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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fall TV: Why this is "The Office's" make or break season

All hail fresh episodes! Channel Surfing bloggers are placing the spotlight on new shows and returning favorites as the Fall 2008 TV season rolls out the red carpet. While longtime Dunder Mifflin-ites Thomas Rozwadowski and Sara Boyd will be on the couch at 8 p.m., both are preparing themselves for (an inevitable?) final run with the once-beloved series. The fifth season of "The Office" returns Thursday with "Weight Loss."

Thomas: Sooooooooo .... it's two days out before "The Office" comes back, and as a fellow fan who once put the show on a high, high pedestal, I have to ask: How are we supposed to feel about its arrival on our doorstep? I admit to shrugging my shoulders a bit, though I know I'll still watch with relatively high expectation because deep down, I'd love nothing more than to utter the immortal words, "'THE OFFICE' IS BACK!" on Friday morning.

But I know that can't happen. Season Two was the perfect storm. The writers were focusing on inter-office relations because, first and foremost, they had to introduce the characters in a familiar, bland context befitting the show's title (go figure.) Jim and Pam's game of googly-eyed ping-ping worked because it was neither melodramatic or a drawn-out tease. It was alternately fun and heartbreaking, even for jaded souls like myself who usually don't end up rooting for the good guy. And Michael ... dear Michael. Sure he did some insanely stupid things, but he wasn't oblivious like the Michael Scott who would eventually end up with crazy-but-not-the-funny-kind-of-crazy Jan. He just craved attention and acceptance. And Dundies.

So maybe the lowered expectations will work in its favor this time around ... because God knows I'm tired of feeling like the show is a continual disappointment even though it's still largely entertaining and well written. Heck, I didn't even buy the Season Four DVD this time around. So Boyd, do you think this is a make-or-break season or should I just get over the fact that it can't be what it once was, but at least the addition of Amy Ryan certainly means good things?

Sara: I think you're right. I mean, let's call a spade, a spade here. Last season -- writer's strike or not, was not good. Even Season Three was a bit lacking. Sure, they've had a few shining moments lately -- Amy Ryan's "new Toby" character thinking Kevin is actually mentally handicapped = hilarious. But it's a far cry from what it used to be. Call me crazy but I think the added popularity killed a piece of "The Office" that can never be returned.

By Season Two, the show was still working to gain viewership and let people know that a quirky, dry-humored show was on primetime. By Season Three, they were almost like the geeky nerd who shelled out good money to be transformed overnight to a popular, babe magnet jock by simply removing its glasses and putting a little gel in its hair. Yes, that's the plotline of "Can't Buy Me Love," what's your point?

All I'm saying is, with the so-called cliffhanger NBC has us dangling on for the start of Season Five, I'm not holding a lot of hope. We've got a preggers Jan who is going to be the mother of a sperm donor baby, Michael who is right behind her toting a diaper genie and burping cloths and the will-he-won't-he bore-snore of Jim's imminent proposal to Pam. Remember when the season finale was a long-awaited Jam (Jim + Pam) kiss that potentially could've broken Pam's engagement? Ahh, the good 'ol days.

Of course I agree (what? never!) with Mr. Roz and would be pleasantly surprised and back on board with a stellar season premiere, but I just don't know if it's in the cards. I suppose "back on board" is a bit strong. I'm still a big fan, I just approach this season with a bit more caution and perhaps, pessimism -- hoping for the best but expecting the worst. It really is a make-or-break season and that's unfortunate, but let's be honest, no one's going to stick around to see what happens with Andy and Angela. TRoz, from the brief previews we've seen of its return -- is there hope? And what plotlines just need to be squashed in order to restore the brilliance of this show?

Thomas: You know, I think we cracked the case. If Dwight and Jim engaged in the African Anteater Ritual ala "Can't Buy Me Love," this show would be in much better shape.

I wanted to avoid making the "popularity killed a piece of 'The Office'" argument for fear of being called a TV elitist, but since you did, well, I can't help but feel the same way. I know you're a huge "Friends" fan, so maybe you can make the logical leap here, but it seems tying everyone down in a relationship -- or at least deliberately trying to get everyone AWAY from the actual office setting -- really stripped the individual identities of each main character. That worked well for Dwight, who probably shouldn't be a one-dimensional office freakazoid. But what happened to Jim? He's no longer the underdog, so it's become hard to root for him in any capacity. I'm betting he'll do the nice guy thing and let Pam spread her wings at art school. They'll reconnect at Dunder Mifflin and be stronger in their relationship, which as we all know, is heading toward marriage at SOME point. Not that it's a bad thing. I've been consistent in saying that there is nothing wrong with the two of them being together and happy. But seeing them together and happy also doesn't make the show for me. I think the show's popularity among the masses is largely steeped in that Rachel-Ross-type drama. Personally, I'd rather see Michael do more Ping impressions.

As for plotlines, I want Jan gone. Her presence will only continue to sabotage any hope I have for Michael. (as an aside, "The Dinner Party" aired a few weeks ago, and while flipping channels, I couldn't even stop on it for two minutes, I despise that episode so much.) I expect to harshly judge the Dwight-Angela-Andy triangle, if only because it's never been adequately explained why Angela is WITH Andy in the first place. To make Dwight jealous? Really? It has shades of a classic soap opera contrivance with Angela staying engaged to Andy even after doinking Dwight in the Season Four capper ... for what purpose, I'm not really sure, but my guess is they'll drag it out to humanize Mr. Lonely Heart Schrute some more. Or at least put him in more zany predicaments where he has to "prove" his love. Again ... relationship humor.

I liked Ryan's prickly turn, but not how they placed him in cuffs toward the end. Making him "the villain" might create a funny redemption story, but it was a pretty abrupt turn that didn't kill on the comedy scale. The secondary characters still deliver and the Holly Flax addition, really, is the only thing memorable (at least while giving it two seconds of thought) from Season Four. Since I'm not Michael Ausiello, I have no clue how long Amy Ryan is supposed to stick around, but if her presence is short-lived, it would be a positive step to have Michael forgo his plan with Jan, find his soul mate in Holly and create a situation where she can't work at Dunder Mifflin because of their relationship (and the lessons he learned from the Jan debacle), thus opening the door for Toby's return (which is rumored to be a strong possibility.) Imagine if Michael had to make that choice: a happy (off-screen) relationship with Holly, but only if it meant they weren't in the same office, which means putting aside his hatred of Toby for the greater good.

Your turn to put that "Beet Goes On" inspiration to use.

Sara: I definitely don't consider myself a TV elitist -- let's be honest, some of my favorite shows are low-brow reality TV series. But I agree, it's really taking the "Friends" formula to heart -- that being, let's hook everyone up with other characters until they make lovely two-by-two pairs that skip down the halls of Dunder Mifflin and suck at the merciful teat of Nielsen's ratings. And clearly, it's been used and does not need to be repeated.

You're right about Jim too. I'll admit, his face still covers my computer's screensaver but this "new Jim" is just not someone I'm a big fan of. I miss awkward face Jim -- the Jim who shrugs at the camera, not this Jim who is brazen with a customer during a game of golf so he can afford a better life for he and his bride-to-be. And my God, where's the Jim that loved to torture Dwight? He's gone soft! (That's what she said.) If anything, the show needs to rekindle that relationship and stop creating all these new ones.

So I disagree. If Michael ends up banging Holly, that'll be the last straw. Enough already with the interoffice dipping of company pens in company ink! Here's my pitch for a new storyline this season: Dwight decides he is done being sad about Angela and starts scoping out for a true match ... like clockwork, Jim finds out Dwight's password to his account and changes his profile dramatically, stating things like he likes to have sex with beets ... Pam goes to art school in New York -- everyone's sad, Michael most likely makes a very inappropriate farewell speech ... new reception desk chicky comes in and there's a level of flirtiness, a level of forbidden-ness and of course, she and Jim become chummy ... drama ensues, no wait, hilarious drama ensues ... Andy forcefully kills one of Angela's cats in the middle of the night in their first week of newlywed bliss ... viewers strap in for a long, and hilarious, divorce proceeding ... oh, and Creed dies (just 'cause) and later in the season comes back to life.

There you go. Another freebie, writers ... take it and enjoy. (That's what she said.)

-- Sara Boyd, and Thomas Rozwadowski,

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I agree with a lot of what was written in this post...

I have low expectations for this season of "The Office," but I'm willing to give it a chance. I complained about Season 3, but even that season was hilarious compared to the lukewarm and prank-less episodes that combined for a less-than-stellar season 4.

My prediction? Ryan comes back from prison as a new-age guru and sets up shop in the Dunder Miflin office park.

By Blogger Malavika Jagannathan, At September 24, 2008 at 10:59 AM  

I was just talking to my wife about how un-excited we are about the new office season. Normally we'd be counting down the days until the new season starts (how lame are we?) - and here it is tomorrow already. I think last season left a bad taste in every office fan's mouth. I have high hopes for this season, and yes, Jan needs to go away NOW.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At September 24, 2008 at 12:04 PM  

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