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Serenity Now: Jim and Pam Attend the Dinner Party from Hell on "The Office"

I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed the return of The Office on NBC this week. While I once loved the series with a fiery passion that knew no bounds, I've been entirely underwhelmed of late with the uneven third season and a disastrous creative start to the fourth.

Maybe a time out was just what the series needed to get its legs back. As The Office returned this week with its first new episode ("Dinner Party") since the writers strike shut down production back in November, I was happy to have them back, to see the familiar faces of Michael, Dwight, Jim, and Pam, and to notice the little things that have changed since we last saw them--Angela Kinsey's pregnancy (concealed, as it were, behind each and every pillow, countertop, and credenza available), Dwight and Jim's slightly longer hair, etc.--little details that have shown the passage of time since we last caught up with the gang in Scranton.

Last night's episode focused on events set almost entirely outside of the office; while I've criticized them for doing this far too often in the past, here it worked perfectly as the setting wasn't a surreal exercise in and of itself. It's about time that we delved into the horror that is Michael and Jan's live-in relationship and the dinner party was a perfect route to go. My hat goes off to writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky and director Paul Feig for this hilarious and heartfelt episode as three couples come together to for a meal of osso bucco ("it needs to braise for three hours") and some party games, only to come apart at the seams.

What worked for me? For a change, nearly everything... though I did miss the supporting crew in the office (and thought that Jenna Fischer's Pam was looking a little too "Hollywood" thin). I roared with laughter about Michael's obsession with the world's smallest plasma screen television, Jan's insistence that he curl up at night on the bench at the bottom of their bed, and his elaborate ruse to entrap Jim and Pam into coming over for dinner.... and his exclusion of Dwight due to the fact that they only had six wine glasses.

LOVED Jan trying to make Pam jealous by getting Jim to dance with her to Hunter's CD (and having him flat out refuse to get up), one of the most uncomfortable and awkward moments in the entire episode, Jan's misguided notion about Pam and Michael having had a relationship, and her insistence that she have both an office and a workplace, from which to launch her new scented candle business, Serenity by Jan. And who didn't feel for poor Jim when his excuse that his apartment has suddenly flooded resulted in Michael excusing him to go check on the damage but not Pam?

What else made me laugh? Jan grinding to Hunter's song (clearly written about an affair with her), Angela smooshing the ice cream cone against Andy's car when he tries to steal a bite and her put-out reaction to Andy handing her a flower ("what am I supposed to do with this?"), Pam's face when told that the osso bucco would take three hours from that very moment to cook, the policemen shooshing Dwight when they arrive at the condo after a domestic disturbance complaint. (Slightly less believable: that Michael would offer to "take the fall" for the crime when he wasn't entirely sure what was going on. I could see him blaming Dwight more than himself.)

Ultimately, "Dinner Party" had the very essence of the series that has been missing for quite some time: grounded comedy that is slightly off-kilter but is based in the mundane reality of office (and extra-office) life. While some of the humor was a little out-there (Dwight bringing his creepy aged former babysitter to dinner), the entire episode seemed such a throwback (in the best possible way) to the pinnacle of Office humor in the second season: relatable, realistic, and remarkably cringe-worthy. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Next week on The Office ("Chair Model"), Michael becomes obsessed with a woman modeling a chair in an office supply catalog and Kevin and Andy set out to reclaim stolen parking spaces from their office neighbors.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer
(CBS); Amnesia (NBC); Friday Night SmackDown! (CW; 8-10 pm); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); Bones (FOX)

9 pm: Price is Right Million Dollar Spectacular (CBS); Miss USA (NBC; 9-11 pm); Duel (ABC); Canterbury's Law

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

What I'll Be Watching

7:30-9 pm: Sarah Jane Adventures on Sci Fi.

It's the US premiere of Doctor Who spin-off Sarah Jane Adventures. In this 90-minute premiere episode ("Invasion of the Bane"), in which the Doctor's former companion Sarah Jane Smith battles alien plots as an investigative journalist; in this installment, she discovers an orange soft-drink

9 pm: Battlestar Galactica on Sci Fi.

Missed last week's fourth season premiere of BSG ("He That Believeth In Me")? No worries, as here's another chance to catch up with Starbuck, Apollo, the crew of Galactica and those Cylon sleeper agents.

10 pm: Battlestar Galactica on Sci Fi.

On tonight's episode ("Six of One"), Starbuck desperately wants to convince the others that they are going the wrong way, but is the answer really pulling a gun on your cancer-ridden president? Meanwhile, the Cylons learn that the Final Five are in the Colonial fleet and there's conflict brewing among the Cylons, some of whom want Cavil to stop lobotomizing the Raider ships. Just what does this signify? Find out tonight.

8-11 pm: BBC America.

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?


Unknown said…
I couldn't disagree more. Last night's episode was not good. Now they've just turned Jan into a crazy person which is far less interesting than someone who's on the verge of losing it. The dysfunctional relationship between her and Michael is funny but only in small doses - last night's episode started to drag. I didn't laugh much. I think the show is done.
Anonymous said…
I'd been interested to see what you make of the Sarah Jane Adventure, Jace. I've written a bit about it here. I think it makes a pretty good addition to the Doctor Who stable and the fact that it is a kids show doesn't stop it being a good watch for adults.

I'd also be interested on your thoughts on Torchwood, once the finale has aired (next Saturday) and particularly you thoughts on that finale.
Anonymous said…
Difi, you're crazy. I thought it was a great ep and I think Jan is at the end of her rope. I certainly don't think the show is "done" and it was nice for a change to see Jace not dislike an OFFICE episode. It's a good show!
Anonymous said…
I'm usually not a fan of the surreal or overly complicated Office storylines (Michael kidnapping the pizza boy, Jim and Pam staying at Dwight's B&B, etc.) but I thought last night's episode was really solid and extremely funny. It was definitely the best episode of the season. It had that perfect balance of humor and painful awkwardness that makes The Office great. And while the big moments were enjoyable (like Jan trying to get Jim to dance) it was the little details (Michael dipping his meat in the wine, Jim torturing Michael during their game) that truly made this episode shine.
Worst. Dinner party. Ever.

(But great episode!)

This was what I imagine dinner parties in hell must be like. I can't think of anything more painful. It was even worse than the dinner party in the movie "Clue" and people died at that one. But I think I'd rather be bludgeoned to death with a candlestick in the library than have to attend a dinner party at Michael and Jan's condo.
Anonymous said…
Love Danielle's note, but really - I am partial to anyone who references Clue. ;)

Last night's ep was definitely a welcome return to form. I knew that an ep entitled The Dinner Parth would be awesome, I just knew it. I actually laughed out loud several times, which hasn't happened much this season.

One thing the irks, and I know I need to get over it - why would the camera crew be at Michael's house for an after-hours event? Sometimes I feel like they really painted themselves in a corner w/the doc crew.

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