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Am I Over NBC's "The Office"?


While there were a few funny moments during last night's episode of The Office ("Chair Model"), like Michael calling a local Wendy's restaurant to ask Wendy out on a date and Andy's victory dance, I couldn't help but feel that my patience with the series has run out. What was once my favorite comedy on television has become more or less a chore to watch and this uneven episode, from writer B.J. Novak, didn't allay any of my fears that the series has plateaued.

The American version of The Office never quite got a handle on the talking heads, which their British counterpart used to such great effect. In fact, the quality of these segments has been sliding considerably in recent seasons and the writers have begun to use a hell of a crutch with each of them: having the characters repeat an "unheard" question from the documentary crew before answering it. (Sample from last week: "Was I upset that I wasn't invited to Michael's dinner party?") If you pay attention, this crutch is actually used in 99% of the talking heads, rather than just having the characters make a direct statement about their feelings or situation. It gets under my skin each and every time.

Jim and Pam, once a pleasant fixture in the Scranton offices of Dunder-Mifflin, merely irritated me last night with the out-of-the-blue talk about engagement and an unbelievable reveal that Jim bought Pam an engagement ring a week after their first date. I am sure the hearts of many a Jim-crushing singleton swooned upon hearing this, but I had a hard time reconciling his actions with, well, reality and this completely took me out of the context of the series.

I wish I could put my finger on why their blossoming relationship just isn't satisfying me, but I'm at a loss to articulate its ineffectual nature. Perhaps it's why the British Office wisely waited until the last possible second to put Tim and Dawn together: the realization that they're more fun when they're star-crossed than when they're together. After all, comedy is tragedy plus time, not melodrama.

This episode as a whole just felt incredibly flat to me, with a few moments of funny interspersed conservatively throughout. I didn't care for the storyline in which Michael constructed a fantasy woman from the chair model he glimpses in an office supply catalogue and his blind date with Pam's landlady was directly influenced by a similar scene in the original Office in which Ricky Gervais' David tries to escape an unattractive woman he's been set up with. Are we really cribbing from the original again? And the assembly of the "five families" of the Scranton business park sounded a hell of a lot funnier on paper than it did it in the execution.

What do you think? Has The Office lost its charm, wit, and direction? Or is the series just as good as it always was? Discuss.

Next week on The Office ("Night Out"), Michael and Dwight ambush Ryan in Manhattan for a night of clubbing; back in Scranton, the gang is unhappy to learn that they have to come into work on a Saturday for Ryan's website project; Jim's plan to save them backfires.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer
(CBS); Most Outrageous Moments/Most Outrageous Moments (NBC); Friday Night SmackDown! (CW; 8-10 pm); Desperate Housewives (ABC); House (FOX)

9 pm: Moonlight (CBS); Dateline NBC (NBC; 9-11 pm); Duel (ABC); Canterbury's Law

10 pm:
NUMB3RS (CBS); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Sarah Jane Adventures on Sci Fi.

On tonight's episode of the Doctor Who spin-off ("Revenge of the Slitheen"), Luke and Maria start school together and meet a new friend Clyde before Sarah Jane and this adolescent troika uncover a malevolent alien plot. As long as chavvy Kelsey doesn't show up again, I'm good.

8:30-10 pm: Doctor Who on Sci Fi.

Season Four of Doctor Who kicks off tonight with the 90-minute Christmas special entitled "Voyage of the Damned," guest starring Kylie Minogue. When the Doctor's TARDIS collides with a spacecraft replica of the doomed Titanic, will he able to save the crew when history seemingly repeats itself? Find out tonight or read my advance review of this episode from January.

10 pm: Battlestar Galactica on Sci Fi.

On tonight's episode ("The Ties That Bind"), Cally learns the truth about her husband, Galen Tyrol, recently revealed to be one of the final five Cylons. Will she keep his secret or crack under the pressure. Hmmm, remember what she did to Cylon sleeper agent Boomer? Ouch. And she didn't even have a kid with her...

8-11 pm: BBC America.

Looking for a sci-fi alternative? If you happen to be staying in after a long work week, why not do it in true Anglophile style with back-to-back episodes of Coupling and new sketch comedy series That Mitchell and Webb Look, from the stars of Peep Show?


Anonymous said…
I didn't care for last week's episode either. In fact, I haven't laughed out loud since Joss Whedon's "bat" episode.
Anonymous said…
I'm glad you asked the question, because I've been feeling over The Office for a while now. My biggest complaint is that the show keeps getting away from its core appeal, which is making light of all the daily frustrations, bickering, drudgery and moments of levity that can actually occur in an office setting. The story lines used to evoke things that seemed familiar, like corporate memos, lame instructional videos, office flirtations, people fighting over desk space. Now we're in the realm of 'Michael playing 'suvivor-man' or Michael ordering his staff to set him up on a date. A long way from daily office minutia, which is when the show is at its best.
Anonymous said…
The talking heads in the American version have never lived up to those in the original series.

In the American show, the talking heads feel like exposition while, in the UK original, the talking heads were usually hilariously bizarre character studies that, often, were the funniest part of the show.

Other than that, I was a pretty big fan of the American Office but this season has been truly dismal and I don't know how much more I can take. I might just have to go back and watch my UK Office DVDs.
Unknown said…
Season 1 and 2 used the interviews (aka talking heads) to more comedy effect. This season and perhaps last use them more, as you said, for exposition. I think the writers have been trying out new directions lately, and they're just not working out.

As much as I like Jim+Pam, I think the reason it feels like it's not working is that it's [u]too[/u] perfect. There should be small (small!) issues that weren't issues when they were just friends. Arguing about where to eat? Jim's unreasonable love of a bad TV show? Something.

I know shows can only do so much reality--there's only so much humorous minutia in everyday office life, but a little more reality would make the show easier to connect with rather than just another sitcom.
The CineManiac said…
I understand where you people are coming from, The Office hasn't been as good this season. But it's still better than most of the "comedies" on TV. (for example: According to Jim: how is this still on the air?) So maybe give it a bit of a break it's still able to make me laugh.
As for Jim getting an engagement ring after the first date, didn't seem weird to me:
Jim and Pam have been friends for years and were clearly in love during that time, so once it actually happened Jim knew it was going to end in marriage. (Maybe it's because I was Best friends with my wife for a long time before we dated, and then began talking about marriage quite quickly after that that I can buy it.)
And the fake proposal was awesome!
Oh and even though I didn't like the chair model (they've made Michael way to dumb) it was worth it for that closing with Michael and Dwight singing American Pie and not knowing the words.

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