The Office: "The Cover-Up"
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The Office: "The Cover-Up"

Hello to all Sabre/Dunder-Mifflin human assets, and thanks to Vice President in Charge of Comedic Affairs Nathan Rabin for letting me run this meeting for him while he's at a corporate retreat in Antigua. 

Tonight's episode of The Office finds us once again embroiled in the romantic entanglements of Michael Scott, super-fly.  But first, we're treated to a truly delightful cold open, one of the best of the season, as we learn that Dwight's paranoia is unsurprisingly justified.  After he makes a nasty crack about Pam's baby weight, they begin (presumably -- what the hell do I know? I'm not in the Navy) trash talking him via Morse code.  Naturally, they use the inherent absurdity of the situation to provide them with plausible deniability, but it's a fine piece of physical comedy, with a swell capper from Jim.

The episode itself -- which really doesn't feel like a season 6 product, but harkens back to the days of seasons 3 and 4, when the series had a surer hand and blending character development and the grinding boredom of office life -- plays on these same concerns about paranoia, justifiable and otherwise.  It's a pretty nice variation on the theme:  anyone who's ever been in a relationship, even if they're not crazily self-destructive like Michael Scott, knows how easy it is to suspect that your partner isn't telling you everything, even when it all seems to be going well.  And anyone who's ever worked a boring office job knows that it's easy to make yourself think your job is in danger and your co-workers are out to get you even when things are perfectly normal. 

Michael's relationship with Dave & Busters manager Donna, for example, seems to be going great guns.  When the episode starts, he's bragging about her Pilates butt and how they're "clicking on every level -- emotionally, sexually, and orally".  But, unable to resist sexual boasting in front of the whole staff, he quickly gets immersed in their suspicion that she's creeping around on him.  Ryan, in particular, gives a virtual clinic on cheating behaviors, as does poor Kelly, who was the recipient of most of them.  Michael's instantly converted from braggadocio to mindless worry, and, in another nice callback to previous seasons, is reduced to his attention-seeking habit of lying on the floor near the receptionist's desk, moaning loudly.  (To her credit, Erin handles it better than Pam did.)

In the B plot, Darryl initially proves more adept at shit-stirring than Dwight ever did.  When Andy fields a call about defective printers, and the hapless Gabe, who's settled into the defeated Dunder-Mifflin mode with alarming speed, handles the crisis in a cavalier fashion, Darryl decides it's a perfect time to serve up a cold dish of revenge for a long-ago slight.  Soon, he's planting seeds of doubt in Andy's mind (improvising his scheme in a 'jazzy' way that suggests that even smooth Darryl has become infected with the overall dorky vibe of the office) that Gabe is out to take Andy's job.

What keeps the episode going, and provides the twist that carries it above most of this season's more aimless plots, is that both of the paranoid figures turn out to be at least partially justified.  Michael, who has begun starting sentences with "Ever since I found out that Donna might be cheating on me…" before he's got even a scrap of evidence, at first hires the world's worst private investigator (Dwight Schrute, and his inherent distrust of egg whites) to find out the truth, but while a cooler head -- in this case, Pam's -- initially prevails, it's that same cool head that later discovers that Donna really is sneaking around.  And while Darryl is at first just feeding Andy's paranoia as a lark, he's scared straight when it turns out Andy is right, and that he's inadvertently embroiled himself in the whole scandal.

It's an extremely adept episode, skillfully blending its themes with a solid structure and tons of good jokes in a way that this season has rarely achieved.  It even ends with a big twist ending that helps alleviate its one major problem -- awkward pacing that makes the ending and the scenes immediately preceding it seem awfully abrupt.  With the wedding, the birth of the baby, and the Sabre takeover, The Office this season has often seemed like a show unsure of what it wants to do next, but with this episode, it handled everything as confidently as it did at its peak, and leaves me impatient for the next episode, engaged in a  way I've rarely been this season.  If it can keep up this level of quality for the remaining episodes, it may just show Community and Parks And Recreation, the young bucks that have come to dominate the NBC Thursday night lineup, who's still in charge.

Rating:  A-

Stray Observations:

- As I mentioned above, the pacing to this episode seemed way off, almost as if it was meant to be a two-parter -- or at least a super-size episode -- and got whittled down at the last minute.  When the end credit came up on screen, I actually looked at the clock to make sure a half hour had actually passed.  Its themes are going to be picked up in the next couple of episodes, but they seemed crammed in at the end.  It was the one big flaw in what I thought was otherwise an extremely strong episode.

- "Well, Stanley doesn't help with anything."

- "That seems quick, even for lesbians."

- "My doctor told me to cut out hot dogs.  We all have problems."

- "I need to know.  Otherwise this is going to spiral out of amok."

- "Oh my God!  Vero Beach!  Is that on the water?"

- "Darnell is a fool. I would have done it for anything.  I've done a lot more for a lot less."

- "I don't want to prank anymore.  Things get real." 

- "IF THEY CATCH US, THEY WILL RAPE US."

- In case you haven't heard, big ups are due our own uber-Hater, the lovely and talented Ms. Amelie Gillette, who will be joining the writing staff of The Office.  Any of our TV Club regulars will tell you they have no intention of giving the show higher ratings just to suck up to her and maybe get a television writing gig of their own.  They'll tell you that, but I won't.  I preemptively declare all Amelie Gillette episodes of The Office to be A+ ratings or higher.

Filed Under: TV, The Office

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