Tuned In

The Office Watch: Razor Sharp

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Spoilers for last night’s The Office coming up:

So last night, my laptop seized up and died on me as I was watching, appropriately enough, the death-themed Community on DVR. (I am having the machine vaporized and sealed in a lava lamp.) It was a fairly strong episode—see especially the Abed subplot playing out entirely in the background, as well as a brief Alan Sepinwall walk-on—and 30 Rock was doing what it does best, which is to be a weekly satire of whatever’s presently going on at NBC.

But this morning I want to single out The Office, because “Andy’s Play” was the kind of strong, character-driven episode I’ve missed from this show—not just good-by-later-seasons-standards but an actual good Office episode, period, and the kind, frankly, I was worried the show could not pull off anymore.

Of course, my laptop took my notes with it to that great electronics-recycling station in the sky, so you’ll have to take my word as to why I thought so. Some of the strongest Office episodes in the past have come from taking the characters together outside the Dunder-Mifflin setting, and highlighting certain characters by allowing us to see their non-work passions. In Andy’s case, that passion is not only Erin but performance, which shows us his naive, labrador-like enthusiasm, and his tendency to express his love by trying too hard.

Sweeney Todd was a perfectly familiar-but-not-too choice as the subject of a community-theater performance, and the staging was handled very well. The sitcom thing to do would be to make the performance itself an inept, Waiting for Guffman farce, but instead we focused on how our characters reacted against the backdrop of the show, which was just a reasonably carried-off performance by some people who were reasonably the best actors in Scranton. (And darn good plumbers, too!) The hilarious exception was Andy’s flop-sweat attempt to improvise his way out of his cellphone’s going off while running up against the limits of what his character knows about Sweeney.

Meanwhile, almost as if the need to keep quiet in the theater restrained any character from going too over-the-top, we got a series of nice moments from the ensemble: Angela deciding to reel Dwight in by dressing like a seed-catalog model; Jim and Erin’s Pam’s silent new-parent discomfort with being out; Michael’s quiet, then less-quiet, stewing over his rejection from the cast; Ryan ostentatiously showing Kelly the time on his iPad; Creed’s phoning in the negative review to the local paper; and maybe the line of the night: “If we don’t listen to the overture, we won’t recognize the musical themes when they come up again later.”

All of which culminated in the gang’s unwittingly helping Andy briefly forget his broken heart by singing along to Macy Gray’s “I Try”—not a gut-busting moment but rather a scene that got back to The Office’s core: a story about people doing a job they don’t love, always with one eye on the things (and people) that they do love. (And then further culminated in the night’s second extended Law & Order joke, following 30 Rock’s, above.)

That was the plot of The Office last night, right? Not Outsourced? I’ll have to double-check my laptop when I get it back.