Oh, the agony! The sweet, sweet comic agony! For me the best episodes of The Office in both its British and American incarnation, are also the most excruciatingly uncomfortable. On that level, tonight's episode ranks alongside "The Deposition" for sheer squirm-inducing awkwardness.
It helps that the show chose a can't miss premise for its triumphant return to the airwaves. After weeks and weeks of politely and not-so-politely turning down Michael's dinner party invitations, Jim reluctantly acquiesces to spending a sure-to-be-painful evening with Michael, Jan, Andy, Angela and Pam. Tonight's episode honed in on that excruciating evening in the deepest depths of relationship hell with surgical focus. There were no subplots, no random bits of extraneous business to detract from the central gusher of mundane misery. Just pure comic despair from start to finish.
Tonight's episode is probably the closest any American sitcom will ever come to recreating the tragi-comic blackness of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf as Michael and Jan slipped into the roles famously played by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Accordingly, "Dinner Party" doubled as an unbeatable case for legalized girlfriendicide and a potent illustration of Sartre's line about hell being other people.
While the gang waited and waited for a meal that threatened never to arrive Jan and Michael aired several lifetimes worth of dirty laundry for the benefit of their mortified guests. The specific contours of Michael's misery and Jan's petty evil were exposed for all the world to see. Apparently Jan has spent her prolonged period of unemployment sharpening her fangs and claws and thinking up new ways to emasculate her long-suffering boyfriend.
You could cut the tension with an electric chainsaw, from the sinister looks Jan gave Pam–a rival for Michael's affections in her fevered imagination only–to the barely-suppressed rage that seems to define Michael and Jan's relationship. I can't quite decide whether I want Michael and Jan to make each other miserable indefinitely or for the duo to finally be put out of their misery. In any case tonight's episode hurt so good. God I'm glad to have the whole Dunder-Mifflin gang back. Life is good, friends. Life is good. Grade: A Stray Observations– –"You have an office and a workspace!" –"I'm sure it's the same with you and your doodles." –Tonight's episode was directed by Paul Feig and I sensed a very definite Freaks And Geeks vibe, another show that really knew how to mine the comic potential of awkwardness and despair –I loved that Michael had the world's smallest plasma screen television –"Sometimes I will just stand here and watch television for hours." –"I've got the best trophy in the world right here besides the Dundies" –"Sometimes I think she holds onto faxes." –"Rhymes with Parnold Schwarzenegger" –"Dwight brought glasses and a person." –Is this the first time a word has been bleeped on The Office? –"Purely carnal. That's all you need to know." –"I think it ties the whole room together." –I felt bad for Dwight tonight. I also thought the ending tied everything together–not unlike the beer sign–in a surprisingly sweet, poignant way