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Office Watch: Slappy Birthday

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Spoilers for last night’s The Office coming up after the jump:

Well, that’s what I get for committing to something in print. Yesterday, in running down my personal contenders for the best comedy on air today, I made the case that The Office had gotten past its problem of making Michael Scott too crazy. Then came “Double Date,” a decent episode, but one whose main problem was that—Michael Scott was too crazy.

It makes sense with Michael’s character that he would impetuously commit to Helene, and have second thoughts. And it made sense—and was a lovely turn—that Pam would see the sweetness in his attention to her mom, just as it was too late. But to have Michael suddenly realize, while sitting at her birthday lunch, that she was much older than him (not exactly much of a secret) and thus has different priorities, drove him a little too far to the irrational/nutty side.

His change of heart was funny, definitely, and made for some of the best lines of the episode (“I am not robbing the cradle. If anything I am robbing the grave”). And it would have made sense to see him gradually realize that he and Helene weren’t a match. To have it suddenly com on him at lunch, though, while it made for a funnier scene (and set up the symmetry of his and Pam’s minds changing simultaneously), felt artificial. In the best episodes of The Office, character drives story, but here, the needs of the story were driving Michael’s character.

On the plus side, however, the episode brought out another excellent performance from Jenna Fischer, who managed to bring some believable grounding to a hilarious setup: a pregnant lady beating up her boss in the parking lot to avenge her mom’s honor. Her face showed the actual hurt and anger behind her hilarious ultimatum: “Never date anyone in my family again.” And as The Office often does, the main conflict gave some spotlight moments to supporting characters, as when Toby gave Pam a boxing lesson in full view of his adversary Michael.

Not a bad episode, but it left me feeling that the show could have made better use of the How I Dated Your Mother storyline than it did. As for the best-comedy-on-TV competition: with Parks and Recreation knocking another one out of the park(s), week to week this is anyone’s game.

[Update: It was a great Parks & Rec last night, but since I took a stab at the episode in my post yesterday and have limited time, I don’t think I’ll review separately, so feel free to discuss here. Also, credit to Alan Sepinwall for having used this headline about a Mad Men episode. I knew I’d seen it somewhere.]

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