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Michael Gets in Touch with His Feminine Side on "The Office"

I am not the biggest fan of these super-sized episodes that NBC pushes whenever and where ever possible. When they work, they tend to work fairly well, but when they don't, they feel absolutely stretched thin.

Last night's episode of The Office ("Women's Appreciation") definitely fell into the latter camp, which was a bit of a disappointment. I'm usually such a fan of episodes written by dynamic duo Lee Eisenberg & Gene Stupnitsky but the extended length of the episode was a real detriment.

I think that the super-sized installments work best when the production has time at the writing stage to craft an episode that is longer and more involved than the average episode and not at the production stage (which is when, I'm told, "Women's Appreciation" was told to go long), when the writers are forced to throw together more stuff and the editors are forced to include bits that normally would have been cut in a 21-minute episode. Instead of being a taut little gem of an episode, "Women's Appreciation" just felt filled with all of this air around it.

I'm also not sure that this episode nailed the spirit of The Office. When the series works, it taps into a painful reality that all of us can identify with; here, it was too far out there and unbelievable. For example, I could buy Angela's line that "Gap Kids was too flashy," but not the fact that she shopped for clothing made for large colonial dolls at American Girl. The joke went too far at the expense of believability and characterization. Likewise, I could understand why boyfriend-less Pam would choose a bathrobe at Victoria's Secret but why would she then say she planned to cut it up into hand towels? Part of Pam wishes Roy still worked at Dunder-Mifflin and fantasizes that Jim was the flasher and Roy beat him up? Odd.

What's always separated The Office from other TV comedies for me is that rather than mine the situation for comedy (the traditional approach), the writers have always used the characters to generate the comedy. But last night's episode felt the reverse and that certain characterizations were being sacrificed for the sake of shunting these people into certain pre-determined slots without much foreshadowing or grace.

Which isn't to say that there wasn't any funny in last night's episode, because there was. I loved how Pam and Jim very coolly tried to frame Dwight for the flasher incident as Pam had Phyllis describe the flasher and then drew a police-style sketch to match Dwight (albeit without glasses and with a tiny mustache). Andy realized exactly who the sketch was of but, with Dwight acting like such an ass to him, decided to continue taping the flier everywhere around Scranton. And, the joke paid off when Jim called a tip into Dwight's flasher task force hotline that he saw the flasher in the women's restroom above the sink.

I thought the awkwardness of the guys in the women's restroom was also fantastic as they discovered plush couches, candles, and magazines. I loved Toby's withering comment that he thinks they all hang out enough as is and Ryan's touchiness about the subject of office romances. Also great: Michael wondering why the flasher didn't expose himself to one of the hotter women, like Pam or "Karen from behind," Karen being angry that the outing was to the Steamtown Mall but then relenting, saying that she has stuff in her car to return, Meredith's "my car, my rules" moment when she throws the bag out the window, Michael caving into Jan seconds after leaving her a break-up voicemail.

But those smaller moments didn't add up to anything cohesive for me. Perhaps I hold The Office to a higher standard than other comedies, but that's because I love the series so dearly that when it's a subpar episode I feel the low more intensely than in a run-of-the-mill sitcom. Oh, well. You can't win them all but I do think I would have liked "Women's Appreciation" better had it been a standard-sized episode in the end. NBC, take heed, if you're going to want something super-sized, you better offer those instructions early on.

Next week on The Office ("Beach Games"), Michael is up for a promotion at Dunder-Mifflin Corporate and decides to hold a day of Survivor-inspired challenges at the beach as a means of choosing his successor, leading a jealous Pam to watch Jim and Karen from the sidelines.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: The Ghost Whisperer (CBS); Dateline (NBC; 8-10 pm); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); Grey's Anatomy (ABC; 8-10 pm); Nanny 911 (FOX)

9 pm: Close to Home (CBS); Bones (FOX)

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

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Absolutely Fabulous on BBC America.

What better way than to begin your weekend of debauchery than by starting it with two people even more pickled than you'll be? On tonight's "vintage" episode of AbFab ("Parralox"), Edina encourages Patsy to end Parralox injections with disastrous results while Saffy goes on a job interview.

8:40 pm: Coupling on BBC America.

Revisit the Coupling gang way back when. On the first of two episodes tonight ("Sex, Death, and Nudity"), the gang heads to the funeral of Jane's aunt where they attempt to defeat the dreaded giggle loop, while Jeff is increasingly freaked out about a job interview. Then it's "Inferno," in which Steve discovers that Susan has found his, er, collection of erotica.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Yeah, sometimes the hour long or supersized episodes are fantastic (like last season's finale, "Casino Night") but too often they feel, as you said, stretched thin. And I think a lot of that has to do with the script and if it was originally planned as a half hour or longer.

If it's meant to be a longer episode then the writers are able to set up more storylines and more material. But when a network suddenly tells production, just before shooting an episode (or sometimes even while shooting an episode) that it's going to be supersized, then you have a lot of last minute scribbling, adding gratuitous scenes and dialogue or keeping in things that normally would get cut.

Which is too bad because a lot of times a fantastic episode can be made, well, less fantastic. Such as this season's Christmas ep which was made into an hour. It was still great but I think it would have been pitch perfect as just a supersized episode and not a full hour.

Ah, well. Such is television production. I am really looking forward to next week's episode, though, and I really can't wait until the season finale. I hear it's going to be great!
Unknown said…
Yes, let's keep the 21-minute (30-minute, after ads) format. If they have more material, fine, but if they don't, the network should figure out some other way of using up the time rather than demanding filler at the last minute.

One way or another, I want NBC to discontinue these oddball program starts and stops. 7:36-8:19pm (last night's The Office, 7:00-7:40pm (The Office), 8:00-9:01pm (Desperate Housewives). Good grief.

Still, I liked this ep. Some scenes felt stretched thin, but I'm not as negative on it. I was more surprised by Jan's sudden switch from "near-desperate self-hater" to "obsessed dominatrix." Wha?! I think they could've used more Jan & Michael or Jan & someone else, showing how (or why! or if!) she's changed.
Anonymous said…
Yup, yup - i agree with all you said.
The CineManiac said…
skst,
I think they started showing this side of Jan at the Office party at her bosses house when she took Micheal into the bathroom. I thought it fit with her character, although her School Girl fantasy does make me curious as to if she's not trying to play for the wrong team.
Also the fact that she video tapes and then critiques him AND shows it to her therapist is hilarious in my opinion.
I agree there were some missteps but overall I enjoyed the episode although I agree with Jace that some of it went beyond believability which can take away a bit from the show.
All in all I liked it.
But when did TV go from 22 min to 21 min? Soon it's going to be a 10-15min show with 15-20 min of commercials. Sheesh!
Unknown said…
Yeah, Jan was a bit pushy there, but it's still a stretch from that to "Sometimes she says she didn't hear [the safety word]."

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