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Office Watch: The Year in Review

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Paul Drinkwater

NBC Photo: Paul Drinkwater

 

 

Before you read this post, turn on the world’s smallest bluetooth television and watch The Office. 

Best episode of the new season so far. I would probably have said that simply for the mock-sales-call among Dwight, Michael and “William M. Buttlicker.” (“Is that your real name?” “How dare you! My family built this country, by the way.”)

These bits in which Jim acts out some outrageous hypothetical and Dwight takes it seriously anyway are over-the-top, but they have a consistent internal logic all their own: Dwight (like Michael) is a stickler for rules and scenario-play, and if winning the scenario demands that he take Bill Buttlicker seriously, he would never dream of doing otherwise. (The scenes remind me of Bugs Bunny’s wacky psych-outs of Daffy Duck. “It’s duck season! “It’s rabbit season!” “It’s duck season!” “It’s rabbit season!” “It’s rabbit season!” “It’s duck season!”) That Michael would join the call, get excited about Bill Buttlicker’s ordering a million dollars’ worth of paper, and entertain the moral dilemma of firing Dwight was icing on the cake. This was a tears-in-my-eyes, belly-heaving, laughing-and-applauding scene for me. 

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That, and the way in which Jim and Dwight’s interests coincided, they formed an alliance (remember: when Dwight offers to form an alliance, always accept) Dwight’s paranoid leap about Kelly turned out to be right, made this the funniest Office we’ve seen in a while. And that’s without all the side bits like Kelly’s America’s Got Talent finale party. Besides, let’s face it: Jim is a little bit smudge, isn’t he? 

But what’s really impressive is how the story introduced tension into the Pam-and-Jim relationship without going the cliched, out-of-sight, out-of-mind romantic route. (Even Jim thought he could see that coming, deciding—like I’m sure most of us did—that Harry from Mad Men was pulling Pam aside because he was “into” her.) The Office, after all, is a sitcom about work, about tedium, life satisfaction or lack thereof, the ways people escape and are defined by their jobs.

And Jim has always only been part of Pam’s story. (Though I enjoy the creative ways in which the show has written in their long-distance relationship, in this case the all-day earpiece conversation. Jenna Fischer delight at yelling, “That’s what she said that’s what she said!” was infectious.) She—like Dawn in the original Office—is somebody who deserves better not only from her love life but also her work life. Some of her best moments have been the episodes in which she’s confronted with this—her art show, career day, or Jan suggesting she get graphic-design training at Dunder Mifflin—and has to decide if she has the nerve to pursue what he wants. (Which in a way is tougher than pursuing Jim. He’s there, after all. And he’s already into her.) By luring us into expecting Pam to be tempted romantically, The Office pulled off a neat trick: we—like her coworkers—were defining her as the cute girl in the office who’d gotten engaged, not as an ambitious woman who has limited opportunities in Scranton. 

The threat is not the other man. It’s the other woman—the one inside Pam who wants something more. 

Add to that the pre-credits sequence that addressed the aftermath of Michael and Holly’s breakup in typically uncomfortable fashion, forcing Michael to announce the breakup on speakerphone with his Mom after faking an engagement. (“Whenever I’m getting married, you don’t believe me!”) I’m with Darryl: “I’m not a big believer in therapy, but I’d dig into my own pocket to cover his copay.”

Also, it had William M. Buttlicker. Did I mention that?

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