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Dwight Rages Against the Machine on "The Office"

I really do want to like The Office this season, but they are making it so bloody hard to do so with these drawn-out one-hour installments. I was firmly against the extended episodes when they were announced, depressed when it was clear that the first four episodes this season would be comprised of these one-hour chunks, and upset now that it's become difficult to sit through an entire episode.

Take last night's episode of The Office ("Launch Party"), which is the perfect example. I thought that the first half-hour of the installment--written by Office executive producer Jen Celotta--was absolutely brilliant. I loved Phyllis' attempt to deal with Angela's ever-increasing bouts of moodiness by searching the internet for tips on how to deal with difficult people and Jim and Pam's prank on Dwight by making him believe the Dunder-Mifflin website had become sentient and was programmed to destroy him... by selling more paper. Same with Michael's, er, misapprehension about the nature of the launch party: a hip NYC club called "Chat Room," complete with a password that's nothing more than password and and address that has "www" in it. (Loved how Jim subtly turned the car around without another word.)

What else worked? That little aside that had the now-single Kelly possibly flirting with Darryl. (Hmmm.) Meredith asking Jim to sign her cast... and lifting up her dress to reveal a cast covering her pelvis. The subtle way Dwight expressed his depression by not shaving for several days. Phyllis crumpling Angela's Post-Its and throwing them in her face. Basically, the little things.

I thought the opener--in which the Scranton gang watched the TV screen in the hopes that the bouncing DVD logo box would hit the corner of the screen while Michael made inane suggestions about how to make their quarterly reports more exciting--was not only hysterical but absolutely realistic and fitting with the series' mission statement. The fact that when the box did hit the target everyone got up to leave was the icing on the cake.

(One caveat about the episode. I do feel as though someone on the Office writing staff did perhaps confuse reams of paper with cases of paper. A ream is only 500 sheets of paper; a case contains maybe 10-20 reams. The computer and/or Dwight only selling 400 reams of paper or so in an entire day is a huge error in my book and would mean that Dunder-Mifflin Infinity's first day was a terrible, terrible launch: that's only roughly 40 cases of paper or so. I somehow doubt that businesses would only order a few reams of paper via a website, rather than cases.)

In any event, I feel lately that The Office has been prone with taking storylines a little too far, which endangers the entire mockumentary feel of the series. Sure, there have been moments perhaps where the series crossed a line but kept it realistic and humorous (Michael's George Forman Grill moment, for example), but last night's episode didn't stick to realism, instead creating a scenario that was so over-the-top and unbelievable that it made me squeamish.

I'm talking, of course, of the kidnapping of the pizza delivery boy. The fact that Michael would kidnap a minor and hold him in the Dunder-Mifflin offices--and that none of the staff would stop him from doing so or release the bratty kid--was completely unbelievable and stretched the series' credibility. I did not like this storyline, which strained to have any connection to the real themes and workplace issues at hand--Michael's feelings of dismissal by former golden boy Ryan, Jim and Pam's subtle romance, Angela and Dwight's awkward breakup, etc.--and seemed tacked on in an attempt to fill in the extra time. If anything, it undermined Michael's character by again making him seem less boorish and more completely out of touch with anything resembling reality.

I watch The Office for the crackling writing, the subtleties of the characterizations, and the humor found in the brutal reality of these workers' mundane existence. I don't want over-the-top inanity (such as in "Phyllis' Wedding") or plots that make it difficult to take the characters seriously anymore.

So, please, NBC, for the love of all things Scranton, learn from this one-hour debacle and get The Office back on track again: cut down the running time to its normal length (extended eps are okay every now and then when it comes from the story and not vice-versa), tone down the madcap plots, and get back to why we love this smart series. I promise I'll be watching.

Next week on the final consecutive one-hour installment of The Office ("Money"), Jan renovates Michael's condo, forcing him to ask his employees for a loan to cover the payments, while Pam and Jim spend the night at Dwight's farm, which has been converted into a B&B.


Anonymous said…
Sorry, but I have to disagree.

From start to finish, last night's ep was by far the most brilliant of the entire series.

I found the kidnapping storyline believable as Michael is stretched to the point of no return and Carell was brilliant.

I love all the new storylines and am waiting to see how they all crash into each other.

I do agree that the hour episodes can be tiresome and am also looking forward to getting back to the 30 min format.

I've watched last night's ep about 3 times now and there is more and more sublety each time. Very reminiscent of Season 2.
the reviewers said…
i definitely get what you are saying. but i think you forgot in your list of "what worked" Andy/Drew's hilarious a cappella serenade!
Anonymous said…
I totally agree with Jace. The one hour episodes do not work. (Unless it's a special episode like the Christmas one last season.)

It's sad because I find myself really enjoying the first half hour (the first 30 minutes of last night's episode were brilliant) and then quickly losing interest during the second half which usually feels thin and drawn out. I just think it was a bad idea from the start as The Office comedy relies so heavily on timing and a fast pace. Stretch that out and the comedy grinds to a stand still.

At least there's only one more hour long and then, hopefully, it will be back to business as usual.
The speaker phone a cappella serenade was brilliant!!!
Anonymous said…
Hated this episode. The first half was funny but they wasted all the potential in the second half with stupid kidnapping storyline. Hey karen, I find it terrifying that you say that it was "the most brilliant of the entire series."

It's even scarier that you've watched it three times already as of 9:14 am this morning. It aired last night. You're obviously so obssessive about the show that can't be unbiased about it.
Anonymous said…
Ignore the Superfans -- they don't know much about television. All they need is a longer run time and Jim and Pam making google-eyes at each other and they proclaim brilliance.

Structurally, this ep was a mess. The writers can't do an hour. And historically they're not very good at plot, which is what the beginnings of seasons are (nominally) about, even on shows like "The Office".

In two to three weeks this show will be good again or it will be dead by my hand.

The CineManiac said…
I really enjoyed the episode. While I agree with you that the kidnapping plot was asinine, it didn't ruin the entire episode for me.
Unknown said…
I was originally looking forward to the hour-long eps, but it turns out you can have too much of a good thing. I can see 40-min episodes, but the 60-min ones are stretched to the breaking point.

Andy's wooing of Angela is great, as is Kelly's flirting with Darryl, but the drawn out and totally absurd kidnapping and paper-selling contest went too long.

(I think they know what a ream is because Kelly ordered a single ream and Darryl handed one to her. But, it's still silly that a successful launch sold 400 reams.)

I'm apprehensive about sending Jim and Pam out of the office to Dwight's farm next week, but I have an open mind.
Unknown said…
If you guys can't sit through a one hour episode without getting bored, then maybe you need to set the VCR and then watch it in 2 half-hour installments. Or maybe you need to lessen the caffeine so you can sit still for a whole hour... man 60 full minutes without losing your interest!

Don't ever rent ROOTS... it's, like,, way over an hour long.
Jace Lacob said…
Wee, thanks for chiming in on this issues weeks late. The problem is not that we can't sit through anything for an hour (far from it) but that this format doesn't work for THIS SERIES. It flat out doesn't, not from a comedic perspective, not from a storytelling perspective, not from a production perspective.

Again, the word is perspective. I can be unbiased about uneven episodes of a series that I love. Can you?

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