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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Super Bowl 'Office' was super sucky

Before “The Office” aired after the Super Bowl, I took a trip down memory lane and popped a few classic episodes from the series’ second season into my DVD player. Think of it as my warm-up to the hugely plugged, hour-long extravaganza, if you will.

What a grave mistake that was.

It was almost like looking through old pictures of me fondly playing with my childhood puppy, only to eventually face the dark reality that my puppy died two years ago. Yes, it was that bad.

I’ll admit, I had high hopes going into the episode — and it seemed from the looks of it that the post-Super Bowl time slot would be a regaining moment for the NBC hit. But who would've thought the Arizona Cardinals would out perform Michael Scott and company? Bloggers and TV critics alike have nothing but warm, fuzzy goodness to say about this episode -- to which I must ask, did I watch the same episode??

Here's what went down:

Fed up with the lack of seriousness during fire drills, Dwight takes matters into his own hands and simulates, I mean, generates, his own blaze with the intentions that learning by doing will be more successful.

The result? Total chaos. Finding no way out, Michael tosses an office chair through the window and screams for help. Oscar leaps through the ceiling — only to come crashing through multiple tiles, legs dangling and all. Unknown to her co-workers, Angela attempts to save her file-cabinet-hidden cat by tossing him up to Oscar in the ceiling, only to have the cat rejected, crashing back down to her desk below.

It was funny. It had old-“Office” moments. It was classic. … It was the last time I laughed the entire episode and it was before the opening credits.

I feel as though the writers of “The Office” put all their energy into this opening scene, knowing how crucial it would be to capture the post-Super Bowl audience, and then took a royal dump on the rest of the script and started filming.

I feel cheated that we were told there would be special guest stars — Jack Black! Jessica Alba! — and yet, that had to be the kookiest attempt at cameos I’ve ever seen. The whole point of having a guest star is seeing them interact with the characters you enjoy watching — or used to enjoy watching — week-to-week.

When “The Office” took that chemistry away and instead inserted this very strange subplot of a pirated movie, starring Jack Black and Cloris Leachman, they officially killed the special guest star cameo. (I refuse to list Jessica Alba there because let’s face it — the bathtub in that film had a bigger role.) Sure, Jack Black and Cloris Leachman’s intense make-out was funny in a claw-your-eyes-out kind of way, and Cloris’ slow rejection to Black up her motorized staircase was silly … but the placement of it all was just stupid.

Then, of course, there’s the train wreck that we’ll call the roast of Michael Scott. As soon as I heard the words escape Mr. Scott’s mouth, I sat up in my chair, ready for the funny. Again, I was left dissatisfied and disappointed. That’s what she said. (Except now, “she” is a middle-aged, dried up old hag who hasn’t been satisfied or smiling from “he” in ages.)

The entire roast was just uncomfortable and awkward, but not in the brilliant way “The Office” used to make me feel. There were hits, but they were few and far between. And the misses? Well, the misses still haunt me at night. It was just painful.

Speaking of painful, can I get a shout-out for Pam’s pre-divorced father who’s sleeping on the pullout couch at the Halpert residence? Hootie-hoo! Through that entire sequence, I prayed for a power outage to stop the insanity — unfortunately the plot itself weakened my immune system to a point where I was not strong enough to turn it off myself. The plea for viewers to have some kind of emotional tie to this storyline was completely shallow and transparent. We’re all expecting the producers to eventually pull the plug on Jim and Pam anyway, so really, we aren’t even paying attention anymore.

Point being, the entire episode was too forced. The whole Jim and Pam will-they-stay-together, or will-they-break-up is forced. (We’ve stopped guessing now that they’re um, engaged and living together, but thanks for playing.) The random incorporation of the Jack Black movie was forced. The fact that no one addresses the huge, purple elephant in the room that left Andy single and Dwight and Angela on the outs is, well, just ridiculous. And just like other things that are forced [insert inappropriate joke here], viewers are left feeling used and like they’ve been taken advantage of.

It’s enough to make me officially start the battle cry — Light the torches! Grab your pitchforks and give us the writers responsible for “The Office” — it’s time to teach them a lesson. This show can be funny. The talent is there. The unpredictable situations are there. Dwight is there. So what gives? Why is this cult-favorite-turned-TV-icon so bad these days?

It’s simple, really. It’s what’s commonly referred to in TV programming as “bounce back or bite the big one.” OK, I just made that up, but that’s what it should be called. It’s that time in a series’ life where producers need to decide — is it time to pull the plug, face facts, and realize it’s going to get much worse before it gets better … or can this show be saved? Will a few thinking caps and brainstorming sessions give this show the CPR it so desperately needs?

We’ve seen both scenarios play out on the boob tube — the phrase “leaving on a high note” is synonymous with “Seinfeld” for more than one reason, and yet shows like “The Simpsons” haven’t quite gotten the memo that they’re washed up and need to heave-ho before they are booed off the air with their tail between their legs. [Cue shameless plug …]

It’s familiar enough territory that our Channel Surfing bloggers will chronicle the best and worst attempts for a second chance of TV life. Check back soon to read our findings and see what shows were revived and what shows saw a big, bright shiny light and decided to follow it.

-- Sara Boyd,

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