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Friday, September 26, 2008

Commerical Interruption: Is "The Office" back or is it wack?

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle.

That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email of course, we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). And sometimes a show's return is so filled with reviewable sequences that we need the entire blogging crew to weigh in -- that, or it's Friday and let's be honest, we're all looking to waste time until the weekend is here.

Bloggers Sara Boyd, Thomas Rozwadowski, Adam Reinhard, Malavika Jagannathan and on the heels of her first successful post, friend to Channel Surfing and honorary blogger Kelly McBride, makes a triumphant return to help dissect the return of "The Office." Having already declared this first episode as a look into the show's potential make-or-break season, we sift through last night's events featuring wife-beater wearing Dwight, still-in-existence Jan and goatee/un-goateed Michael.

Sara: Before we begin, it should be noted that this post will be more than just a review of "The Office's" return -- it'll be a playful banter of the premiere watching party that all Channel Surfers, plus McBride, attended last night. Don't let that fool you, though -- we still do not speak to one another in person. Clearly, we all brought laptops to TRoz's house so we could comment via e-mail on the show whilst begrudging the very beings of those seated around us.

Anyway, let's get right into the good stuff. I had pretty low expectations for last night's return and honestly, I think that helped the viewing tremendously. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by the hilarity that occurred and the old "Office" ways that seemingly have returned. No, it wasn't enough to make me climb the highest mountain in Green Bay (which I believe would be a landfill) and scream at the top of my lungs, "'The Office' is back! All hail the mighty Michael Scott!" but it did give me reason to regain my faith in the show.

Last night's 'sode (that's slang for episode, it'll catch on ... ) had the Dunder Mifflin-ites sweatin' to the oldies, Richard Simmons-style. A company-wide weight loss challenge saw employees workin' off their derrieres and in some cases, completely starving themselves and eating perceived tapeworms. I found the interoffice challenge humor to be a throwback to "Office" episodes of the past and thanked the lord that it appeared Dwight was back to his good ol' freakish self (then again, he was on full-time booty call).

TRoz, I know you also had a "glass is half empty" approach to the premiere, so did it meet your needs? Tickle your fancy? Or just scare your extremely skittish dog (of whom you beat with purses)?

Thomas: Quick, what's the difference between Sara Boyd and a Green Bay landfill. One smells awful and repels those in its presence. The other is a landfill. Hey-yooooooooooooooo!

I laughed. I cried. I tapped my Dwight Schrute bobblehead with delight. (No, that isn't what she said.)

Having low expectations probably helped. But let's be honest: it was just a darn good episode. In fact, as someone who has been highly critical of the hour-long format -- even dating back to when the show was truly "can't miss" TV -- "Weight Loss" was the first time that I didn't check the clock to see how much longer it was planning to drag on with filler jokes or Halpert eye rolls.

And even if all the dots weren't connected or questions answered -- for instance, why Jim keeps his IM screen so large, even Old Man McCain could read it -- the way every character (even that blasted harpie from hell, Jan!) was incorporated into the mix was highly fulfilling.

And I'm just going to say it, I love Holly Flax, and not only because I hold a special place in my heart for Amy Ryan because of "The Wire." I'll be sad when her series run is over, though I'm still predicting a prolonged hook-up with Michael and some kind of off-screen romance so poor, pathetic Toby is rescued from a Costa Rica hospital and brought back into the Dunder Mifflin HR fold.

I think I'm most pleased that they used Michael so effectively. We probably could have done without the Michael Klump routine -- though the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man picture made me giggle with glee -- just thinking about that audible groan he let out in Holly's presence, and how he had no answers for it ... that is pure "Office" gold.

Also, as painful as it was to watch, the ripping of the Counting Crows tickets (are they still around? really?) was a brilliant touch. It's so like Michael -- all about the grand gestures, never the subtlety of the moment.

What else worked: Ryan's Nixonian enemies list, Andy's ridiculous nicknames for the members of Here Comes Treble, Holly's righteous anger about Kevin's "disability," Dwight's pathetic goatee and Pam's salute to the 2-1-2.

So Kelly, as someone who has never made her thoughts known on this blog -- but rather, just boringly to us in face-to-face convos -- are you ready to heap on the praise or proceed with caution? Also, do you think we should hold "Office" parties every week in hopes that our organized presence will be the true catalyst for a bounce-back Season Five?

Kelly: Ladies and gentlemen of the blog (plus TRoz), first let me thank each of you sincerely for inviting me into your weird little world. As a relatively recent "Office" convert, I can't expect to convey the same witty analysis, high-level expertise and historical depth you all provide week in and week out, but I'll do my level best to contribute.

To first address TRoz directly, the answer is both. I thought Scranton rocked it out in last night's episode, from Holly's Michaelesque awkwardness to Dwight and Angela's storage-room escapades. The hour flew by and left me satisfied, but wanting more (yes, that's what she said). I can't get too giddy, however, because there's still a lot of season to go. To invoke the inevitable football analogy (sorry, but this is Green Bay), it's like judging a team's chances based on a pre-season game. Can't be done. Still, I am newly fortified with a sense of optimism (not to mention chock-full of Vitamin D).

My only beef with last night's show was probably the Toby scene at the end. Yeah, I guess it's nice to know what's going on with Tobes (we're tight like that), and I'm sure it will be an integral part of some plot later on. But Holy Buzzkill, Batman. I went from laughing until my sides hurt to squirming uncomfortably at the thought of being immobilized in a hospital bed for five weeks. But I'm weird about neck things, so maybe that was just me.

Moving on, I was pleasantly surprised how the proposal scene was woven into the show but not the primary, hyped-up focus thereof. There was plenty of Jim and Pam to go 'round in last night's episode, but it retained its essential "Office"ness by limiting out-of-office camera time and weaving together several storylines. Woe be the man who ever proposes to me at a gas station, but for our favorite "Office" couple, it worked while still limiting the cheese factor. I think nice-guy-at-Pam's-school was there to further throw us off the proposal trail, but I don't think he'll be a legitimate threat.

MJ, first a special thanks for bringing the exceedingly complicated "Office" board game to our little kick-off party (I EARNED that 2D orange dundie!). Second, what was your proposal take? Thoughts overall?

MJ: Greetings, everyone. I hope you are all enjoying the delights of work on a Friday, while I'm at home in my pajamas, watching TV and, sadly, posting on this blog. (Insert evil laugh here)

Before I address one KMc's question, I have to disagree with her on the whole Toby bit. Toby is the guy who always gets screwed or left out, so what better way to integrate him into the episode than show him languishing in a Costa Rican hospital? It's almost Seinfeldian to take pleasure in his pain, but, hey, I love "Seinfeld." In short, I thought it was uncomfortably brilliant, the trademark of "The Office."

Now, the big Jim and Pam -- aka Jam -- question. In a way, my expectations were low. I figured the writers would pull the ol' Sam 'n Diane, Ross n' Rachel, McDreamy 'n Meredith bit by breaking the it-couple up and fill the entire season YET another will-they-wont-they drama. It may still happen, but at least, their relationship WASN'T the main focus of the premiere and the proposal was slipped in without much ado (that's what she said?).

I'm happy the first episode of this season reverted to much of what works about this show -- the awkwardness, the apathy of work and the ridiculousness of the characters (anyone else think Kelly's flagrant attempt to make Ryan jealous by making out with Darrell was sidesplitting?). I'm still keeping my expectations low, though, and hoping the writers can pull off a comeback this season. If last night was an indication, we're definitely getting something above Season Four's mediocrity.

Shout-outs must go to Stanley's "black power" pose on the weight machine, Amy Ryan's comedic awkwardness as Hollis "Holly" Flax and the rejuvenated Michael Scott.

Adam, are we being too optimistic here in our hopes for this season? Also, I guess SOME credit should be given to you for discovering the $12 "The Office" board game at Walgreens.

Adam: To hell with low expectations! Let's get optimistic! "The Office" has now delivered two solid back-to-back hours of comedy -- the fantastic fourth-season finale, and last night's riotous Season Five opener. The fact that these episodes aired more than four months apart with no drop in quality only further bolsters my confidence.

"The Office" (cross your fingers) is back, and I will demand from them episodes as good as "Weight Loss" for the rest of the season. Ball's in your court, "Office": Don't disappoint me again.

I agree with just about everything you guys are saying -- Michael was back to his old moronic (but not malicious) self, Holly Flax is a great new character, and getting the Jim proposal out of the way was a brilliant move -- but there's one plot thread -- the Angela/Dwight/Andy triangle -- yet to discuss. (Apart from Sara drooling over a tank-topped Dwight. That's a strange fetish you've got there, Boyd.)

Andy's overly eager courtship of his feline-loving filly seemed like one of last season's most strained B stories: What could Angela possibly see in this acapella-singing, nipple-chafed goofball, other than a way to wreak revenge on cat-freezing ex-beau Dwight. Their clandestine makeout session at the end of last season's finale seemed like the end of the road for ol' Andy, and the sight of the future Mr. Andy Bernard struggling to find a proper ceremony site for his lady fair was the low point of last night's episode for me.

True, Angela constantly paging Dwight (seriously, who uses pagers anymore?) whenever Andy got on her nerves was funny, but out of character for the both of them. Ice-queen Angela may be all about doing things properly, but even she should have no problem breaking it off with Andy and taking Dwight back. I'm hoping his "deal-breaker" regarding Here Comes Treble's role in their wedding signals such an end.

Yet those crafty writers found a way to placate even me, when Andy, after several shootdowns on wedding locales, tells Angela he would marry her anywhere, and her veneer finally cracks, leaving a just-paged Dwight dangling in the store room. It was sweet, and it didn't feel forced. Again: Confidence restored!

Last thoughts anybody?

Thomas: Wait, no mention of Phyllis' jugs? Er, on second thought ... let's shut this discussion down for the evening.

-- Sara "Sparerib" Boyd, sboyd2@greenbaypressgazette.com, Thomas "Jingle Jangle" Rozwadowski, trozwado@greenbaypressgazette.com, Adam "Pubie Lewis and the News" Reinhard, areinhard@greenbaypressgazette.com, Malavika "Doobie" Jagannathan, mjaganna@greenbaypressgazette.com, and Kelly "Boner Champ" McBride, kmcbride@greenbaypressgazette.com

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2 Comments:

Why is Kevin wearing a skirt in that picture? Did I miss something in the season premiere?

-- Sara

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At September 29, 2008 at 1:56 PM  

I didn't even notice that when I grabbed the pic from NBC.com. Must be a deleted scene ... like Meredith's sunburn explanation.

-- Tom

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At September 29, 2008 at 4:38 PM  

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