Friday, January 19, 2007

"Why don't you have me ride in on a donkey?": The Office

Spoilers for The Office within. But, really, you're not going to be surprised by any of this.

So, obviously, they weren't going to keep Dwight away forever, but I was surprised that his absence lasted one episode. Andy Dick's Matthew on Newsradio (sort of a proto-Dwight if you go back and look at that show) was fired in the show's fourth season and ended up back at the station after a large chunk of the season (he was fired in September and officially rehired in the Christmas episode to give you an idea of time). The Office did all the right things with the Dwight absence -- using it to soften the character of Angela and almost bring Dwight and Angela's relationship out into the open -- but in some ways it felt like tired plot twisting.

Dwight has always been one of my least favorite characters on The Office. He feels like he's dropped in from an actual sitcom, not the ostensible documentary the show consists of. It's no fault of the writers and Rainn Wilson, who have crafted a memorable character on both ends; it's really both of their faults -- the writers and Wilson are, it seems, constantly pushing each other to see just how much the office weirdo Dwight can be.

Still, it was nice to see an episode where the cast acknowledged that they had grown used to Dwight's oddness -- that they rather missed him when he was gone, especially when compared to Ed Helms' Andy, who reached new levels of obnoxiousness here. The Officer and a Gentleman parody when Michael (Steve Carell) went to get Dwight back from Staples was a little forced (again, especially in a documentary), but the sly nod to the film in the Muzak scoring put everything over the top just enough to make it all play.

More troublesome is the way that the Jim/Karen pairing is working out. It's one thing to have Jim realize he still loves Pam, as he seemed to this episode, but it's quite another for him to regard Karen as a "rebound" thing (as he suggested in an earlier episode). Jim and Karen had formed a rather natural bond, which was disrupted by the relocation to Scranton, and to say that it didn't have any basis to it feels like a cheat (though, of course, Jim could be lying to himself -- which is interesting to see). I feel like the writers are trying to simplify a pretty interesting love triangle at this point -- really, what can Karen do now but get out of the way, knowing that her heart's going to get stomped on at some point.

Then again, if this is all going to be salvaged somehow, The Office's writing staff will be the staff to figure that out.

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