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The Morning After: Step into My Office, Baby

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Stanley (Leslie David Baker) steps out from behind his crossword. / NBC Photo: Chris Haston

Another strong post-strike episode of The Office, which seems to have rediscovered its balance between comedy and drama, while toning down the zaniness of some of this season’s early episodes and dialing up the humor of awkwardness. The workplace comedy of this show is largely about the social boundaries and rules of the workplace, the humor that comes out of it and what happens when someone breaches them. When it’s Michael doing the breaching—as it usually is—it’s easier to take because we’re used to it. But some of the really jarring moments come when another character crosses a line and reminds us that there are real emotions and stakes behind the idiosyncrasies and laughs.

The first and most obvious incident last night was Stanley’s showdown with Michael, in which Stanley’s usual gruff standoffishness turned into no-joke, leave-me-the-hell-alone-ishness, providing another showcase episode for a supporting character from this show’s deep bench. But the story worked also worked well because of how Michael played it. As usual, he responded, as Stanley put it, by coming up with stupider and stupider ideas, culminating in the fake firing (which prompted a not-fake threat by Stanley to sue and expose Michael that sounded he’d had it in the back of his mind for a long time now). But Michael ended up meeting with Stanley privately and brokering a truce with him, showing that in his own odd way he is an effective boss—it’s not in his interest to lose Stanley, and pretend-respect is all Michael can reasonably expect from him—while also reminding us that so much of Michael’s professional dysfunction comes from his desperate need to be liked.

Hello, Cleveland! / NBC Photo: Nicole Rivelli

The smaller incident, but maybe more important down the road, was Ryan’s official warning of Jim, apparently in payback for Jim having badmouthed Ryan’s web plan behind his back. B.J. Novak has made Ryan king of the jerk move, and even jerkier than Ryan’s petty revenge was the way he executed it, luring Jim into the meeting with Toby by busting his chops about the Eagles. The question is: what are the writers setting up here? Is Jim going to get fired? Will he need to look for another job? If so, the question is how to handle it in a way that’s not too similar to his exile to the Stamford branch earlier. (Also, didn’t you think Ryan was going to be in rehab by now?)

Meanwhile, a funny but only fair episode of 30 Rock, highlighted by some fine Liz-centric moments: meeting her ex in the red dress, backlit with a stage fan blowing her hair back; flashing back to her college days as a dungeonmaster; and eating the sandwich in the airport security line, to “have it all!” Also, this southeast Michigan native enjoyed the Rust Belt humor, especially: “In other global warming news, a tornado hit downtown Detroit, putting out several fires.” Bring it on, Mother Nature! The Motor City laughs at your climate change!