Thursday, September 27, 2007

"I've been involved in a number of cults, both as a leader and a follower.": The Office

(Erik will be taking over this show next week, but since there's no new 30 Rock until next week, I'm on it for now. -- ed.)

I don't really like the hour-long episodes of The Office. I always think I do, and then I think about all of the hour-long episodes and realize how few of them I really do like. They usually just have a lot of padding that's tiresome (witness tonight's long monologue from Michael about finding a new god to worship, then proposing a long series of bizarre animal hybirds -- yawn) or they're very self-consciously two episodes stitched together by one very thin connective tissue (again, witness tonight's episode, which was two half hours -- one on Michael hurting Meredith and the next on the fun run). Some of the hour-longs are all right (I like Benihana Christmas quite a bit, and Casino Night had its moments), but most of them just feel too long and too gooey. This is why I was thrilled to find that The Office wouldn't turn into an hour-long show (as rumored briefly last May) this season. But then they opened with four hour-longs. I get that there are fewer Scrubs this year (and that that show will never be a hit), but couldn't we have done something else, rather than sap the season's momentum from the top.

Another problem was that the episode just seemed to go too far in places. I'm a fan of dark comedy, and The Office has engaged in it before, but the plotline where Dwight killed Angela's cat (thinking he was doing a good thing but horribly botching it) was just. . .sort of horrific. I'm not automatically opposed to Dwight's "farmer" sensibility conflicting with Angela's love of her cats, but the way he put the cat down was so ridiculous and over-the-top that it simply called attention to just how much of a bastard Dwight was about the whole situation. The descriptions of the freezer where Angela's cat died were sort of shocking. I hate to try to tell TV shows what they can or can't do because down that road lies madness, but The Office's dark comedy really should aim to not make the characters completely loathsome human beings (or maybe my general dislike for Dwight has spread to all aspects of the show). Michael was also probably too much of an ass in the episode, but compared to Dwight, he seemed positively giving.

Jim and Pam revealed their couplehood, and I liked that the show was sort of low-key about it (that shot where he took her hand gave me tingles -- and I don't even particularly LIKE the Jim/Pam pairing). I hope that this doesn't grow to take over the show, but I liked that the show was much more subtle about their love than it has been in the past. It was nice to see the two joking around and sharing a table at lunch again, hearkening back to the show's season two heights. I've grown less enamored of the way this storyline has played out with moony eyes since the second season (when it was at its best), and I loved the character of Karen (sadly relegated to one wordless scene tonight), but I'm on board with Jim and Pam as a couple if it stays mostly low-key. And I did like when the cameraman briefly became a character and confronted Jim and Pam with their relationship (Kevin's sleuthing was funny as well).

I think I marginally liked the fun run bit better than the first episode (particularly Jan's role as the water-table lady), but I found both sort of silly and forced. They relied on us believing that Michael was even stupider than usual. I get that as sitcoms go on and on, they tend to broaden their characters, but The Office is built almost entirely on a brand of specificity that you rarely see on TV. Once the show abandons this to entirely chase the broader shadings of, say, Dwight, it's probably game over for the series as a whole (though it will probably paradoxically become a hit at that point).

Anyway, there was a lot of funny stuff in the episode, and I thought that some of the plot elements seem promising (I'm already enjoying Ryan as the corporate guy), but I thought this was a rather lackluster premiere, especially when compared to last season's nearly perfect "Gay Witch Hunt." The Office writers should have taken lessons from My Name Is Earl, which actually managed an amusing one-hour episode tonight.


eBay Rookie said...

My question is...

When Jim and Pam bread up at the end of this season, how many seasons will it take for them to make up? And how many times will they do a break-up thing before the show marries them off?

Or is that way too cliche?

Carrie said...

I loved Casino Night. There were so many funny moments in that episode. I can watch it over and over again and laugh every time. Also, you know, the Jim/Pam stuff. That was kind of okay.

I was a huge fan of the Jim/Pam relationship in seasons one and two, but sort of fell off it in season three because I thought Jim became a no-fun dick. However, I am fully back on board after last night. I thought they played it perfectly. The scene where the cameraman confronts them was particularly inspired -- I loved how they used the documentary conceit (which so rarely gets directly referenced) to reveal the relationship to the audience, and that scene was perfectly acted by both Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski. So good.

As for the rest, there were several laugh out loud moments but I absolutely hated the "Dwight kills the cat" story. I mean, to hear that the cat clawed and clawed and suffocated to death? That was horrendous. I am not a Dwight fan, but this was so far over the top it was unbelievable.

I'm looking forward to seeing how they play the Jim/Pam thing from here. I'm not looking forward to three more hour-longs in a row. Sigh.

Carrie said...

(Okay, maybe the cat froze to death. I'm not a scientist! Don't judge me!)

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, Carrie, whether it suffocated or froze, that was just too much to bear.