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Founding Fathers and Strippers: Ben Franklin Drops in on "The Office"

Last night was a bit of a television overload, what with The Office, 30 Rock, and Ugly Betty all on. I still haven't even made it around to watching My Name is Earl or Scrubs; they'll have to wait until the weekend. I swear pilot season reading is messing up all of my television.

I wasn't all that crazy about last night's episode of The Office ("Ben Franklin"), which is depressing because I think, on paper, it was hysterical but something was definitely lacking in the execution.

It was especially surprising as the script was written by Mindy Kaling, easily one of my fave Office writers (hell, "The Injury" is one of my all-time favorite episodes). It didn't help that the entire episode felt hastily cut down to fit into the 21-minutes accorded it and hope that an extended edition will materialize on the DVD. Hell, Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration was barely in it and it was his 2:30-3:15 pm "bachelor party" Michael had organized; Bob ended up with maybe 30 seconds of screentime and perhaps one whole line of dialogue. I'm sure much of it ended up on the cutting room floor.

What worked? I loved Angela spitting the champagne back into the glass when she realized that it wasn't, as she supposed, sparkling cider and when she had to fan away her nausea after the stripper (hired by Michael as entertainment) commented about her babies playing instruments poster. Classic Angela. (If anyone should get upgraded to full-time status on the series, it's Angela Kinsey.) Pam teasing the Ben Franklin lookalike with questions about his love life, only to have him begin flirting with her.

Also great: the cold open with Michael and Dwight filming a video diary for Michael's unborn-and-unconceived son (including using Dwight as a model to demonstrate how to remove a woman's bra); Michael claiming primae noctis; Pam and Karen both looking sheepish when Jim says that he prefers blondes; Michael putting his foot further and further into his mouth as he kept referring to the bachelor party as a "one-hour shower with men" and then offering his guests some "man meat." Yes, yes, he did just say that.

The stuff with Roy and the stripper didn't work at all. I got the intention: the Roy really does like strippers but is attempting to become a "new" man, one that's supportive of Pam and her "sexy" art, even if it's phony as all hell. It just didn't play quite right. Same with the scene in the break room between Pam, Jim, Kelly, and Ryan, in which Pam is ribbed by Jim about Ben Franklin, only to have her crush Jim in a heartbeat by asking Ryan to set her up with one of his business school friends. It should have been a climactic scene but it was sort of just breezed over so quickly, rather than holding on either one of them for more than just a second.

Pam, as a whole, was acting rather odd most of the episode. The scene with her and Karen, in which Karen confront her about that kiss she shared with Jim, should have been awkward, but instead it just felt... weird. I never think of Pam as someone who just babbles nervously and she seemed to be acting out of character most of the episode. Is she regretting the fact that she basically pushed Jim and Karen together (or at least to take their relationship out into the open)? Sure, but I just didn't buy her tripping over her words and randomly saying things. Curious.

But I am willing to blame most of the above on the constraints of time. And I have a feeling that some of the issues I had with the episode would have been addressed had they been able to air more of what they shot. (I can only imagine a scene between Michael and Bob Vance in which he asks Bob if he can throw this party.) Still, a few laughs here and there but not the hilarity-fest The Office usually offers. Oh well. Even The Office can have an off week.

Next week on The Office ("Phyllis' Wedding"), Phyllis regrets giving Michael an important job at her wedding (um, namely, pushing her wheelchair-bound father down the aisle) while Dwight looks to nab errant wedding crashers. Michael plus an elderly man in a wheelchair, at an employee's wedding? I cannot wait.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); 1 vs. 100 (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); Nanny 911 (FOX); Wicked Wicked Games (MyNet)

9 pm: Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials 2007 (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: Hardware on BBC America (11 pm ET).

It's the second season 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 ("Loser"), Rex and Mike decide to help out a sad-sack tool salesman, but he quickly turns into a sleazy rip-off artiste, prompting Mike to regret his display of kindness.

8:30 pm: Spaced on BBC America (11:30 pm ET).

It's the second season of one of the wackiest Britcoms ever devised. On tonight's episode ("Help"), Tim is asked by a comics pro to show his portfolio, but realizes that Daisy inadventantly slipped in a less-than-flattering drawing of said pro, leaving Tim, Mike, and Tyres to attempt to retrieve the pic.

10 pm: Hyperdrive on BBC America (9 pm ET)

On the third episode of this hilarious space station-set workplace comedy ("Weekend Off"), the Vine buys himself a planet, York drags Jeffers along on an expedition, and Teal attempts to seduce Commander Henderson while on a date. Oh, Teal, will you never learn?

10:40 pm: Feel the Force on BBC America (9:40 pm ET)

It's the US premiere of UK cop spoof Feel the Force. On tonight's episode, Frank and Bobbins go on a stakeout and an old woman's apartment. Hilarity ensues.


Anonymous said…
Oh good - I thought it was just me. I was a little distracted, as I was dowloading itunes while I was watching, but I just didn't think it was a very good episode. I barely laughed. Actually, I didn't find much funny last night, but I still haven't watched 30 rock.

Yay - spaced is back!
Unknown said…
I liked the episode ("I got all the foot off"--HA!), but I was really bothered by Pam's behavior. Are the writers trying to make her rude or, worse, cruel? Her "I'm sorry" to Karen was a poorly-disguised "I'm sorry that Jim's still in love with me." Pam asking Ryan to set her up in front of Jim was clearly meant to hurt Jim. Instead, they could've let Jim overhear (a good-looking and not-creepy) Ben Franklin asking out Pam.

Last season, my heart ached for Pam and Jim but, this season, I'm rooting for Jim and Karen to work.
Anonymous said…
I agree that the episode felt awkward (and not in a good way). The tone was all over the place. There were definitely some funny bits but it was underwhelming. That said, I'm really looking forward to the wedding next week. Lots of comic potential!

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