Friday, May 01, 2009

The Office, "Casual Friday": Playing favorites

Spoilers for last night's "The Office coming up just as soon as I drop out of the seminary...
"Maybe you shouldn't fake fire people anymore." -Pam
The Michael Scott Paper Company arc was so glorious, so clearly one of the best things "The Office" has ever done, that there's been some very understandable concern that bringing things back to the status quo would suck a lot of life out of the series. Instead, "Casual Friday" showed just how much things have changed -- not just since the formation of the MSPC, but since the beginning of the series.

The very first episode of American "Office" was a straight translation of the pilot for the British "Office," and it didn't work -- at all. Where Ricky Gervais was able to play the fake firing of Dawn with the right amount of cheekiness, Steve Carell seemed oddly menacing and cruel in the comparable scene with Pam. Greg Daniels and company wisely never attempted to just copy another British script, and Michael's sense of humor quickly diverged from David Brent's. But now, five seasons in, the writers have such a firm handle on Michael, and the relationship between Michael and Pam has evolved so much, that they could do another version of that scene and make it funny, and poignant, and generally as awesome as some of the better moments from the MSPC era. You can see that Michael means no harm, and you can see that Pam understands his mindset enough to let it wash off her back once she recognizes what he's doing. A great scene for Carell and Jenna Fischer, who have turned into an outstanding duo this season.

Beyond that, the transition of the MSPC staff back to the D-M Scranton branch appropriately didn't go smoothly. Michael, Pam and Ryan acted like soldiers who fought a war together and now can't relate to the civilians they left behind, the remaining D-M sales staff predictably rebelled against the idea of Pam and Ryan keeping all the appropriated clients(*), and Jim tried to stay out of it all by spending a dream-like day with Creed.

(*) Other than Pam's promotion, the best post-MSPC element of the show looks like the end of Dwight's hero worship of Michael. I think the two of them work much better as adversaries than as partners in buffoonery.

And if there was a downside to the MSPC storyline, it was the marginalization of the D-M supporting characters. After sitting on the sidelines for the last few episodes, everybody got a moment to shine, whether it was Meredith obliviously (and repeatedly) flashing the office, Phyllis turning sweetly vicious to Pam ("Close your mouth, sweetie. You look like a trout."), Toby taking charge to shut down Casual Friday (and Meredith being turned on by his assertiveness) or, hysterically, the teaser scene with Kevin's homemade chili. (What made that so brilliant was that they kept playing the audio of Kevin excitedly describing the chili even as we saw him in the present desperately trying to get it back in the pot before anyone else came in to notice.) These actors are all too funny -- and, when needed, good actors (like Phyllis getting to Michael with her rant about how they're supposed to be a family) -- to be marginalized for too long.

Some other thoughts:

• Dwight brought a "pony sandwich" to work? Ugh.

• Michael knows "The Wire" but not "The Shield." Interesting. Also, remember that he's "not to be truffled with."

• I liked seeing a Ryan who's now 100% loyal to Michael, but I wonder if that's a one-and-done thing now that he's been demoted again.

• Dwight doesn't know Stanley's last name, but he does know where to find Ryan's mug when he needs to mix up some more of his "invisible ink."

• Meredith: "I don't know. I saw a crowd; I thought there might be a dog fight or something." She is so hilariously creepy.

• Looks like Erin's around for a while, at least. Always good to have someone who isn't quite used to these people yet.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

But Michael does know The Commish which in my memory was a decent light drama. And Chiklis from Commish to Shield really shows his range.

Anonymous said...

Kevin's Homemade Chili scene was worth the price of admission alone!

Unknown said...

hi-frickin-larious I thought. I really enjoyed seeing everybody again. Was there anybody that didn't get a moment?

I've got to really hand it to these writers- they may not always get "normal" office politics and behavior right but they get this group. There's never a false note and even when Michael does something as bad as fake firing Pam and the new girl (and worse fake-hiring Ryan - I wish we could've seen that) it works.

Anonymous said...

I may be reaching for straws here, but thought it might be an interesting road to go down:
We know that Michael wants to be accepted by people and Erin's Do people really not like me?" comment gives the same impression of her. Are the writers setting something up here? Like I said its just a wild theory.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm clearly in the minority, but to me the MSPC arc has been horrible. Too mean, sad, uncomfortable (in a bad way, not the usual Office good way).
And the opening with Kevin last night? Just really mean. What was funny about a guy who cares so much about it trying desperately to deal with it falling? That is sad.
I'm usually on the same wavelength as Alan on The Office but here I'm totally on the other side.

Paul Allor said...

For me, the funniest part of the episode was seeing Dwight show up on casual day dressed exactly the same, sans tie.

Why did I find that so amusing? Because ... that's exactly what I do on my company's casual days. Yikes. I am become Schrute.

Nicole said...

Who'da thunk that Phyllis would turn out to be so vicious?

It was nice to see a new version of the fake fire scene, but Kevin dropping the chili and Meredith flashing the office because it was "casual" day made me laugh louder and longer than I have for this show in a while.

Jordan said...

Five quick thoughts on what really was another great episode:

That Creed subplot was one of the weirdest conversations they've had on this show, and the kind of thing only this show could pull off.

Dwight called Toby an "amorphous blob of biege;" that pretty much summed it up.

I loved the Boscovs drop, but people who aren't from around here probably aren't going to get it. Do they even exist elsewhere than eastern PA and Jersey?

The word Michael arranged Jim's tiles into was "NOSCRUB;" make of that what you will. I didn't catch if he tried to play it onto an "S."

I kinda like the new secretary. I think this is the first time since Andy that they've had someone new come into the office who both doesn't resent it (Michael), and doesn't have power over it. I think it will be interesting, as Alan mentioned, how they play her.

Unknown said...

What was funny about a guy who cares so much about it trying desperately to deal with it falling? That is sadyes it was sad- but FUNNY sad- actually what got me about it was him pushing it back in the pot - that's what made the narration so funny, he wasn't about to let that go to waste

Adam said...

That was the funniest slipping-around-on-something-spilled since ... wasn't that in Cape Fear?

Dave said...

"Who'da thunk that Phyllis would turn out to be so vicious?"

I just happened to pop in disc 1 of the season 4 set the other day and was reminded of when Jim and Pam went public with their relationship. Phyllis tells Pam (and for no good reason): "You can't just give all the good leads to Jim because you're sleeping together." So, yeah, she has a vicious streak that she hides behind that grandmotherly (as Michael might describe it) facade.

I'm with the contingent that regards MSPC as a great new direction for the show. MSPC is clearly not "over" - it will have repercussions for some time. Dwight is pretty clearly not going to be Micheal's toady anymore. I have a feeling Pam is going to really work hard at her new sales job and, in the process, discover just how hard Jim DOESN'T work. Michael may be more over-confident than ever before (partly for the right reasons for a change) and is destined to overreach in some hilariously pathetic way at some point. I'm eager to see how this season winds up and what sort of cliffhanger we have to stew over all summer.

Anonymous said...

I wish Michael had addressed Dwight yelling at Ryan while he was on the phone with a client (that he lost, it seems). That's a ludicrously unprofessional thing to do, and even as someone who has developed a sharper spine after spending years in an industry where I've had to deal directly with rude people and coworkers, I'm not sure how we'll I'd react if someone was screaming directly in my face. I almost wish Ryan had slammed the phone down, gotten back in Dwight's face and forced him to back off, and then handled the situation like an adult, even if he ended up losing the client.

Anonymous said...

"I loved the Boscovs drop, but people who aren't from around here probably aren't going to get it. Do they even exist elsewhere than eastern PA and Jersey?"

I know what it is, but that's only because I went to college in Binghamton, where there's a Boscov's in the downtown area. They do exist in other areas, but from what I remember, it's mostly in less populated areas.

I think name drops like that help the show, much in the same way that Michael mentioning a few seasons back that his mother lived in Dickson City. Most people won't be able to place it, but it makes the show seem more authentic than simply throwing in a line about Macy's, or some other store that exists all over the country.

Kent said...

Are Meredith and Jeff from Chuck related? I'm starting to wonder if they aren't at least cousins.

Anonymous said...

"I want to set you up with my daughter"
"oh... I'm enaged to Pam"
"I thought you were gay?"
"Then why'd you want to set me up with your daughter?"
"I... don't know... "

Creed is one of the oddest characters in any TV show, ever!

wjm said...

I thought "I am not to be truffled with" was the funniest line I've heard on any show, ever.

Then, Dwight said, "It's pony." My 16-year-old horse-worshipping daughter was on the sofa beside me and the look on her face...oh my. I had to hit pause and fall over and laugh for five minutes. I sounded like I had whooping cough.

Definitely one of the funniest episodes ever.

But I totally want a "truffle" t-shirt.

Cinemania said...

Great, great show. As mentioned, pretty much everyone got a moment, which is quite an acoomplishment on a show with such a large ensemble. Compare that to 30 Rock, which by any other standards is a damn fine show, but where the writers often leave the supporting characters languishing on the sidelines for weeks at a time, and you can see why The Office is the best written (and acted, for that matter) comedy series of its time.

Again, great show.

Anonymous said...

Color me impressed that this episode didn't gloss over the impact of the MSPC arc and brought up a very good point via Phyllis: Michael's war against corporate took a heavy toll on the people he said were his family. Inasmuch as the veteran salespeople were being asses (Dwight hit the trifecta when he ruined Ryan's sales call, called Pam a secretary, then disconnected Ryan's phone), they had every right to be mad. I did like the resolution on several levels: Pam is going to remain in sales, Dwight no longer will cave if Michael threatens to withhold emotional support, and Ryan can pursue a new storyline now that he's guaranteed to not be a completely failed salesperson.
The casual friday story, meanwhile, was hilarious. OF COURSE Angela would freak out over something relatively minor like Oscar's toes, and of course Toby's attempts to take charge of the situation would be disastrous. I also loved that we got another slice of Toby Flenderson's life story; the guy is just as trapped as anyone in their miserable company, and the main (only?) reason Michael's hatred doesn't bother him is that he's clearly been through worse.
From my perspective, reasonable casual Friday attire would consist of outfits that a person would wear if they were meeting their parents from out of town at a nice restaurant: no jackets or ties, a button-down shirt with nice slacks for men, and maybe a less-formal pantsuit or a nice skirt-blouse combination for women. What does everyone else think?

Brian said...

I have a feeling Pam is going to really work hard at her new sales job and, in the process, discover just how hard Jim DOESN'T work.Exactly. I think this could be setting up for one of the main arcs of next season.

I thought this episode killed on many levels. They did a wonderful job of having everyone involved at least a little, which is always difficult to pull off.

Two other observations:

--Angela also looked like she was dressed normally for casual day.
--Andy's "order" from when they went "out" for lunch was almost exactly the same as what he brought. Hilarious.

Henry said...

Much, much, much better an episode than "Broke" IMO. The gags kept coming fast and furiously. I thought the teaser was a little too low-key (though your description of why it was so brilliant forced me to re-think the whole thing in retrospect), but the rest of the episode made up for it. Meredith flashing the whole office multiple times, even Toby's hilarious talking head about his dropping out of seminary and standing up to everyone in the office. I also thought for a moment that Erin was actually getting fired. I mean, with Michael now that he's on a power trip, you never know what he's gonna do next!

R.A. Porter said...

I had to pause the Tivo only once, but that was because Kevin's chili dive was in the teaser and the laughter wasn't drowning out more material. For me, the best joke was the Sophie's Choice bit.

It is what you would call a classic difficult decision.

MattB said...

I like how Michael had much more of a backbone in this episode after his successful end of the MSPC:

- He was much more forceful with Dwight when he arranged for the secret meeting, just walking off when Dwight started making stupid comments.
- When he wanted to speak to Jim and Jim was too busy playing Scrabble, Michael just played his tiles for him to end the game.
- The way he dealt with the threats of Phyllis and Dwight to start their own paper company.

I really hope this new trait in Michael is here to stay, it'd be nice to see some growth in his character as a result of the Michael Scott Paper Company.

Anonymous said...

I want more Creed.

Aside from the awesome "I want to set yoou up with my daighter" conversation, I loved the fact that he was able to walk Jim through all of the wrong moves he could make on the chess board. The man has no end of depth, and I wish we could get more episodes that feature him, if not in the main role, than at least a strong supporting one like this.

Kathy said...

Meredith was hilarious and mainly because she really didn't "get" what she had done wrong!

It will be interesting to see how Pam will do as a salesperson. She seems a little timid for the job when you see how she lets the other staff walk all over her. Maybe she will be forced to stand up for herself a little more and that could be very interesting within the office.

Anonymous said...

Hey if you haven't tried pony, don't knock it!

Michael said...

Dwight using Ryan's mug for his "invisible ink" formula was a nice callback to the mugs Kelly made a while back.

fgmerchant said...

Wait a minute, if Meridith and Creed aren't in Sales, what do they do? I know they aren't in Accounting...right?!?

I haven't seen Sophie's choice either, so for me it would also have been a "classic difficult decision."

R.A. Porter said...

@fgmerchant, Meredith works with their suppliers - who give her sex and Outback gift certificates as kickbacks. Creed also works with the suppliers, taking care of Qua, Qua, Qua-something. ;)

It was Creed's lack of diligence to his job that let the pornographic watermarks through.

Anonymous said...

Alan, did you check out Parks and Rec. or Southland?

Anonymous said...

I love that Erin is pretty much the picture perfect image of what someone should wear on casual Friday. Her normalness may be her weirdness at DM.


Anonymous said...

Kelli's outfit. You look like J-Lo.

Tobias said...

How about Andy's shirt: "Assk me about my butt"?


Anonymous said...

Alan, any thoughts on last night's "Parks and Recreation," or is that review coming later? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Phyllis has kinda had it in for Pam for a while -- let's nit forget that she STOLE Pam's THAT'S just wrong! LOL

The Office is really killing it this season -- this episode was hilarious. I loved:

Dwight's invisible ink container;
Creed thinking Jim is gay, but still wanting to set him up with his daughter (ugh...CREED has a DAUGHTER??? Poor thing...LOL);
More insight into Toby's pathetic life -- and he was not even dressed appropriately for casual Friday;
Kevin's chili (I wonder how he got the stain out the carpet? LOLOLOL);
Michael failing to bust through the ? sign in the beginning
Daryl: "How many times did I tell you no forts in the warehouse?"
Meredith...oh Meredith...she was hilarious...between the flashing and the dog fight comment...LOL

Anonymous said...

@Kathy --

Regarding Pam's assertiveness, we've seen some growth in that area, including here when she (rightfully) called out Dwight for interrupting Ryan's phone call.

(Stanley, on the other hand, couldn't believe someone let "the boy" use the phone. Heh. He really doesn't like that kid.)

Pam, though, does have a penchant for quitting things, like art school, as Michael astutely noted. I can see him wondering if she was totally committed to Sales.

And I used to love The Commish when I was a kid. Michael Chiklis' second-best work, slightly behind The Shield and miles ahead of The Fantastic Four. And how note-perfect that Ryan would watch The Shield.

Anonymous said...

Re: Creed.
I don't think this is a spoiler because it won't involve the NBC episodes, but Creed is apparently the star of the next series of webisodes (directed by BJ!).
Their title?

Anonymous said...

To the two anonymous people asking about other shows: Stop it. You're giving us anonymous folk a bad rap.

Unknown said...

I disagree about Pam seeing Jim "not working" - now that he got the promotion to be Michael's #2 last season, and he bought a house and is planning a wedding, I think he has very much stepped up his game. We don't see him planning elaborate pranks on Dwight & Andy anymore - not like he used to.

And truth be told, I don't think Pam will make a very good salesperson in general. She's too concerned with making sure people like her; remember her Taliban comment from when she and Michael went to see Karen?

"I don't like to think about people hating me....I'm sure Al Quaida would like me if they just got to know me."

JamesG said...

Good observations about the more confident Michael Scott, especially in his reaction to the sales team starting their own paper company. Indeed, I do like this new persona if it continues.

"Wait a minute, if Meridith and Creed aren't in Sales, what do they do? I know they aren't in Accounting...right?!?"

Meredith = Supplier Relations
Creed = Quality Control

Anonymous said...

I am another who disliked the Kevin's chili gag. I didn't see humor in it; it made me sad. I feel it made a punching bag of him, purely for sport. What was the punchline? That Kevin-- poor sap-- dropped his chili, his pride, yea, his labor of love, on the floor?

Somebody please point out to me how the bit respected the dignity of the character?

On the other hand, I second the praise for Creed's performance while playing chess, but especially enjoyed his focused, competitive, "I challenge," after Michael "played" Jim's 'NOSCRUB' Scrabble turn.

I also recalled Phyllis's stealing Pam's wedding [arrangments ref: Roy] after the scene in the break room. That lady has brought the mean before.

Was Dwight's sandwich actually pony, or did he just claim that to try and prompt Michael to drop it?


dez said...

I thought Meredith and Creed were professional computer solitaire players ;-D

Where I work, the normal dress code is "business casual," and we're allowed to wear jeans on Casual Fridays. Jeans have to be appropriate for a workplace, of course (i.e., not ripped, faded and thin, etc.).

This was one of my fave eps of the season. I was LMAO throughout most of the ep, particularly throughout Meredith's various states of flashing, and I loved Michael exuding more confidence. Even though Phyllis had a point about how the MSPC hurt Michael's D-M "family," I still wanted him to stand up to her. Damn his insecurity!

Daniel said...

Regarding Phyllis' "vicious streak":

One of my favorite lines from Phyllis came from an earlier season -- I think Season 2 -- when she was explaining why she and Dwight don't get along:

"Dwight has a big personality, and I have a big personality, and a lot of times when two people like that get together it can be explosive."

Guess it isn't quite as funny now, seeing how the writers have since allowed Phyllis' dark side and "big personality" to surface somewhat.

Sirfuller said...

I'm on Phyllis' side. She called out Pam and I would've done the same if someone messed with my paycheck!

You go Phyllis. Go girl!

Anonymous said...

My take on the Pam/Phyllis showdown was that Pam was trashtalking Phyllis to get clients (saying Phyllis didn't have time to talk to them). Pam comes back, never acknowledges the backstabbing of Phyllis to take her clients and tries acting all sweet & goody. Phyllis is not having it and calls her on it. I don't see that as mean. I see it as calling someone on bad behavior.

Russell Lucas said...

"I liked seeing a Ryan who's now 100% loyal to Michael, but I wonder if that's a one-and-done thing now that he's been demoted again."

We don't see Ryan acknowledge the demotion, though, right? I'm thinking that Michael, being (like Brent) a typical wants-to-be-everybody's-buddy boss, probably gave Ryan the sales job, then intended to let Pam go (but couldn't do it), then intended to let Erin go to put Pam back in her old job (but couldn't do it). Next week we'll learn he still has too many people.

Anna Weaver Lopiccolo said...

Didn't they have enough clients back when the Stamford branch closed and they initially took on around five new people (and Andy and Karen were both sales)? Why wouldn't they have enough to go around now? The recession?

Anonymous said...

Costa Rica Sweatshirt....

"There's not a single appropriate outfit in this whole--except mine, quite honestly" -Toby