Throughout both the American and English versions of The Office, certain nagging questions have persisted. Namely, how do operations as poorly run, wasteful and anachronistic as the titular businesses manage to stay in business in a competitive world? And how could such a transparently incompetent walking lawsuit of a boss retain his job?
Tonight's episode finds former temp turned scruffy corporate Prince Of Darkness Ryan pondering both those questions. A day of reckoning appears to be at hand for Michael Scott, as Ryan tries to transform a musty, tradition-bound dinosaur into a competitive high-tech player through spectacular innovations like, um, a spiffy website. It's well established that Dunder-Mifflin can't compete with Office Depot when it comes to price or selection, but when it comes to delivering that Willy Loman, Gil from The Simpsons vibe of complete and utter desperation, it can't be beat.
A running theme in the American Office has been Michael's emotional neediness. Though they're far from exclusive to the fairer gender, Michael has a lot of what are generally considered traditionally feminine qualities: he desperately wants marriage and children, enjoys kibitzing with the girls, until this year he was romantically involved with his more powerful boss, he has relatively delicate features, and he craves acceptance and validation. If Michael wasn't such a clueless little boy, he'd totally be a girl.
One of the my all-time favorite moments in Office history is the tape of a pre-pubescent Michael telling a puppet on a children's show that when he grows up he wants to have hundreds and hundreds of children so they'll have to love him and can never leave him. The puppet is rendered temporarily dumbstruck, rendered speechless by such a sad, transparent display of all-consuming neediness.
There was a sublime moment in tonight's episode that echoes that poignant moment where Michael assures the camera that Ryan told him that he loved him and valued him and would never take him for granted. Of course, he's really trying to convince himself that all that is true when it's obvious it's not.
There were some wonderful moments of awkward comedy in tonight's episode, from Ryan hitting on Pam within spitting distance of Jim to Kelly faking a pregnancy to score points with Ryan, then adopting a whiny little-girl voice when he calls her on it. And there were some big-ass laughs throughout. I busted a gut during the big reveal that Creed, terrified of being ushered out of the company for being ancient, dyed his hair a color of black not seen in nature. Seriously, it's like he colored his hair in a bathroom mirror with permanent marker.
But as someone commented on last week's episode, tonight's hour-long episode felt a little padded, like a terrific half-hour episode stretched into a pretty-good hour. I thought Michael and Dwight's sales calls to clients they hoped to win back with gift baskets felt a little forced, the kind of thing that should have ended up as deleted scenes. Did anyone catch whether B.J. Novak wrote tonight's episode? He's not usually featured so heavily in episodes he didn't write. Ryan seems to think his promotion turned him into one of the swaggering Mad Men alpha males.
I was glad to see that Andy played more of a role tonight. He seems to be finally establishing himself as something other than Dwight's slightly more evil doppelganger. I particularly enjoyed his simpering adolescent worship of Ryan for smelling like what he imagines Pierce Brosnan smells like (my guess: fucking Old Spice). In the sad little world of Dunder-Mifflin, wearing dark clothes and having an expensive haircut is apparently enough to make you Richard Brandon's more dynamic and glamorous twin.
All in all this was a fairly solid episode: some great moments, some filler and oh boy am I looking forward to the return of the half-hour long Office. There's a damned good reason pretty much every sitcom ever has been 30-minutes long.
Grade: B -I'm not entirely sure but I'm starting to suspect that Pam might have a thing for Jim. -"Also, I love you." -Dwight has some Nazi blood in him. Who knew? Actually it kind of makes sense. -I also got a big kick out of Creed's attempts as "youthful" slang. He's all about riding the Red Bull, that incorrigible young whippersnapper -We finally got to see Toby's dark side tonight. I dunno how I feel about that. -Has anyone checked out the Dunder Mifflin Infinity website?