Your trusty tour guide through NBC must-see (or mustest-see, anyway) comedy Thursday, Nathan Rabin, couldn’t be with us this evening due to unforeseen circumstances, so you’re stuck with me. Apologies in advance for being a poor substitute for Natey, but I was pretty excited to get assigned the season’s penultimate episode, because I think the post-strike episodes of The Office have been as good as any in the show’s history—dark, funny, and full of surprising, unexpected drama, like Michael’s showdown with Stanley last week or the deliciously excruiciating Edward Albee play that was “Dinner Party.”
So it’s with some measure of disappointment that I confess to finding tonight’s episode, “Job Fair,” to be the first disposable since the show’s return. Not to say it wasn’t amusing at times—and subtly purposeful at others—but it felt a bit like a throat-clearing before next week’s big one-hour finale.
Right off the bat, I have to declare a big philosophical difference between Nathan and myself regarding PB&J: A couple of episodes ago, Nathan wrote, “…there’s just something about the Pam and Jim relationship that brings out the middle-aged secretary in me.” Me, I’ve always loved their dynamic and like it even more now that they’re together. The big reason why it dodges the Moonlighting curse, to my mind, is that Pam and Jim, while major characters on the show, have never been the main event. With Michael hogging the spotlight, they’re free to screw around on the sidelines and are under no pressure to carry the show; their relationship can progress (or not) without becoming a grand distraction. And, of course, they have great chemistry and are as adorable as a box of puppies. They bring out the middle-aged secretary in me, too, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
The theme of the night, as Michael might put it: Limitless paper in a paperless world. Whenever we get the chance to see Dunder Mifflin do actual business—as we did plenty tonight—everyone winds up coated in flopsweat. The A and B plots divided the office into two camps: Michael, Oscar, Pam, and Darryl (looking like Barack Obama!) go to Pam’s old high school for a job fair, hoping to recruit some lure some kids into their booth. (Michael: “Kids are very wary of being lured these days. Thank you, Dateline.”) Meanwhile, Jim, Andy, and Kevin meet a former client for a round of golf, with Jim hoping to cajole him into becoming a customer again. With Dwight getting a rare chance to assert his rank on the office hierarchy, the C plot has the rest of the gang plotting to leave early over his objections.
The job fair scenes are fairly standard-issue Michael craziness, though his vision for making Dunder Mifflin a sexy proposition is amusingly abstract: “A blank piece of paper equals endless possibilities.” But really, how do you make Dunder Mifflin attractive to potential interns? Pam does her best with a sad-eyed Eeyore of a kid named Justin, but even he can’t be lured back after Michael rejects him for not being “the best and the brightest” (like a young Ryan, perhaps?). For the most part, this subplot featured Michael at his most abrasive and unfunny, tossing out unintended insults (he uses Pam’s promiscuity as a job pitch, but won’t say she’s a wonderful person and gifted artist in her presence), concocting nutty schemes (like sending Pam on a 20-mile drive to get another sheet of paper), and embarrassing himself at the mic for what seems like umpteenth time. It’s all a bit too familiar.
The golf material was a little stronger, thanks to some great Andy moments (the blisters, the Cornell references, and, yes, the irresistible slapstick crash into the bunker) and Jim exerting far more effort than usual to make a sale. After that coke fiend Ryan put him on probation, Jim finally has to fight to keep a job he never really cared about before, but it was oddly touching to watch. The old Jim wasn’t motivated enough to do more than was absolutely necessary—Ryan was right on that point, despite his personal vendetta—but the new Jim has plans for Pam and he’s actually willing to swallow his pride and become a real salesman for her. When he gets back to the office and gives her the good news about sealing the deal… well, the middle-aged secretary in me squealed in approval.
As for the Dwight subplot, there wasn’t much happening there. Dwight’s occasional power grabs have been thwarted before, and there’s nothing much memorable this time, except for Angela’s renewed appreciation for his heavy-handed demagoguery. Again, this felt like table-setting for the finale: Angela and Dwight, on the outs all season after he murdered her cat, are back in sync. He sneezes, she says “bless you.” He opens the door for her, she says “thank you.”
Jim and Pam, Dwight and Angela: Can you say sweeps-week double wedding?
• Andy on the Sailing Club: “I got my knot on”
• Nice to see some ambition on Pam’s part, too. Her bid to get some entry-level graphics design job was a nice complement to Jim’s aggressive sales pitch. That’s what love will do for you.
• Um, yeah, nothing much else worth mentioning. In golfing terms, this episode counts as a mulligan.