said...

For me it was Bandit the cat falling back through the ceiling. I'm still laughing out loud at the thought of the scene even though I have now watched it four times.

Nicole said...

For once I suppose that I am glad for the Global simulcast because I didn't see any previews.

Anyway, I loved that the show had a cat tossing scene, and then a reference to Dwight's most hated charity : PETA.

I think the first half was a bit stronger than the second, at least in terms of funny. The second half seemed more into the awkward funny a la UK Office. It did not surprise me that Michael wouldn't understand that a roast would actually be insults and not jokes. That being said : Boom! roasted will now be added to my lexicon.

So many good things in this episode, including Michael telling Meredith to sit with her knees together since she was wearing a skirt.

Andy's "What I hate about you" was also pretty good. I think it could be adapted to many situations.

Anonymous said...

I thought the episode as a whole was a mess. A funny mess at times, I suppose, but so completely random as to make me overall give it a thumbs down. It actually felt more like a series of Office sketches rather than an episode.

And how does Dwight not get fired? I could see if Michael covered up for him, and it never made it back to the New York office, but once they knew what happened how could he possibly still be there? (Or you could have a storyline where Michael lies about having fired him but doesn't really do it and in a few episodes gets caught.) And wouldn't Stanley sue him?

That said, the fire alarm scene was quite funny. It would've been much funnier if the best parts weren't in the promos (the cat joke especially.) The Stanley/Obama joke felt like an area they've gone to too often for jokes with Stanley (Michael mentioning his race in an un PC way.) It was one time too many for me to really enjoy it as it seemed lazy on the writers part (as opposed to Dwight making fun of Stanley's diet and lack of exercise which did make me laugh.)

When Kelly started dancing to Michael doing Stayin' Alive I was wondering if they were all supposed to be drunk? A cute moment in theory, but seemed to come out of nowhere and felt forced and too unreal for even this show.

I did like the roast more but it seemed to come out of nowhere too -- "we need a funny bit for the 2nd half that lets new viewers meet each character." Dwight and Angela's roasts were funny though.

Stanley's laugh at the end also felt forced to me. As did the Jim/Pam story.

And the movie within the show was pretty laugh free. I too would feel bad for Jessica Alba except she probably earned more for that 30 second appearance than I will all year.

In the tradition of Entertainment Weekly I give the opening scene an "A." The rest of the episode a "C."

Anonymous said...

Is there a reason for the asterisk after your quoting "You're gayer than Oscar," or did I just miss the footnote somewhere?

Anonymous said...

It's so weird to see reactions to The Office these days. For my part, I think they're still churning out some of the best TV around today. Comedy, sure, but some excellent dramatic pathos as well.

But there seems to be a lot of disappointment and downright hostility to the show these days. Not so much here as on, for example, a well-known gargantuan review site that features many many bulletin boards.

The bad mood seems to come from people who fell in love with the show in Season 2 and have never forgiven The Office for moving out of that paradigm.

For my own part, I watched last night's episode with a friend who's also been watching since S1, and being British, has a lot of loyalty to the original. Both of us laughed at pretty much the entirety of "Stress Relief", and I'm pretty certain that it was more than just being buzzed by beer and the excellent Super Bowl finish beforehand.

The movie-within-a-show was a little odd, but I found it a spot-on parody of the cookie-cutter RomComs of our time. The soundtrack by itself was hilarious.

Sous Chef Gerard said...

Better title for Amy Poehler's show:

Public Service


Parks & Recreations

afoglia said...

Yet another advantage of the one-hour length: they got to use a longer version of the main title sequence that included shots of all the second bananas, plus a few extra action shots like Jim kissing Pam.

Actually, the theme was the same length. They just eliminated all the shots without credits after the exterior shots (except for two at the end).

I hope they keep it, because the rest of the cast deserves it.

Kenrick said...

Hmmm, the episode did not feel cohesive at all to me. I don't know if it was because I had high expectations going in because of Alan's previous post or what, but overall I was a little disappointed. There were a lot of funny moments, laughed the hardest at Dwight's Hannibal Lecter mask, but as a whole it didn't quite work for me.

I guess I'm in the minority, but I found the opening sequence to be way too slapstick. And Dwight pulling a stunt like that and not getting fired made the setup questionable.

The movie within the show was lame. The use of celebrity guest appearances is usually a shameless ratings booster, but I don't usually mind it. However, advertising the stars by stuffing them into a fictional movie within the show feels like an even cheaper ploy than actually writing them into the show and giving them something meaningful to do. Same with the magazine covers in that How I Met Your Mother episode.

Don't get me wrong, I've still been loving this season, but aside from individual moments, I wasn't that impressed with this hour long episode.

SJ said...

"You almost killed Stanley."

"Yes I filled him with butter and [something] for 50 years and forced him not to move."

Anonymous said...

I get the feeling Jessica Alba is not so much with the self-awareness.

Though she is smarter than Bill O'Reilly.

Michael said...

I had to pause my DVR and laugh at Dwight wearing the faux-skin mask. I honestly can't remember the last time I had to hit pause so I could laugh.

ghoti said...

Forgot to mention that, as clumsy as post-Super-Bowl shows generally are about mentioning the game, it was weird to have no reference to the Steelers from the Scranton branch.

Scranton is like 300 miles from Pittsburgh.

There are Steelers fans everywhere, but Philly and New York are a lot closer.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Better title for Amy Poehler's show:

Public Service


Parks & Recreations

Meh. Neither's that exciting, but neither is terrible, either. "The Office" isn't exactly a title that gets the pulse racing, and there's something to be said for keeping it simple.

Alan Sepinwall said...

And how does Dwight not get fired?

He probably gets fired in the real world. But then, Michael probably would've been fired in the real world a long time ago. And I think we can extend the justification for Michael still being employed (he's a brilliant salesman) to Dwight, since we're told repeatedly that he easily ranks as the top seller in the branch (other than maybe Michael, who handles the big deals).

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't get why people look for realism in their comedy.

Unknown said...

I think dwight not getting fired has a lot to do with the fact that he's the top salesman in the company.

Also, "Yes, I filled him with butter and sugar for 50 years and forced him not to exercise." had me laughing so hard I scared the dog.

Malcolm said...

I'm surprised the review/comments didn't pick up on this (or maybe I'm reading too much into it). But before Michael does his roast of the rest of the employees, he says something about having to write down his comments/read off of cards. He then looks up at the camera with a half smile before continuing.

This is referencing how Dwight said he had to read off the card for the "I state my regret" speech because he "didn't really feel it". This was one of my favorite subtle touches of the episode because Michael was purposefully softening all the mean jokes he was about to say.

Unknown said...

Just your recap had me in tears again Alan. I can't wait to go home and watch the show again (and again and again)

I agree Dwight (Michael and Andy too) are as much caricatures as anything but there's still been a definite progression (calculated I think) in his absurd-ism. The fire scene and dummy scene were brilliant and hilarious but I don't think they would fly in the first couple years.

Dwight is the way he is partly because Michael has allowed him to run wild and the long time viewers understand this.

Anonymous said...

As a David Mamet fan, I loved the reference to Glengarry Glen Ross and the classic Alec Baldwin scene in that movie. When the Red Cross woman is explaining the ABC acronym, Michael says that would be confusing because in sales ABC stands for "Always Be Closing."

Anonymous said...

I don't think it'll win over new viewers. I think it was filled with too many 'inside jokes' for a new viewer to have gotten it. That said, I think it was funny as hell overall. I could have done without the creepy movie -- there are a million ways the PB&J/parent story could have been woven in without completely skeeving me out. Dwight in the mask? The hardest I've laughed at a sitcom EVER.

Anonymous said...

Some points, in no particular order:

1. I agree that Dwight's behavior was over the line, and Michael's reaction woefully inadequate, but unless there were specific laws broken, it's probably up to the company to decide whether to fire people. As others have mentioned, Dwight is definitely one of the top, if not the top, salesman at the Scranton branch, and probably for the company as a whole. The last few episodes have revealed corporate opinion of Michael as being a skilled manager of the Scranton branch, particularly during this tough economic time.

I've worked in a few different chain restaurants, and for the two months I worked at an Applebee's, there was one guy who got away with a lot of stuff that others might not get away with because he brought in a few hundred thousand dollars more than other servers did each year. Success definitely counts for a lot.

2. The movie that Jim, Andy, and Pam were watching with Jack Black, Cloris Leachman, and Jessica Alba (the hate for whom I've never understood) was entirely unnecessary. I got the jokes about the absurdity of Hollywood, such as Cloris Leachman replacing Nicole Kidman with a small rewrite, but it didn't add anything to the show. It didn't really subtract, but it didn't enhance the show like minor gags often can.

3. The opening sequence was ludicrous, but in a great, great way. Between Angela throwing the cat, Jim and Andy trying to smash through the door with the POS copy machine, and Kevin smashing open the vending machine, it was awesome. Hell, I just forgot to mention Oscar falling through the ceiling, so I probably forgot to mention other stuff. Suffice it to say that I was in a sleep/grumpy mood as I was watching this show, so when I watch it again later this week, hopefully I will laugh even more.

4. The roast wasn't as nasty as I thought, but I thought that actually worked. I thought the jokes that were only good for a small laugh were appropriate because I don't think any of these people hate their jobs that much. I may be pretty young, but I've had enough jobs to know that if you really don't like something, you find a way out, even if you can't leave right away. This show had some moments that reflected the economic climate (more on that in a second) of the nation, but even as the business has struggled to stay relevant, there were other opportunities when the overall economy was better. If these people hated working there so much, why wouldn't they leave?

5. As for who likes Michael, who hates him, and who is indifferent, the groups have more or less stayed the same over time. But I do like, as others have pointed out, that people have changed their opinions of him over time. Jim and Pam, the two most reasonable, most mature people in the office, look to like him a little more, while Meredith who supposedly liked him now looks to be against him. I must say, I wish they had more of a dynamic between Dwight and Michael being against each other, because their relationship is so hot and cold, so equally pathetic but endearing.

6. If there's one thing this show excels at, it's small bits of dialogue that reveal a lot about something larger. Stanley's line about working in his own casket because of economic need was as every bit revealing about pretty much everyone in the country as was Michael's line to Kelly that she couldn't claim she was raped, "not again," because it wouldn't keep working.

7. I know there have been some complaints that unlike the British version, the camera seems to know where to look, undercutting the premise that this is a documentary. I haven't seen the British version yet, and while I have always assumed it was a criticism without that much merit, I noticed that Dwight looked into the camera before the mayhem started last night. Even if they found out what was going to happen just a half hour before, wouldn't the cameraman have alerted someone in the office?

8. I'm intrigued by Amy Poehler's new show, because it looks like it could either be every bit as interesting as "The Office" or a complete misfire. The name change doesn't really do it for me, but then, it's a hard show to name. Perhaps it would have been easier to call it "Bureaucracy in Action" or "The Bureaucrats," but "Parks & Recreation" can work, too. If the biggest issue the show has is its name, then it should be something to look forward to.

9. I really, really hope airing after the big game helped this show. I know it's too much to expect 20 million viewers a week, but is 12-15 really out of the question? It'd also be nice if any previews shown for Poehler's new show will help that show gain some buzz.

Unknown said...

but unless there were specific laws broken, it's probably up to the company to decide whether to fire people

I'm no lawyer or cop but vandalism and inciting a riot (yelling fire) are just 2 laws I can think of that were broken - I'm sure there were more.

Anonymous said...

"I'm no lawyer or cop but vandalism and inciting a riot (yelling fire) are just 2 laws I can think of that were broken - I'm sure there were more."

Exactly what I thought.

But then, I don't recall the sequence well enough to know if Dwight himself vandalized anything. Is there a law against causing other people to vandalize something, if that's even the right word to describe it. Also, isn't it up to the property owners to press charges?

Perhaps Dwight got special treatment because of his past as a volunteer Sheriff's Deputy or whatever his title was called.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

"Though she is smarter than Bill O'Reilly."

Well, yes, but so are cocker spaniels.

Unknown said...

"Though she is smarter than Bill O'Reilly."

Well, yes, but so are cocker spaniels

Well- sure - but apples and oranges though, you have to at least stay with primates I think- let's be fair to Bill.

Bill or Rush? or Chaka from Land of the Lost?

Anonymous said...

You've actually perked up my opinion of the episode after reading this, Alan. I initially thought it was like one of those hour-long space filler episodes from the fourth season because it was losing its comic momentum after the classic pre-credits sequence (notice how Kevin ran over the cameraman, much like he did in the third season episode with the bat). I gave it maybe a B-minus grade in my book. But now, you have me thinking that it's pretty good in post-mortem and I may have to watch it again.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Is there a reason for the asterisk after your quoting "You're gayer than Oscar," or did I just miss the footnote somewhere?

I'm sure there was a reason when I inserted the asterisk, but I'll be darned if I can think of it now. Maybe I was going to ask who people thought said the second "Boom, roasted" (Jim? Oscar?), but I have no idea, and have since removed the offending mark.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Well, it's official: hour-long episodes of The Office not featuring Amy Ryan are still my kryptonite.

You didn't like "Money"?

Anonymous said...

The hour long episodes are working better in Season 5 because they're using more interesting and funnier storylines than they did for the hour-longs in Season 4. "Michael as stressor" works better for a super-sized ep than "Scranton throws a lame party as a stupid website starts operating", IMO.
If there's a Most Improved award for this show, it has to go to Ed Helms. From actually showing some steel when he faced down Dwight in "The Duel" to his hilarious/dead-on song to tear Michael down here, he's taken Andy from being a worthless tool to someone who's pretty dumb but can also be endearing. That sounds like Michael Scott, doesn't it?
Dwight wasn't fired for the same reason Michael Scott survived in "Branch Closing" and has remained in his position since then: they pull off some major work successes (don't forget, the events here probably occurred not long after the coup of getting Prince Family Paper's client list) so that the show can stretch plausibility in keeping them employed without destroying it.
The "big name" movie story was annoying until the perfect twist at the end, when we go from genuinely moving (Pam's soulmates comment) to LOL (Andy thinking her insight about her and Jim re: her parents is about the film). It was worth the ride, bumpy as it was.
Overall, a terrific episode that I hope cashed in on the audience who watched a great Super Bowl.

Myles said...

You didn't like "Money"?

I hate to be all curmudgeon-esque, but not particularly. It was actually remarkably similar to how I felt about this one: a first half hour that was one gag taken way too far (pizza boy), all building up to a solid second half that focused more on Michael in a realistic fashion. Lieberstein is great at getting to those emotional bits, as he was in the 2nd half here, but I find that there's a cheap shorthand used for the first half that stretches thin by comic patience even as it stretches my stomach muscles from laughing.

"Stress Relief" and "Money" are probably about even for me, really: this one had funnier moments, but "Money" felt more tonally consistent and had a far superior Jim/Pam storyline.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It was actually remarkably similar to how I felt about this one: a first half hour that was one gag taken way too far (pizza boy)

Pizza boy was in the previous one-hour episode, with the launch for the new Dunder Mifflin website.

Anonymous said...

"Though she is smarter than Bill

Don't be a pinhead.

krysumn said...

Michael's dyslexic!

Anonymous said...

I really wanted to like this episode and was looking forward to it all night, but I agree that NBC went way too far in promoting the show by showing basically the whole opening segment. I felt robbed b/c by the time the show came on, I really didn't find it funny at all.

I also agree with the person who said this episode felt like a lot of sketches thrown together. At times, I felt like I was watching bad improv because I kept wondering where the motivation was in some of the actions (like Kelly getting up and dancing in the middle of the CPR training - huh?). And oddly enough, I couldn't concentrate on the relaxation session b/c I was sure Michael was going to spill wax on somebody with that damn candle.

I can't wait for Stringer Bell to get there and clean up the place.

Nicole said...

I didn't see the promos with the opening segment, so it was fresh to me and probably why I found it hilarious.

As for the realism argument, Dwight may have set up the "fire drill", but the rest of the employees reacted in ways stupid enough to get them in trouble too. Maybe the destruction of the copy machine is justifiable as a means to escape, but why did Angela have her cat at work? and how does Kevin justify vandalising the vending machine. If this is real, more people than just Dwight should be reprimanded for what went on.

I haven't been following the Alba O'Reilly feud that closely, but I'm going to have to side with Papa Bear on this one, even though I disagree with his politics pretty much all the time. Alba was trying to imply that she was neutral, and the country universally known as being neutral during the wars was Switzerland and not Sweden.

As for the show, Alba, and the rest of the movie cast didn't really add anything to the overall episode.

Anonymous said...

Insight to the Micheal Scott mind:
"We found ourselves on the less prepared side of things when Stanley had his - his heart went berzerk. And I knew exactly what to do but in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do."

That made me laugh.


Anonymous said...

Did Phyllis get a chance to roast Michael? I was curious what she'd say, but if she got up there, I either missed it or forgot it.

I agree that this episode did an amazing job hitting middle ground between the funny and the uncomfortable. I kept waiting for Michael's reaction to the roasting to get really offensive and petulant, but both the meanness of the jokes and the childishness of Michael's reactions were just restrained enough that it was funny without being uncomfortable or sad. Same with Michael's "Boom, roasted!"s. And Stanley's laughter was the perfect ending.

I guess I missed the preview and now I'm so curious! Sounds worse than usual.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Angela has this cat at work because Dwight FROZE the other one!

KendraWM said...

Loved the episode, my husband who normally does not watch it was even laughing.

Believe me there would be no mention of the Steelers, grew up near Scranton and it was Eagles all the way.

I am trying to think of my favorites and they are too many and I tihnk already mentioned.

Although I did feel bad (again) for Toby when he got up to do his roast and Michael shot him down. Poor Toby.

Myles said...

Pizza boy was in the previous one-hour episode, with the launch for the new Dunder Mifflin website.

Ah, yes - it appears that my mind is creating amalgams of one-hour episodes. The entire start of Season Four has blended together, and while I remember liking "Money" more than the other episodes I feel like I couldn't tell you why.

I wish I had a blog post as evidence, but unfortunate I skipped a series of episodes out of disillusionment. I did find a message board reaction wherein I said the following:

"Episode was decent enough, nice to finally see some semblance of character from Jan...but it sent her too far down the destructive path, and the episode wasn't funny enough to justify its rather odd pacing (Again: Hour Long is bad, people)."

So I certainly don't have anything approaching coherency, but I do feel that the Amy Ryan eps really did set a new precedent that far outstripped anything before them - I'd say it's a finale/premiere thing, but "Fun Run" was not good.

Jeff Martin said...

I'm surprised, Alan, that you loved the bit with the beeping stress monitor whenever Michael got near. That bit, and the bit where the cat falls back through the ceiling, were the two sitcommiest moments of the episode.

I thought they were funny, but you always seem so disappointed when your favorite shows pull out old staples.

Alan Sepinwall said...

That bit, and the bit where the cat falls back through the ceiling, were the two sitcommiest moments of the episode.

Often times, the difference between bad sitcommy and not isn't in the idea, but the execution. These jokes worked within the plot logic and characterization previously established in the universe of The Office, and not a case of sacrificing consistency for the sake of a joke.

Anonymous said...

I, too, loved Andy's roast the most. I'm a sucker for sing songy roasts.

I really enjoyed this episode - with one notable exception. I really hated the 'movie' (though, I did enjoy watching Andy and Pam and Jim watching it, and what came out of that). Anyway, kind of a pity, because that really stuck out like a sore thumb in an otherwise surprisingly good hour long episode. It still has some pacing problems (again, mostly the movie), but far less than some of the older long episodes.

Is it just me, or has The Office actually been stronger this year than 30 Rock, which is still funny, but had been sort of a hit and miss this season? I find myself looking more forward to this show than 30 Rock nowadays. It also feels more tightly written.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and totally agree to whoever that said they wished they didn't see the previews.

I haven't watched an NBC promo in ages, and was stricken by how bad (and spoilery!) they are. It's like as if they're trying their best to drive me away from shows I watch.

That being said, I do like the satisfaction of feeling completely correct in taking Heroes off my TV roster last year.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Is it just me, or has The Office actually been stronger this year than 30 Rock, which is still funny, but had been sort of a hit and miss this season?

It isn't just you. Since the strike ended last year, The Office has consistently been the better show.

Anonymous said...

Alan.. agreed the quotable quotes from this ep are near double digits.

Personally, I loved Michael mumbling "staying alive" and Andy knowing all of the lyrics. Classic!

Peter Lynn said...

Someone over at TV Squad suggested that all but the last three minutes of this episode should be stricken from canon. I agree. Was it funny? Sure. But it also felt like Dwight's character crossed the line into outright sociopathy, and some of the slapstick didn't sit right, such as Angela hurling the cat into the ceiling.

Dwight now has two strikes with David Wallace, and stands to be fired for his next offence. But I don't expect this to be remembered in future episodes. That opening segment was so cartoonish that it felt like a dream sequence outside regular continuity. Fortunately, the rest of the episode got back to the kind of subtlety and emotional resonance that I expect from The Office.

J.J. said...

"That bit, and the bit where the cat falls back through the ceiling, were the two sitcommiest moments of the episode."

The difference, in my opinion, is the heavy-handed setup in a sitcom. They come up with a funny idea, and they quickly concoct a scene or two crammed in before the joke, setting you up for the joke.

In this case, Angela's unhealthy obsession with her cats goes back a long way (remember the awkward conversation with Dwight awhile after he killed her cat when she mentioned she was still griveing and hadn't even buried it yet?). What made the joke work so well was that it honestly felt like something her character would do based on things we've known about her going back a long time.

It would have been a sitcom bit if they used the same episode to introduce her cat issues, just to justify the later sight gag.

leor said...

an instant classic, but Alan, the reason i'm commenting is to thank you for referring to that great taxi moment. i hadn't seen that in years, and i laughed just as hard re-watching it now!

Anonymous said...

As I read your review, I was wondering when there would be a reference to the Silence of the Lambs gag... that was one of the funniest things I have ever seen on television.

I also loved that after Michael tried to break the window, and after Kevin broke the vending machine glass to steal food, he then went and kicked out more of the glass to get even more food.

What a great episode. Boom, roasted!

Stef said...

We're doing a tribute event at work next week for our former Board President / major donor. My coworkers and I are trying to get every single one of our "Boom, roasted"s out now before it gets us in trouble. :-)

Anonymous said...

I just remembered that I DID see the promo. I think I must be super-immune to spoilers because it didn't occur to me at all that it was a big deal.

The only time I ever remember being ticked about a spoiler in a promo was when I was watching Celebrity Poker and, during the last commercial break of the hour-long show, they showed a promo for the championship game that showed who the winner would be for the game I was watching at that moment. And it was not a rerun. Dumb promo.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm in the minority, but I found the opening sequence to be way too slapstick.

I'm with you. I guess I just have to accept that I don't find much of the physical comedy funny, but obviously many others do. I was bored throughout the whole opening scene (although I laughed when Stanley looted the vending machine.) Like the scene where Michael chased Meredith around the rehab parking lot, or when Dwight chased Michael through the office corridors and outside last week, it dragged on too long for me.

But there was still a lot of funny in this episode for me - just not the opening scene.

For example, I thought it hilarious that Angela brings her cat to work and keeps it in a file drawer. Throwing it up to the ceiling? Not as funny.

Anonymous said...

"...Anyway, I loved that the show had a cat tossing scene, and then a reference to Dwight's most hated charity : PETA."

Egads. I thought he was saying "pita."

Devo (my devilish Tivo) cut off the ep when Michael was tossing whole slices of bread in the paved park and making duck calls, so I appear to have missed a preview of some sort. Good.

"Oh my god! The fire is SHOOTING at us!" I haven't laughed that hard in weeks. Oscar climbing up through the ceiling panel--he actually had the right idea.

Creed: "He doesn't have a wallet. I already checked." He checked a man with no arms or legs for a wallet?

Angela: "I don't usually like to make people laugh." Her roast was technically the best, surprisingly. "You want to see someone who puts sunblock on a window?"

Anonymous said...

""...Oh, and totally agree to whoever that said they wished they didn't see the previews."

Oh. I guess everyone was referring to PREVIOUS previews of the fire drill show.

Devo strikes again. I don't have to watch previews, promos, or commercials.

Course, Devo cuts shows off just when Michael Scott is throwing slices of bread at a parking lot.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised so many people liked this episode. I thought it was more over-the-top than usual because it was trying to pander to a wider audience that wouldn't necessarily get the subtle subtext and nuanced humor that made the Office such a great show. What happened to the situational jokes and awkward pauses from the first couple of seasons? This episode was almost pure sitcom and slapstick, save for a few moments.

I love episodes of the Office that are centered on the realistic yet trivial happenstances of an actual office. Things like the argument over the thermostat temperature, the Hilary Swank debate, the squeaky chair dilemma, etc. The idea of someone setting the office on fire, dismembering a CPR dummy, and costing the company thousands of dollars (amid a severe economic recession) is just too ridiculous for a show that's supposed to a documentary. How Dwight is not in prison, much less still employed, is a mystery.

I didn't really think many of the other gags worked either. I found it more odd than funny that Angela would have her cat in the office. Wouldn't we have seen this before? The stress-o-meter joke didn't work for me, either. I did enjoy the roast scenes and the "Boom, Roasted!" retort by Michael. But that might have been more because I know these characters so well at this point. I wonder if a first time viewer would have found any of that sequence funny?

Disappointed all around. If NBC wanted to bring new viewers into the fold, they would have been better off showing Email Surveillance, The Dundies, Diversity Day, or many of the great, full cast episodes from previous seasons that capture the Office at its best.

tabernacle said...

During the relaxation exercise, while Michael is walking over his supine staff:

Jim to Pam: "Don't open your eyes."

Laugh-out-loud, for me.

(And that candle was making me so nervous, with the possibility of hot wax falling on people's faces.)

amitytv said...

I am watching it for the second time now. The whole Red Cross instructor scene is HI-LARIOUS!!!!You have to go back and rewatch that entire scene in the conference room.
Kevin:(pumping on the dummy)I can't keep doing this forever.
Instructor: It's been 20 seconds.
Kevin: Call it.

Oh I think the writers have outdone themselves on this one. Anybody notice that after cutting the face off the dummy, Dwight has time to put his own glasses back on the faceless dummy?
I am rewinding it again.

Linda said...

I don't disagree that it was slapsticky, but the show has always, ALWAYS had a big element of slapstick. I don't think that's a turn away from its fundamentals or anything.

That's kind of what I love about it, is that it has these ridiculous physical-comedy moments, plus actual wit and funny lines, plus little things that punch me right in the feelings. It's what makes it a satisfying show. It didn't bother me that it was heavy on physical comedy, because it was good physical comedy -- particularly that opening segment. It was still sweet, and it was still smart.

Anonymous said...

A translation of Oscar roast comment to Michael was:

"I get an ulcer every time I wake up in the morning and think I have come in and work for you, for YOU!"