The Office: "Stress Relief" 
B+

The Office: "Stress Relief" 

B+

The Office

"Stress Relief" 

Season 5, Episode 13
B+

The Office

"Stress Relief" 

Season 5, Episode 13

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Holy motherfucking shit. That was one hell of a game. It was one for the ages, a rollercoaster full of exhilarating highs, agonizing lows and creamy middles. And the plays: sweet blessed Lord! If I were to see that fourth quarter in a movie I’d dismiss it as crazily melodramatic and wildly unrealistic.

I mean, that part where the Beagle got all sleepy and took a nap but then picked up a chew toy and ran around with it for a while—that was one for the highlight reel. Of course I realize that not everyone watched The Puppy Bowl this year. Some of you settled for limp imitations like the white man’s so-called “Super Bowl” a cheap stab at exploiting the popularity of January institutions like The Lingerie Bowl and Bud Bowl.

I had absolutely no emotional stake in this year’s Super Bowl yet I was riveted all the same. I haven’t cared much about a Super Bowl since XX and that was primarily because I was surprised and delighted that my favorite rap group—The Shuffling Crew—were also spectacular football players. Who knew? It would be like the Wu-Tang Clan beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl next year.

I was half-heartedly rooting for the Steelers since they’re my friend Rob’s favorite team but I switched allegiances to the Cardinals some time in the second half. What a heartwarming come-from-behind upset story that would have been. Kurt Warner so did not deserve to lose that game. Oh well, I guess it’s back to the supermarket come Monday. Nobody likes a loser.

And the commercials! Well, they were on the whole a tedious and unedifying lot though I worry that Bob Dylan’s commercial with Will.I.Am will cheapen his seminal work with the Victoria’s Secret models. People want to see Dylan croak his songs while scantily clad supermodels sashay down the runway, not pimp Pepsi with some pop-rap bozo.

Ah, but I’ve written over a thousand words of self-indulgent nonsense without getting to the matter at hand: tonight’s super-sized Super Bowl edition of The Office. The whole world, or at least a goodly percentage of it was watching and the show made the most of it with a gut-busting opening sequence where a deliciously wrong-headed Dwight decides to fake a fire in a misguided attempt to improve his colleague’s fire safety skills. It was a masterpiece of comic pandemonium as everyone freaked the fuck out.

Angela retrieved her cat Bandit from its snug little drawer (oh, if only I could keep one of my cats in a drawer at work), Oscar scampered up into the ceiling, heavy objects were thrown through windows and the Dunder-Mifflin gang behaved like people generally do in the midst of an emergency: with a combination of panic, desperation and insanity.

Stanley had a heart attack amidst the madness and we got a fresh glimpse into the existential hell that is his day-to-day existence. The stress of working under Michael Scott will undoubtedly kill him but he’s too poor to quit. “I feel like I’m working in my own casket.” Stanley grouses with just the right note of gallows humor.

Michael decides that his employees are stressed out about working under such an intimidating, impressive boss so he decides to relieve their stress by holding a no-holds-barred roast for himself out of a peculiar combination of masochism and arrogance. The ideal roast subject has thick skin and a willingness/eagerness to laugh at himself and his foibles.

Michael of course has neither so he is incredibly hurt by his colleague’s japes and jabs. One of the things I’ve always found fascinating about roasts is the way real anger and bitterness often seeps through the “we’re all pals joshing each other in good fun” façade. The first Chevy Chase roast for example was infamous for the very real contempt directed Chase's way. Chase reportedly went home that night thinking, "Wow, people really do hate me and think I'm a worthless fucking asshole". Like Chase, Michael learned a little something about how his peers really felt about him and it filled him with despair.

Steve Carrell has such wonderfully expressive body language that he was able to cry with his body when he stalked away from the roast a broken man. In the episode’s other plotlines Pam and Jim experienced a rough patch in their relationship when Pam blamed Jim for breaking up her parents. Meanwhile, Andy shows Pam and Jim a bootlegged film starring Jack Black and Cloris Leachman as star-crossed lovers and becomes convinced that his co-workers are film geniuses after misinterpreting their comments about Pam’s parents as commentary on the film.

Though it didn’t take up too much time, this Andy misunderstanding subplot bugged me. It felt very sitcommy in a Three’s Company kind of way. On the other hand, I thought the Pam’s parents thread had a powerful resolution when Pam told Jim that her dad left her mom because Jim told him that he never experienced a moment of doubt in his feelings towards his fiancé; that he knew from the very start she was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. It was a moment that easily could have come off as mawkish or vomit-inducingly sentimental but to me it felt real and earned.

The Office usually rewards Michael Scott for enduring a particularly brutal gauntlet of humiliation and rejection by giving him a moment of triumph at the very end. Tonight’s episode was no exception. After skulking and brooding at a playground everyone’s favorite little-kid-lover came back to the office and roasted his co-workers in rapid succession. Michael finally achieved the catharsis and raw, healing laughter he was denied as the subject of the roast.

Stanley laughed long and hard at Michael’s observation, “You crush your wife during sex and your heart sucks.” When you’re as hopelessly fucked as Stanley or Michael what can you do but laugh? You laugh to keep from crying. Heaven knows they both have a lot to cry about. Andy laughed just as long at Michael saying he’s gayer than Oscar. Make of that what you will.

Tonight’s episode was filled with pathos, sadness and larfs even if the show-biz stuff felt a little pat. I’m always happy when Michael scores a victory, no matter how small or fleeting. Now if we could only get Kurt Warner another Super Bowl ring, all would be right with the universe.

Grade: B+

 

Stray Observations—

 

—“I filled him full of butter and sugar for fifty years and forced him not to exercise.”

 

—Wow, pretty much the entire supporting cast got a huge bump upwards in the opening credits. Neat.

—“We should donate it to a charity of your choice, something Dwight doesn’t like.”

—“I am planning a bomb scare”

—“No arms or legs is basically how you live now Kevin. You don’t do anything.”

—“You were in the parking lot earlier. That’s how I know you.”

—“Now Dwight knows not to cut the face off a real person.”

—Kelly dancing=fucking adorable.

—“That’s what he said, right guys, because of gay?”

—“I consider myself a good person. But I’m going to try to make him cry.”

—I for one would like to know more about this Laura Goldenberg woman

—“I normally don’t enjoy making people laugh.”

—“Michael, you are the reason I drink.”

—“You pathetic little man. You don’t have any money or any friends. Or any land.”

—“They say laughter is the best medicine so you can throw away those pills. You’re cured.”

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