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Mo' "Money," Mo' Problems: Overstuffed "Office" Episode Leaves Me Yawning

At least the one-hour episodes are over (for now, anyway).

I do feel as though my original misgivings about the extended- length (that's what she said) installments of The Office did come to pass as these past four episodes have positively ached from the stretch marks. For the first three weeks of Season Four, I liked the first half-hour of each episode and then loathed the second half. But with last night's episode ("Money"), written by Paul Lieberstein, I can honestly say that I didn't care at all for the first half and only slightly less disliked the second half.

I should preface my comments by saying that I'm not usually a fan of Lieberstein's episodes; "Dwight's Speech," "The Coup," and "Cocktails" are some of my least favorite episodes to date on the series. Specifically, his episodes typically have a thread that involves Dwight being crazy: climbing the roof at a stranger's house, knowing that Jan likes Liz Claiborne earrings while attempting to overthrow Michael, etc. These episodes drift too far into an extreme behavior that makes Dwight just seem insane rather than just socially awkward/borderline creepy.

Last night's episode of The Office furthered this trend with an uncomfortable outing to Dwight's family beet farm, which he now intends to run as a ecotourism B&B complete with tours of the fields and barn, a class on table-making, and beet-laden meals in the kitchen. To me, this entire scenario is best left as a throwaway line, rather than the A-storyline in the first half of an extended episode. To add insult to injury, having Jim and Pam decide to stay at this monstrosity of a vacation getaway just made absolutely no sense whatsoever, especially given that it's their first trip away together (and in the middle of the week no less).

Sure, it was semi-funny when Mose (Office writer/producer Michael Shur) chases Jim and Pam's car as they drove up to the farm but the humor really stopped there for me. Mose and Dwight are only good in small doses (hence my loathing of B.J. Novak's "Initiation" episode) and this whole endeavor just reeked of sentimentality (Jim overhearing Dwight sobbing) mixed with over-the-top quirkiness. At least there wasn't something nasty in the woodshed...

While I am sure the internet will be aflame with viewers wondering whether Jim and Pam pushed their beds together that night, I will say that I honestly don't care to imagine this scenario. I like Jim and Pam as a couple... when they stay in the background. Additionally, the "I love... Italian food" conversation was far too precious for my liking as well. Jim bonding with Dwight after realizing how much he's hurting from his breakup with Angela? A good thing. Jim consoling Dwight as he sobs in the Dunder-Mifflin stairwell while singing "You Give Love a Bad Name"? Way too far, in my book.

So what worked? Angela and Dwight's low-key final breakup scene as they unloaded their trunks and divested themselves of the other's belongings; it set the perfect tone and their handshake at the end, after arguing over the whereabouts of her angel figurine, was the icing on the cake. I liked the idea of Michael moonlighting at a second job more than the actual execution, but I did love his line that his boss' unannounced meetings in the conference room were "pointless." (At least there's no chance of Michael becoming too self-aware any time soon.) Oscar trying to help Michael sort his finances out with a PowerPoint presentation, complete with a bar that indicated money spent on things that no one needs to spend money on, like multiple magic kits. Dwight using the ruler to push Jim's papers back onto his own desk. Kelly and Darrell. And, on that note, Kelly's new hairstyle. Also, Andy stealing the cat that Dwight threw last week into Vance Refrigeration and putting it in a box for Angela with a note about destiny. Also, the splits in front of Pam's desk.

What didn't work? Most of the beet farm scenes, which were far too out-there and unrealistic for the ethos of The Office. Michael running away from Jan by attempting to board a random cargo train to anywhere (I like Michael dumb and clueless but not suffering an actual psychotic break from reality). The fact that Michael and Jan now drive a Porsche and that they "sold" their two other cars. Um, Michael's Sebring was a company car, no? Mose literally throwing manure with his bare hands. The painfully awful cold open with Michael channeling Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and demanding his steak and that Pam get Armani on the phone. Ouch.

The very best thing I can say is that next week finally brings the first half-hour episode of the season. I hope that NBC realizes that sometimes too much of a great thing isn't actually good, especially when the writers have noticeably struggled to deliver the same energy, wit, and humor we've grown accustomed to these past few seasons. Let's just hope we can put these one-hour installments aside and get back to basics: creating a funny, sensitive, subtle half-hour comedy that doesn't pale in comparison to 30 Rock.

Next week on The Office ("Local Ad"), Michael jumps at the opportunity to showcase his creative abilities when the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin is asked to participate in a local ad, while Dwight gets sucked into the virtual world of Second Life.

Comments

Unknown said…
Amen to every word you wrote. Last night's hour was painfully bad and all it did was make me sad and angry that this great show was reduced to a boring drag. I'm really hoping next week's episode will find the show back in its' usual groove.
Anonymous said…
Awww... I loved the opening from last night, but I do have problems with hour long episodes and I'm glad to get back to the norm next week.
Anonymous said…
Thank goodness those bloated episodes are over. I love this show and have been so frustrated with it this season. I just can't understand why you would mess with a format that works. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
Anonymous said…
except the ratings did pretty good right? so what lesson did the networks learn?
Jace Lacob said…
Ratings are up overall, compared to the timeslot last year, but they consistently decline from half-hour to half-hour over the last four episodes. Proving that viewers are tuning out consistently in the second half.
Hörnäy said…
I personally kind of liked last week's episode. It wasn't as funny as (the first halves) of the first three ep's but it had a lot of heart and I found myself crying several times towards the end... However, I agree that it's good next week we're back to half-hour episodes...
Bianca Reagan said…
Good assessment, kid.

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