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"Domo Arigato, Mr. Scott-o": Dunder-Mifflin Celebrates with an Extended "Office" Christmas Party

Aren't office Christmas parties usually the same? You start off not wanting to go, wind up having some fun, and end up staying way too long?

I was hoping that the Christmas episode ("A Benihana Christmas") of The Office, written by Jen Celotta and directed by Harold Ramis, wouldn't feel that way, but I did feel that it dragged on a little too long and would have been a lot better (not to mention tighter) at a super-sized 40 minute length than the one-hour episode it was stretched into. I'm not sure why the network decided to increase the length of the episode the way it did, but I wish they hadn't been quite so overzealous, because a compacted version of "A Benihana Christmas" may have become one of my favorite episodes.

Which isn't to say that I didn't have fun, because I did. There's a lot going on here and the central storylines were hilarious and managed to come together in expected ways. Brief recap: Michael gets dumped by girlfriend Carol (Carell's real wife Nancy Walls) right before Christmas and slumps into a depression, which is alleviated when Andy, Jim, and Dwight take him for a long working lunch at Benihana (sadly no Buddha drinks to echo the scene between Carell and Catherine Keener in The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Meanwhile, back at the Dunder-Mifflin offices, a clash between Angela and Karen at the party planning committee leads to not one, but two office Christmas parties.

I think that the idea behind the episode was comedy gold. Angela angry is always a treat. (Remember last year when she destroyed a box of ornaments after Yankee Swap went awry?) I loved the new relationship between Pam and Karen, suddenly partners-in-crime united for the newly formed Committee to Plan Parties, who decide to throw a margarita and karaoke party, in sharp contrast to the solemn Nutcracker-themed affair that Angela is hosting. Seeing just that little bit of prickliness from Jim when he notices his current girlfriend and his former flame suddenly bonding was perfect; you'd be uncomfortable too. I nearly cried when Pam tried giving Jim his Christmas present (fake letters from the CIA that she had been sending Dwight; Jim's present was to choose the mission he'd like them to send Dwight on) when he gave them back to her, saying that he didn't think he should do stuff like that anymore. His rationale was that he was back at Scranton for a clean start and falling into old ways meant falling into old pitfalls too. While he may have been talking about pranking Dwight, he was really (sniffle) talking about his friendship with Pam.

Other highlights: the scene in Benihana, which could have SCREAMED product placement went off without a hitch, providing a funny and random backdrop to the male bonding (and alienation in the form of Dwight) that was going on; Carol's split with Michael, precipitated by a Christmas card he sent out in which he had Photoshopped himself into a pic of Carol and her kids on a ski trip; Oscar's cameo ("It's still too soon," he mutters to his boyfriend); Kelly singing karaoke about and to Ryan; a spiffy-looking Roy giving Pam a Christmas present after seeking her advice on how to wrap presents. Michael doing something terribly, terribly racist and marking his Japanese date so he could tell her and her friend apart, as all "waitresses look alike." And how could you not love Jim's spontaneous creation of a committee to determine the validity of the committee to plan parties', er, party?

What didn't work so much? The cold opening with the dead goose, for a start. It went on way too long and was too complicated. It just didn't ring true at all with the rest of the show. While Dwight might be an eccentric (a creepy one at times), I can't honestly believe he would slaughter a goose in the office. Think about health and safety, for one. (I know Dwight would.)

Also, did any one else actually immediately notice that the girls that Michael and Andy brought back from Benihana were not their waitress Cindy (Brittany Ishibashi) and her friend but two different girls altogether? I think the joke was supposed to hit when they walked through the door to the office, but I had to rewind TiVo as I suddenly thought to myself, wait, that's not Cindy. I think that we're supposed to believe that Michael couldn't pull Cindy and so went off with a different waitress, but it would have been far funnier if the girl Michael brought to the party had been a lot less attractive than she was. Instead, it just seemed odd and deadened the flow of the previous scene.

But all in all, I'd rather spend a winter's night with the gang from Dunder-Mifflin than anyone else. "A Benihana Christmas" had its hysterical moments and its emotional ones (I'm getting all misty-eyed thinking about Jim changing his mind about Pam's gift), along with a surprise ending in which Michael calls... someone and invites them to share the all-inclusive trip to Sandals Jamaica that he arranged for now ex-girlfriend Carol.

Hmmm. I wonder who this mystery woman could be. We'll find out in "The Return," scheduled to air right after New Year's, which sees not only prodigal employee Oscar return to Dunder-Mifflin, but a newly tanned Michael as well. Happy holidays, Office workers, and see you in January.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); 1 vs. 100 (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); America's Funniest Home Videos (ABC); Justice (FOX); Wicked Wicked Games (MyNet)

9 pm: Close to Home (CBS); Las Vegas (NBC); 20/20 (ABC); Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy (FOX); Watch Over Me (MyNet)

10 pm: NUMB3RS (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Doctor Who on Sci Fi.

It's the second season of Doctor Who, with the latest incarnation of the Doctor played by the talented David Tennant. On tonight's episode ("Fear Her"), a mother conceals her daughter's supernatural abilities, while the Doctor tries to take Rose to the 2012 London Olympics. Good times.

8 pm: Hardware on BBC America (11 pm EST).

It's the US premiere of Britcom Hardware, starring Martin Freeman of the original UK version of The Office, taking place at a small (you guessed it!) hardware store. On tonight's episode ("Bondage"), Mike and Anne try bringing some much-needed fun to their relationship with... you guessed it: bondage.

8:30 pm: Black Books on BBC America (11:30 pm EST).

It's the third season of the scathingly sarcastic Black Books, one of my favorite Britcoms. On tonight's episode ("Moo-ma and Moo-pa"), Manny panics about the imminent arrival of his parents and Fran blackmails Bernard into letting the 'rents stay with him, but they are all forced to go along with some misinformation Manny had been telling his parents. Naughty, Manny!

9 pm: Battlestar Galactica on Sci Fi.

On tonight's episode ("The Eye of Jupiter"), it's the fall season finale of Battlestar Galactica (fortunately, it's only a few weeks' wait until January 21st for new episodes): The algae planet seems to contain more than just, well, algae as Tyrol learns when he may have discovered the Eye of Jupiter, leading to a deadly standoff between the humans and Cylons for control of a possible route marker to Earth.

9 pm: Spaced on BBC America (Midnight EST).

If you missed it the first time around (and I don't know why you would do that to yourselves), BBC America is giving you another shot at catching the first brilliant and hysterical season of Spaced, written by and starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson as Tim and Daisy, two 20-somethings so down on their luck that they pretend to be a couple in order to rent a flat... On tonight's episode ("Art"),
Brian is invited to a performance art piece by his ex-partner Vulva (yes, you read that correctly) while Daisy has a magazine interview that goes decidedly unwell.

9:30 pm: Peep Show on BBC America (12:30 am EST).

Starting tonight, BBC America is reairing the second season of the so-painful-it's-hysterical Britcom Peep Show.
On tonight's episode, Mark, convinced that they'll sleep together, attempts to stop his nemesis Jeff from taking a business trip with Sophie. Meanwhile, Jeremy becomes uncontrollably possessive over his new girlfriend Nancy.


Anonymous said…
Loved the Christmas episode but agree that it should have been forty minutes rather than an hour.

That said, it was highly enjoyable to watch. The Benihana stuff was great as was the battle of the office Christmas parties. And Michael schlepping around in his Dunder Mifflin robe, attempting to cancel Christmas while fighting back the tears, was comedic gold.
Anonymous said…
20 bucks says that Michael goes to Sandals with Jan.
Anonymous said…
I'm with Whitney on the Jan call. I mean - how many women does michael know? But it would be awesome if it was his mom.

I almost fell off the couch when he marked that woman's arm. I could not stop laughing.

Totally agree about the opening scene and the length in general, though I can't say that past the opening scene I was ever bored/fidgety (I got fidgety in the Earl hourlong last week).

That scene w/Jim and Pam when he rejects her gift - oy!! So great. I was dying inside for her.
Anonymous said…
Marking the arm was one of the funniest things I've seen on TV, maybe ever. So inspired.

Another thing I loved was Dwight taking the robe from Toby and Toby just saying, "Why?"
TxGowan said…
I really enjoyed the episode, too.

I'm wondering why nobody has mentioned Jim changing his mind, though. That talk he has with Michael about being on the rebound spoke VOLUMES even if Jim doesn't yet realize it.

I have noticed that Roy has cleaned up a lot lately. I'm wondering how he works in a warehouse dressed like that, though. Shouldn't have to wear a uniform shirt like everyone else?

I also couldn't think of another woman that he might go to Sandals with, but what if it's NOT a woman? Could he be going with Todd Packer?!?

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