B

The Office: "Niagara"

Hello, Office fans!  Nathan Rabin is out enjoying the company of real-world human beings tonight, which leaves me to cover the biggest event in the history of our imaginary friends at Dunder-Mifflin:  the wedding of the newly responsible Jim Halpert and the newly parturient Pam Beesly. Like a lot of people, I was nervous as hell going into this episode – but not so much because I thought it was gimmicky, which is often the case with wedding episodes.  My biggest fear when Pam and Jim got together was that the writers would throw typical – and pointless – roadblocks in their path to keep things ‘interesting’, but though they made some vague gestures in that direction when Pam was at art school, they’ve mostly opted for the much more sound approach of letting the two settle into a snarky domesticity and keeping the focus on the antics of the rest of the staff.

No, what filled me with dread was what role Michael Gary Scott would play in the proceedings.  For me, the episode where Phyllis married Bob Vance, while excellent, was supremely, almost painfully, hard to watch:  it showed Michael at his selfish, egomaniacal, attention-craving worst, utterly unwilling to let anyone else have the spotlight even on the happiest day of their lives.  And we already know that he’s far more (delusionally) wrapped up in Pam and Jim’s relationship than he ever was in Phyllis and Bob’s; especially with a new power dynamic at D-M Scranton, and with Jim more willing than ever to assert himself, would Michael find a way of turning the big day into something as agonizing as the infamous “Dinner Party” episode?  His describing it as “a big day for me” isn’t a good sign.

We start out in the best possible way a wedding episode can start out:  with the best display of synchronized vomiting this side of Freeway 2:  Confessions of a Trickbaby.  Angry Pam is cunning Pam, and she deals with everyone’s refusal to be sensitive to her morning sickness with what can only be described as targeted puking.  It’s a swell cold opening, and a sign the writers aren’t going to treat this particular time-honored TV tradition with too much sanctity. 

As we head up to Niagara Falls for the wedding (on location, no less!), we get little glimpses of how it’s going to go:  Andy is pathetic, sitting in the front seat while Kelly and Erin listen to their iPods in back and securing the honeymoon suite ahead of Jim and Pam to “break in” the matrimonial bed.  Michael is selfish and oblivious – he fails to make a hotel reservation, and the only thing standing in the way of his scuttling the ceremony with his neediness is how badly he wants to get laid.  It’s pretty bad when you’re hoping that Michael’s horniness wins out over his insecurity, but that’s life at Dunder-Mifflin.

That dynamic lasts for a while; Michael, who’s under orders not to speak during the proceedings, keeps his mind on his member for a while, only grousing (in front of Jim’s parents) that not having an audience will hinder him from scoring with Jim’s female relatives.  But ultimately, he can’t resist doing some “free-standing comedy” – met by familiar looks of grief from Phyllis and Bob Vance – which starts a chain reaction of awkwardness culminating in Jim spilling the fact that Pam is pregnant in front of the whole family, including her uptight grandmother, who threatens to bail out of the wedding in disapproval.  This bit plays a tad arbitrary to me; even if Pam cared that much, it’s doubtful Mee-maw Sylvia’s sense of moral outrage would be enough to make her abandon a wedding she came hundreds of miles to attend.  But it does shed some light on Jim (who asks Michael, “Is there something about being manager that makes you say stupid things?”), as do the long-suffering scowls on the faces of Jim’s brothers’ wives.  As hokey as the premise plays, it’s fun to see Jim fall down a k-hole of joke-backing-out-of.

Michael makes it much, much worse, as Michael does, but he compensates by talking down Sylvia in his usually incomprehensible way.  At the pre-wedding festivities, Dwight steps on Michael’s once-in-a-blue-moon ability to actually impress a woman by drawing him away to look at twins – who are both men, evidence of another bizarre Dwight obsession.  At a party in Andy’s room, everyone’s favorite Cornell grad does the splits during another dance-off and tears his scrotum with his car keys, necessitating Pam hauling him to the hospital in the middle of the night.  This, too, plays way too much like standard sitcom shenanigans; why can’t they just call an ambulance?  Still, it gives us more crying Andy, and crying Andy is awesome Andy.  (Shout-out to the Mad Thinker.)

On the actual wedding day, Pam starts to get overwhelmed by the freakish behavior of everyone:  her mom (played by a different actress than we’ve seen before) is in a foul mood because her dad brought a date; Kevin is wearing a bad rug and Kleenex boxes on his feet; Andy has interpreted Erin’s sympathy for his “damaged penis” as a come-on; Dwight cruelly blows off her best friend after bedding her the night before; Michael has made her a terrifying wedding gift; and on top of everything else, she tears her veil.  Jim tries to comfort her, but in the end, Pam – who really, has always been the spur in this relationship – makes a very Pam-like move:  they bail out and head for a quick tour of the falls and a quickie wedding ceremony.  It’s very much in keeping with the tenor of their relationship so far, and for Pam, it’s good-impetuous instead of bad-impetuous:  it puts them in a good enough mood that they don’t even get upset when their wedding is interrupted by an already embarrassingly-dated YouTube meme. 

So, the thing I worried most about – that Michael would turn the wedding into a celebration of his own sad-little-clownistry – didn’t bring down the episode, but the thing I worried least about – that the writers would fall into the trap of traditional sitcom wedding-episode tropes – did.  This one was understandably high on relationships and light on nonstop laughs, and it definitely felt padded at times.  But not too much, not too far:  just like a real wedding with your real friends, the important thing isn’t the occasional missteps, or the cheesy music they play at the reception.  It’s seeing two people happy who deserve to be happy.  Next week we’re back to work, but for right now, it feels like six long years have finally been worth it.

 ***
 
Grade:  B

Stray Observations: 

- I’m glad we’re done with the “Here Comes the Happy Ending” promos.  They conjured an unpleasant image of Jim getting a handjob at a massage parlor the night before the wedding.

- “All morning I look forward to my afternoon cigars.”

- “Some of us have to be our own grandmothers.”

- “You should have hired a professional to take the mental pictures.”

- “Nobody’s perfect.”  “Oh, I wouldn’t care to live if I thought that.”

- HALPRET

- “I’m not gay.  I’m Kevin.”

- “Tell her some of your bowling alley stories.”

- “I have another one of them in the nude, but that one is for me.”

- I love how much great Dwight we got in this episode:  his creepy intro to Michael’s mix CD, the revelation that he brushes his teeth with butter and clay, his bitterly unloading over a beer at the kids’ table, his rocking the infamous ‘Three Wolves’ t-shirt, his bizarre horsemeat ‘Burger-on-the-Go’ invention, and his brutal estimation of Pam’s best friend:  “She’s a dental hygienist from Carbondale, and she makes love like one.  Pass.”  And yet he’s still sweetly dangerous among the ladies!  How is it done, I ask you?

- Michael and Pam’s mom:  a disaster in the making, or a hilarious disaster in the making?

More TV Club