Since Idris Elba began his reign of terror as the vaguely android-like new Fuhrer of Dunder-Mifflin the stakes have raised considerably. It somehow doesn’t seem enough to generate the weekly quota of laughs, especially after the wrenching emotional roller coaster that was his very first episode.
So while there was much that I enjoyed about tonight’s episode, beginning with one of the most awesome cold opens in recent memory, I found it on the whole a little underwhelming. Ah, but that cold open! It was a thing of beauty, as Pam reveals how she and her colleagues at the Michael Scott Paper Company pass the long, long hours: by throwing cheese puffs into each other’s open mouths. It was a stupid human trick of a gag that started relatively small, then built and built until Pam, Ryan and Michael Scott were all simultaneously throwing cheese puffs into each other’s gaping maws and catching the cheese puffs thrown by their peers.
It’s the kind of wry observational humor about stupid shit that helps wage slaves make it through another dispiriting day at the office that The Office excels at but it was also a nifty piece of choreography. Unless post-production trickery was involved, the cast must have spent a shit ton of time practicing throwing and catching cheese puffs. It was a gag that lingered just a little too long but had a perfect capper when several cheese puffs were thrown at Pam’s head and she let a few slip by. The crowning moment came when Pam decided to stop the foolishness and adopt her signature, “I’m working here. This is serious business” look, a professional pose undermined somewhat by the cheese puff in her hair.
Actually, tonight’s episode indulged in a fair amount of misdirection. When Charles Miner invited Dwight into his office, kissed his ass and invited him out for a drink I expected the episode to revolve about Charles’ creepy and uncomfortable attempt to bond with Dwight. Instead that turned out to be a bit of a red herring, as we never got to see Dwight and Charles share a brew and some larfs (though I have a hard time imagining Charles expressing a human emotion other than grim concentration) and Charles’ part was limited to delivering a stern warning to Michael to stop trying to sabotage his old employer.
This prompted the real meat of the plot: Michael’s fevered attempts to steal clients from Dwight and Dwight’s equally over-the-top efforts to undermine The Michael Scott Paper Company. This thread generated some big-ass laughs, like when Dwight talked about how he was torn between loyalty to his personal hero and this cool new “Will Smithesque” guy who’d come into his life. Michael, being the world’s most oblivious human being (though at this point he’s perhaps tied for that title with Amy Poehler’s character in Parks And Recreation) first assumes that he’s discussing some sort of movie idea, then thinks he’s talking about Charles, then assumes that he’s talking about Stanley. What is Stanley if not cool, new and Will Smithesque?
The other big laugh came when Dwight’s attempts to use the personal information Michael had gathered about big clients backfired when he asked a major customer how his gay sophomore son was doing. Michael’s attempts to explain his incredibly convoluted, contradictory and confusing system for remembering and using client’s personal info was another highlight; only Michael would have green mean “stop”.
The episode’s other major plot thread featured Jim at his douchiest. When Andy tries to interest Jim and Pam in having his college a capella group perform at their wedding and Pam wisely vetoes spending nine thousand dollars to have a bunch of amateurs perform terrible music Andy interprets Pam’s reluctance as a clear sign that she is an Angela-like succubus who will destroy Jim if given a chance and counsels Jim to act accordingly.
Instead of telling Andy to fuck off, Jim instead pretends that he’s hurting deeply and desperately wants Andy to mentor him in every facet of his life. As with the episode where Pam’s asshole brothers fuck with her for no good reason the funny-to-mean ratio was way off, in that it was mean and creepy without being particularly funny.
When Jim fucks with Dwight it’s funny because Dwight gives as good as he gets and is a perfect foil. But when Jim pretends that Andy is a wise guru whose friendship and counsel he desperately craves it’s like he’s a pretty girl who promises to make out with a guy, then has her friends hurl a pee-filled balloon at him instead. Not funny. Just cruel. Jim tried to spin it into a character-building lesson for Andy but it left a bad taste all the same.
Tonight’s episode was definitely one of the weakest episodes of the Idris Elba cycle but there was still much I liked about, especially the way The Michael Scott Paper Company seems to be turning into a big playhouse for Michael, Ryan and Pam. They’re clearly enjoying themselves and having a good time. It’s almost a shame that Michael will almost assuredly be welcomed back into the Dunder-Mifflin fold. I’ve developed quite a fondness for the Michael Scott Paper Company and its braintrust, and you gotta hand it to em: they really know their way around a cheese puff toss.
—Favorite lines/moments. Let’s hear em.
—Is it preordained that the Michael Scott Paper Company will fail or be folded back into Dunder-Mifflin? Elba’s six-episode contract would seem to suggest so.