The Office: "Michael's Last Dundies"
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The Office: "Michael's Last Dundies"

Despite being introduced as a yearly tradition, The Office has only once invited us to attend the Dundies. Now, this is not to say that the award has not maintained a place of importance within this world: Not only has it been a part of the opening credits from the beginning of the series, but Michael’s Dundies also served as a key plot point in season four’s “Dinner Party.” However, the awards have never (to my recollection) been referenced in a meaningful fashion otherwise, a decision that seems strange, considering that we could imagine numerous scenarios where they might have been useful: You could have had Michael contend with being unable to attend the Dundies during his time at the Michael Scott Paper Company, you could have had the first Dundies in the Sabre era, etc.

In theory, this is for the best: There’s something nice about these awards being a bookend for Michael Scott’s time on the series. Season two’s “The Dundies” served as a second pilot of sorts for those who missed the short first season, and it captures the show in its purest form, despite the change of venue: By mapping out the office’s transition from tolerance to pity to appreciation, fueled as it may have been by alcohol and the alcohol-infused Pam Beesly, Mindy Kaling and Greg Daniels laid the groundwork for the uneasy love these characters share for one another. Now, as the relationship between Michael and his employees becomes more important in the weeks leading up to his departure for Colorado, it feels like the perfect time to see how the Dundies and the people who win them have changed over the course of the past six years.

“Michael’s Last Dundies” does not live up to this potential, failing to earn the musical tribute that brings the episode to a close. While the office’s reworking of “Seasons of Love” from Rent into “Remember to Call” was rife with references to previous story events and successfully pulled on our heartstrings, it felt disconnected from the rest of the episode. Kaling returns here as both writer and director, and the episode features a few nods back to the previous Dundies, but Erin was wrong: Little of the “Dundies magic” was evident here, replaced instead with an occasionally funny but unfortunately meaningless celebration.

The central problem is that D’angelo Vickers, whose name has now grown even more ridiculous with the revelation that his middle name is Demetrius, continues to function as a moldable plot device, rather than an actual character. Whereas last week, his character was built around traits that could inform particular jokes, this week, he was reduced to a single trait: an inability to perform in front of live audiences. It was your basic case of stage fright, which is at least somewhat more natural than the love of the Southwest we saw last week, but did it really show us anything more about this character? While my complaints about the character based on last week’s episode were considered premature by some commenters, this is another episode where D’Angelo’s behavior is exclusively used to create comic situations: He has stage fright, so Steve Carell and Will Ferrell can do a series of two-man comedy bits (like the motivation speech in the bathroom, complete with slapstick), and it’s really no more complex than that.

Were those scenes wholly unsatisfying? Of course not. I laughed at some of their antics and continue to feel that Ferrell’s performance is not really the problem with the role. The two actors work well together, and a number of the cue card jokes were fun (you’ll see one quoted below). However, the storyline has proven incapable of transcending the sense that this is Steve Carell and Will Ferrell hanging out to commemorate the former’s departure from a television show, and I’ve got to be honest: I don’t really have a great deal of interest in that, at least not within the context of the show’s universe. Without knowing sometime more about the character that might inform these traits, the storyline’s value depends on watching Ferrell play slightly against type, and that’s not why I’m watching this show. If it was uproariously funny, perhaps I could look past the sense of bleed-through of Ferrell’s public persona, but I wasn’t laughing enough to keep from being distracted.

Ferrell’s character is meant to seem disruptive to the office dynamic, given how different he is from Michael, but he feels disruptive to the show’s narrative at the same time. The rest of the employees were present at the Dundies, but did the show really do anything with them? While Gabe and Erin’s breakup was technically a “major event” as far as the show is concerned and got some laughs during Erin’s speech, does it count as a major event when it gets blatantly foreshadowed earlier in the episode and then glossed over by a song at episode’s end? Similarly, while Jim winning Best Dad and forgetting to thank Pam (who loses the Best Mom award to Meredith) got a bit of a chuckle, it means absolutely nothing beyond confirming that Jim continues to become a bit more douchey with each passing episode. There were moments of cleverness, like when Ryan’s streak of wins in the “Hottest in the Office” category is ended by the unseen Danny Cordray (which finally explains why they bothered casting Timothy Olyphant), but was there anything here to make the Dundies feel magical?

Yes, the song seemed designed to serve this purpose, and I’m not made of stone: Between “Remember to Call” and the brief preview of next week’s episode, I found myself a bit verklempt over Michael’s exit. And every time I rewatch the closing song, I find myself disliking the episode less, its emotional pull doing its best to convince me that this was actually a magical Dundies. However, that song has nothing to do with the episode that preceded it: With Dwight and Gabe absent and with D’Angelo suddenly having overcome his stage fright enough to perform at its conclusion, this could have been the end of any number of potential episodes. It was a great scene, full of fun performances and a fitting transition into Carell’s exit episode, but it did nothing to bring together the episode that came before.

It was probably a mistake to rewatch “The Dundies” before tonight’s episode, but I don’t think it’s an unfair comparison to make. The fact is that the first Dundies felt introspective, exploring the relationships between these characters and telling us more about who they were and what role they played in the series. There is the potential in this format to explore how these characters have changed over the past six years and how their relationship with Michael has changed with them, but that larger dynamic was never touched upon in “Michael’s Last Dundies,” despite how important it was to that final scene. The Dundies became like the Golden Globes in that they had no meaning: They were just an excuse to get a group of people together, put some booze in them, and let the sparks fly.

In “The Dundies,” all those seasons ago, Michael Scott said the following, as he began to sense that the office did not share his enthusiasm for the awards:

“I know there have been a lot of rumors flying around about the Dundies this year: how there is no money, and how there is no food, and how the jokes are really bad. But what the hell, everybody?! I mean… God, the Dundies are about the best in every one of us. Can’t you see that?”

I know some of you don’t care if an episode of The Office means anything and that you just want it to be funny. I also know that wanting the show to have a sense of meaning or purpose renders me pretentious for some of you. However, “Michael’s Last Dundies” obviously wants to take on a particular meaning given that final song, to be about “the best in every one of us” that Michael believes the Dundies should represent. As a result, I think it is perfectly fair to hold the show accountable for the fact that the rest of it was built around a transparent set of bits being played by two actors, not two characters, and to wish that the big picture was more than just a musical afterthought in Carell’s next-to-last episode.

Stray observations:

  • Similar to “Threat Level Midnight,” the lack of difference in production values between Michael’s homage to award show opening videos and the show itself was just lazy. The production values don’t need to be that high, and I don’t understand why they don’t try to give them a more homemade feel. It makes the entire affair seem like producers realizing Michael Scott’s wildest dreams instead of Michael Scott trying to realize his own wildest dreams, which doesn’t make any sense to me.
  • I quite enjoyed the cold open: Yes, it was also just Carell and Ferrell dicking around, but the isolation offered by the cold open made it more successful, and the little glimpses into everyone’s lives were a fun touch. Also, compared to the pre-show video, it was a more plausible way for Michael to tap into award show culture in an enthusiastic fashion.
  • I liked the closing song enough to not be too bothered by this, but would Toby honestly serenade Michael upon his departure, especially if we take the tag into consideration?
  • I am not exactly obsessed with the Will Ferrell oeuvre, but I am knowledgeable enough to know an Anchorman homage when I see one.
  • I loved the occasional random lines from "Seasons of Love" that remained in "Remember to Call" for no real reason (particularly Andy being unable to resist the temptation of "Love is a gift from up above").
  • “This place reminds me of Katrina.”
  • “I have Vienna sausages, and I have napkins…”
  • “Always the padawan, never the jedi.”
  • “Yes! I love banter… but I hate witty banter!”
  • “Where were you on September 11th?”
  • “I’m sorry—that just wasn’t interesting for me”
  • “Ryan would never do it; it’s too on the radar.”
  • “I have diabetes, too. You don’t see me making a big deal about it.”
  • “They say he’s going to be my right hand man. Ad lib masturbation joke.”
  • “I’d accept that award because a bitch is a female dog.”
  • "Oh my God, something's happening!"
  • "We actually sat down and did the math."
  • "I watch you when you sleep."
  • “Yeah, okay—well this is going to hurt like a motherf**ker.”

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