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Monday, October 20, 2008

Commercial Interruption: Surefire way to end a comedy streak? Just add Jan.

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). Bloggers Sara Boyd, Malavika Jagannathan and Thomas Rozwadowski discuss "The Office" and the painful, uncomfortable "Baby Shower" episode that only leads us to one conclusion: Jan must die ... or be taken off the show if NBC's looking for a non-violent approach. Whatever.

Sara: Before we begin, yes, we do realize it's Monday and "The Office" was on Thursday -- but believe it or not, we bloggers have social lives. OK, we don't, but sometimes we get a little behind on our TV watching. There's a lot of good TV on right now, OK? Lay off.

Anyway, just close your eyes and pretend it's Friday morning. Ah, Friday morning, such an improvement from the actual Monday afternoon it currently is.

So, last night's episode (c'mon play along) of "The Office" could be considered the episode all bloggers were dreading -- a hunch that an "Office" mis-step was bound to happen. It was awkward, and not in a good way. It was painful, and not in a "Michael discussing race" funny way. It was just god-awful. Coming off a pretty successful start to the season, there's only one conclusion that can be made as to why the episode proved to be such a suckfest. The reason? Janet Levinson.

The episode had far too much Jan. And not just Jan, but crazy, new mom, singin' "Son of a Preacher Man" Jan. Everytime the woman was in a scene, I literally wanted to stab myself in the ovaries solely for being of the same gender. Jan just seems to cause a plague on the show like no other character. No matter what happens in the scene, she sucks the funny right out. Sure, Dwight helping Michael prepare for the birth through a pantsless watermelon charade was quite entertaining. But as funny as it was, it wasn't enough to counter the beast that is Jan.

Thomas, do you disagree? Were you lactating when you saw the return of Jan? Furthermore, were you as equally annoyed with the Jim and Pam path to typical couple drama?

Thomas: I'm in a weird headspace after "Baby Shower." On one hand, I only laughed twice -- Michael's golden shower reference and when he said Holly smelled like "old tomatoes and dirt." Beyond that, I thought it was horrible, even painful to watch, particularly the aforementioned "Son of a Preacher Man" routine that may have been the least funny moment in "Office" history -- yes, even worse than when Michael drove his car into a lake. It was so awful, it even had me believing that the actors on the show were just as uncomfortable while sitting through the bit.

But here's where I'm not completely ready to dismiss the episode. If it spells the end of Jan -- which would appear to be the case considering Michael a) felt incredibly betrayed by Jan locking him out of the birth and b) he asked Holly out after Jan told him to stay away from her -- then I'm fine with not laughing for an entire episode if it moves the story forward. Jan's transformation from power exec to needy sex addict to now ... just plain evil, money grubbing leech has been pretty disappointing to watch. I get that characters evolve and de-volve (in the case of Jan), but her college fund reference made it clear she was only keeping Michael in the fold for his money. That seems pretty far fetched and pathetic considering Jan's previous background as a Dunder Mifflin heavyweight. So when she told Michael not to get involved with Holly, it really came out of nowhere. She's made it clear she has no emotional feelings toward Michael. Or maybe she does based on how she tried to glue his Dundie back together during the "Dinner Party." Or maybe she doesn't based on her sadistic testimony during the deposition. Which is it? ARRRRRRRGGGGHHHHHH!

Jan's character is just pure mind control and shock value at this point. I hate it. But again, if it took her baby mama shenanigans to get Michael on a first date with Holly and write off Levinson-Gould forever, then fine, I'll accept how it went down. That said, Steve Carell did a pretty wonderful job in the scene where he's holding (ugh) Astrid. I'll give him kudos for carrying that scene with some genuine emptiness and pain.

I have a feeling MJ will offer some worthwhile comments on the Jim-Pam bore-a-thon. I still don't understand why the documentary crew is filming Pam at art school. Oh, that's right ... I'm thinking too much.

Malavika: Is it telling that I barely remember last week's episode? No, seriously, I had to look up a brief synopsis because I couldn't actually remember what happened. The only funny bits that stick with me are Dwight testing out the durability of Jan's pram and Michael thinking Astrid's name was "As-tird." Oh, and Creed's comment that Jan's tub-birth must have been like Omaha Beach was awesome, except that it made me think of the opening sequence of "Saving Private Ryan." Ick.

I don't want to sound like I'm repeating any of the criticisms made by either Sara or Tom, here, but holy crap am I tired of Jan and her worn out harpie routine. It's just not funny anymore. I don't know what the writers need to do, but they have to write her and baby Astird out as quickly as possible if they want to keep this season heading in the right direction. Who knows, maybe the characters can make a new home on "Two and a Half Men," where that kind of humor is deemed funny and Emmy-worthy.

Now I've been a defender of the Jim-Pam-coupledom since the very beginning -- yes, scoff if you must Rozwadowski -- but I'm also quickly getting tired of it. Is it just that every great couple that gets together on screen is doomed to become boring unless there's the constant threat of break-up hanging out there? It must be. I can't think of a single on-screen couple who has made it through a series if they had not been a) married, b) broken up several times or c) faced with an unexpected pregnancy. Bring Pam back to the actual office and let's get back to basics here -- a few pranks, some awkward office-bonding games and a little less gooey romance.

Thomas: I always thought it was natural to have Jim and Pam together. I just hate contrived conflict. So I must ask you ladies as a final thought: do either of you think they're moving in a direction where Jim is no longer good enough for Pam ... or he'll at least think that way about himself, what with Pam's new friends, new career, new ... everything. Maybe hearing stories about Jan singing at an office baby shower will be beneath her in the future?

Sara: I really don't think that'd be a Pam move -- to declare herself too good for Jim. The interchange between the two during their respective voicemails at the end, albeit annoying, proves they're still on the same wavelength and there's still that finishing-each-other's-sentence kind of love for each other. Plus, let's face it -- Jim really has been too good for Pam up until this point -- having an actual career, as unfulfilling as it may be, and managing to snag talent like Karen and "The Hot Girl," while Pam had Roy -- so maybe now they'll be on the same playing field.

MJ, your thoughts?

Malavika: Jim has been nothing but supportive and encouraging of Pam and her new career, but distance could put some tension into that relationship regardless of their connectivity. I think if Pam returns to Dunder Mifflin or to Scranton, at least, there's no reason to believe that Jam won't continue as the it couple. If at all there was a break-up, I don't think it would be because Pam suddenly thinks she's cooler because of her graphic design degree or her new friends.

Catch "The Office" at 8 p.m. on Thursdays on NBC.

-- Sara Boyd,, Thomas Rozwadowski,, Malavika Jagannathan,

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