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NBC's "The Office" Fumbles Rather than Scores in Post-Super Bowl Slot

I'm very curious to know what people thought of last night's post-Super Bowl episode of NBC's The Office ("Stress Relief").

On the one hand, I thought that the cold open was perhaps one of the most hysterical (if far-out there zany) sequences in the series' history. The look of terror on Angela's face as she removes her cat--hidden in a nearby file drawer (a la Carol's kids on The Brittas Empire)--and then proceeds to throw him to Oscar in the ceiling crawl space... only to have him crash through another ceiling panel was genius.

While it certainly wasn't exactly super-realistic, the entire sequence could happen with these characters in this highly charged situation and it was filmed magnificently by the episode's director, Jeffrey Blitz.

Sadly, the rest of the episode was pretty much downhill from there.

I thought that the subplot that had Andy watching an illegally downloaded Hollywood flick--starring Jack Black, Jessica Alba, and Cloris Leachman--was ludicrously awful and possibly one of the very worst B-stories on the series to date. (Yes, even worse than the recent Is Hilary Swank Hot? storyline.) The amount of time and effort the production crew must have spent in securing the talent, arranging the schedule, and shooting the scenes for the movie-within-the-episode is depressing, given the end result.

The storyline went nowhere, was absolutely unfunny (and quite honestly pretty gross at times), and made the pacing drag along around it. Other than to give Jim and Pam something to do while "fighting" about Pam's parents' separation (yet another inane contrivance to inject some drama into their relationship), it served no purpose and seemed completely disconnected from the rest of the episode's OTT hijinks involving Dwight (the Silence of the Lambs bit was particularly unnecessary and unbelievable) and Michael's roast.

Speaking of which, those two storylines seemed jammed together with little connective tissue. The episodes starts out with a focus on Dwight and corporate's censuring of his insane behavior in the opening sequence (and then his bizarro behavior with the CPR practice doll) and then somehow segues into a stress-reduction exercise after Stanley's heart attack (more on that in a bit) and then an insult-laden roast of Michael Scott. It was almost as though two separate stories had been broken by the writing team and then tied together into a one-hour installment. Odd.

I did think the first half had more energy than the second and offered a few chuckles whereas I found the second half-hour to be painfully unfunny and stilted. I do not find the latest "issue" in Jim and Pam's relationship to be interesting, amusing, or thought-provoking and I found their rapprochement at the episode's end to be more than a little sappy.

Back to Stanley: it's now clear that NBC aired these episodes out of order as I now understand why in the January 22nd episode ("Prince Family Paper"), Stanley spoke about how the "new Stanley" would react to a situation versus the "old Stanley." I was utterly confused at the time but it now makes perfect sense as it's in reaction to his heart attack. Wish I had known that at the time.

All in all, a fantastic cold open to a mediocre episode of The Office that once again forgot to bring the funny. I'm not sure that the series won any new fans over with this post-Super Bowl episode and I think that NBC would likely have been better served by airing the 3D episode of Chuck in the same slot. But that's just me. I'm curious to see what you thought: Did you enjoy "Stress Relief"? Or was it a fumble on NBC's part? Discuss.

Later this week on The Office ("Lecture Circuit"), Pam is forced to drive Michael on a speaking tour of other Dunder-Mifflin branches in order to share his insights about the Scranton's branch's relative success; Dwight and Jim--sharing responsibility over the party planning committee--forget someone's birthday; Andy falls for someone new.


Anonymous said…
The opening bit was AWESOME but agree that the rest of it was pretty bad. Finished watching it this am as I fell asleep in the middle.
Anonymous said…
I loved the cold opening and laughed hysterically when Angela's cat fell back through the ceiling panel - a great bit of physical comedy. And there were some other funny moments scattered through out the episode but, overall, it didn't work for me.

I thought that Michael was going to finally be forced to take responsibility for Dwight's crazy (and dangerous) actions but, instead, we somehow ended up with a plot about Michael being "roasted." The thread with Dwight having to get signatures for his "apology" went nowhere, as did the horrible subplot with the Jack Black movie. Overall, there were some good bits but the storylines were not cohesive at all.
Anonymous said…
I agree with two things:

1. The pirated movie subplot was terrible and a complete waste of the much promoted guest stars.
2. Chuck should have totally been the post-Super Bowl show selection, as it needs the audience boost more than The Office.

But, people find different things funny and I haven't laughed at an episode of The Office as much as I laughed during this one in quite awhile. I thought it was one of the funniest episodes of the season.
Anonymous said…
Yeah, you pretty much summed up how I felt. I laughed at the cold open and cat, but after that...I don't know. I had this strange epiphany that as much as I love "The Office," I only watch it now for nostalgia's sake. (Seasons 2 and 3 were so brilliant that it makes the whole concept of stooping to the Jack Black-Cloris Leachman movie even more sad.) That's hard to realize about one of your favorite shows, but I just can't remember the last time I felt the magic of the show, or really even laughed at it, and I guess that's a sign it's time to move on!
Anonymous said…
@Anonymous You just completely summed up my thoughts toward this show and said everything I was going to say. It's sad when a show that was once your favorite becomes a chore to watch and that's what the Office has become for me. Unless things improve I won't be watching for much longer.
TVBlogster said…
I admit, I wasn't thrilled with the premise of the A and B stories, but there were moments when I laughed despite myself.

There was some positive buzz from various bloggers and reviewers who obtained advanced screeners. They compared it to a season two episode. I'm not sure I see it that way. Stress Relief was fun, but yes - it was stilted and disjointed in flow of storyline. The Office writers tend to have problems breaking a clean one hour story successfully, only pulling it off well in The Job and Weight Loss.

I agree with Kath on GMMR (I follow your tweets), that comedy is subjective, and for those who enjoy the show in season five - live and let live. But I also agree with you - The Office has devolved into the average sitcom when it used to be a charming, edgy comedy that was real. Personally, I love these characters, and will stick with it until the end, hoping that somewhere between now and the last episode ever, we'll get a glimmer of the old show, that wonderful episode with heart, soul and realism. But I fear it's too late. Dwight is a cartoon figure - and quite a hateful character. Michael's need to be loved and to protect the security of his "family" at DM is tiresome. Angela has proven to be a shameless hussy. Jim and Pam are great, but I wish Pam, even in her emotional state, and possibly with Roy baggage clouding her judgement, would stop jumping to conclusions with Jim's actions (such as in the parental issue) only for her to realize how much he loves her. When are we going to see how much she loves him? When is she going to show him how much she appreciates all he's done for her? (And sacrificed, btw. He could have been a VP in NYC by now - if he really wanted it.)

The writers are wasting some prime opportunity for Halpert evolution. Character evolution is under rated. The boy needs to step up and find a purpose besides Pam. If Pam is the purpose that drives him, perhaps he needs to channel it into something else. Or just throw himself under a train and be the boss at DM Scranton.

But having said all that (when I should have said this in my blog), I liked the episode for what it was: a prime time sitcom aired after the Super Bowl to attract new viewers. It was fine. It was better than some other episodes this season. But as a long time viewer, I didn't feel this was the best.
Asta said…
I've read some positive reviews of the episode which made me think I was crazy for not liking it. I'm relieved to read your post and the follow up comments. I thought the teaser was absurd, yet hilarious, but it was downhill from there. I couldn't even watch the bits involving the movie because I was either cringing or appalled that they wasted the actors time as they did.
Anonymous said…
I thought I was going out of my mind when I wasn't laughing much last night. There was so much buzz around this from critics and bloggers that I thought I was crazy for not enjoying it. I'm glad I wasn't the only one who didn't like this ep.
Anonymous said…
If I did not know better, I honestly would not have known from last night's episode that The Office is a comedy. I chuckled once, at Michael's rip of Kevin, "I could not decided between a fat joke and a dumb joke." Other than that, I do not think I even cracked a smile
Unknown said…
I agree that Bandit the Cat falling through the ceiling tile was the funniest thing. I even related it to my wife, who was no doubt overjoyed to hear such a gag second-hand.

After that though, wow, they really used Jack Black, Jessica Alba, and Cloris Leachman that way? I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought it was gross.

I also think they're going out of their way to make Michael look stupid. His malapropisms seem more and more forced and unlikely. Throwing whole pieces of bread to non-existent birds? Spider face?

What are the writers thinking when they career from fire to CPR to meditation to roasts? Very odd.

I'm glad they didn't air Chuck instead because anyone who recorded it would've missed the last 15 minutes. (I checked when it started and recorded those extra minutes.)
Anonymous said…
yes, the episode was very poorly structured. Yes, Dwight's behavior strained credibility too much. Yeah, the Jack Black movie within the show stunk -- just a complete misfire there.

But there were still plenty of laughs and Steve Carell is still brilliantly funny. Stanley's moment of breaking into laughter was another great moment that deserves mention.

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