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Friday, March 20, 2009

Commercial Interruption: Dunder Mifflin brings in a Stringer

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 Thomas Rozwadowski and Adam Reinhard were as pleased as Omar Little with a box of Honey Nut Cheerios to see Idris Elba (aka "Stringer" Bell from "The Wire" or "the black George Clooney") show up on last night's potentially life-altering episode of "The Office." Is Michael really quitting? Or will it be viewers who quit?

Thomas: Our blogging crew has, perhaps justifiably so, been rather dismissive of "The Office" lately, so I was hoping the infusion of a little Baltimore blood in the form of Idris Elba would liven things up on the NBC comedy. It had the opposite effect, at least from a plot standpoint, and I have to say, I loved every minute of it. Granted, the episode itself wasn't super-funny. But since "The Office" loves to throw in some serious darkness every now and then (only to conveniently forget about the severe emotional repercussions when killing off horrible plotlines like the Dwight-Andy-Angela love triangle, ahem), I deeply appreciated Michael Scott's bleak turn last night. "The Office" has tried to have it both ways for awhile, and ultimately, I think that's what has kept the show from reaching its Season 2 potential, when let's face it, things were far more one-dimensional regarding crazy Dunder Mifflin antics.

So here we have Michael wasting work time talking about his 15th anniversary party, inappropriately discussing Jan's libido, or basically acting like the lovable-numbskull-turned-no-longer-realistic-boss-who'd-never-remain-employed when Charles Minor calmly puts all his tomfoolery on ice (just stopping short of resorting to Stringer-like Robert's Rules of Order). It's a moment "Office" fans like me have been waiting for -- that someone would stare coldly into Michael's eyes and admonish his foolish behavior in a realistic capacity. (One reviewer compared it to Frank Grimes meeting Homer Simpson, which frankly, makes me angry because I wish I'd thought of it.)

Anyway, Michael reacted honestly by hiking up to David Wallace's office ("Yo String, where Wallace at?") and ultimately quitting on the spot when he felt his company loyalty had been taken for granted. It was a pivotal moment in "Office" history. Because at least to me, it shows that Michael has convinced himself that his goofball antics (and bad ideas) should be condoned because he's Dunder Mifflin's most loyal employee -- even more so than Dwight. So there was very real hurt when David decided to finally set Michael straight by dispatching Charles, the fun-killing assassin. I think we all know that Michael will come back in the end, but we finally have the kind of foil Jan could've been before they ruined her character for life.

Adam, do you think this could be an important turning point for the show?

Adam: I don't know that I'd call it a turning point -- because I highly doubt Michael's going to follow through on his resignation, or that a guy as obviously smart and talented as Charles would stick around at a place like Dunder Mifflin too long -- but at least SOMETHING HAPPENED. Something unexpected transpired within those same, tired Scranton-branch walls that have become so drab and uninviting to us weary "Office" faithful. It wasn't the same old episode where Michael does something addle-brained, Jim pulls a prank, and Dwight acts like a maniac.

... OK, so those things DID happen, but like you said, at least this time we had someone acting as a outside voice of reason. But is that really a good thing? Whereas I desperately wanted the former Stringer Bell to dismiss a meeting with a stern "Adjourn yo' asses" for old times sake, Elba's new character is dangerous in other ways. For starters, in the course of one day -- ONE DAY -- he has caused 15-year man Michael Scott to quit his job, and made Jim "James Bond" Halpert fear for his. I think that's just as important a plot point: Will this new managerial force do what even the prospect of marriage and homeowner ship couldn't? Finally get Jim to straighten up and get his life in order? And if so, well ... who the hell wants to watch that?

There's where I fear the real danger of Minor's character -- and a bit of a turning point in itself -- lies. He's a cold splash of reality for some of our favorite characters. Where does the show go from here? I've always imagined the final season of "The Office" kind of mirroring the final two episodes of the British version, dealing with Michael's termination and how he'd deal with it. Perhaps that's going to happen sooner than I thought.

But yeah, more than anything I just didn't think the episode was that funny. So if there are big changes afoot, I'm not sure I'm going to care. How about you?

Thomas: I completely agree about likely not caring. I'll probably have moved onto "Parks and Recreation" as my flavor-of-the-month comedy if Michael is terminated or Jim is suddenly forced to play it straight every hour of the day. I don't think that's going to happen. This turning point is only supposed to make us wonder if it could happen. "The Office" is a comedy, after all.

Then again, that's the writers having it both ways. It's not like "Arrested Development" in that respect. I mean, can you imagine if Michael Bluth had tried to have a sincere brotherly discussion with Gob and then the next week, they were back to playing "Final Countdown" and making Mr. Banana Grabber jokes? My guess is that since "The Office" loves to balance light and dark these days, this is merely a short term reality check delivered by a bad-ass black dude inside those drab, uninviting Dunder Mifflin walls, as you put it. I think there's something to the fact that "The Office" really caught fire because it wasn't always about something zany or absurd or life-altering, but instead, tackled the mundane work grind in a fun, relatable way. "Office Olympics" immediately springs to mind, and I mean, how simple was that?

But you're right, something actually happened. And I had been calling for some level of serious observation when it came to Michael's clownish behavior, at least to make us believe in some small capacity that Dunder Mifflin could actually exist in the real world, that there was SOME reason a camera crew would keep following these moronic underachievers year after year. Then again, I'm a total buzzkill at times. I'm specifically thinking about how Pam continued Michael's doomed speech while doing Forrest Gump impersonations instead of just saying, "Um, sorry, speech over." Again, it's a TV show, I get that. But whatever ... it's like Charles Minor was finally acting as a conscience for the show, and well, I found that refreshing. Especially, as you pointed out, in reference to Jim's behavior.

So I don't think careful, thoughtful analysis of this is warranted, but we did it anyways. It seems to me you simply think "The Office" has run its course and can't do anything to make you care again.

Adam: There's something to be said for darkness, though. I think "The Office" was always meant to be a dark show about a group of people in a stultifying work environment, and the lengths they go to maintain their sanity. The humor came from recognizing yourself and your own personal experiences in their exploits. But stretch that concept beyond one or two seasons and it would be depressing as hell, because no one wants to imagine being trapped in such a meaningless pit of despair for that long. So what else could the writers do? They turned the concept on its head, making everything wacky and, dare I say it, sitcomy. And now these forced bits of drama -- sorry, but I still don't believe Michael would quit after one day with a new boss -- are only digging the hole deeper.

Because you're right -- no way would a camera crew follow these schmucks around this long, but we're not supposed to think about that. And I don't want to analyze the show to death either, but I need to fill the time I spend not laughing somehow.

Now what was that you were saying about being a buzzkill?

-- Thomas Rozwadowski, trozwado@greenbaypressgazette.com, and Adam Reinhard, areinhard@greenbaypressgazette.com

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2 Comments:

So I'm the only one who found Jim getting smacked-down hilarious?

I don't understand your reasoning that there is no way Michael would quit after one bad day with the new boss. Doing spontaneous and idiotic things is the very definition of his character. Plus the writers of the show have consistently demonstrated that they are not afraid to go against the standard comedy show plot-lines... Jim and Pam\would have broken up and gotten back together 4 more times by now if this was, say, Friends.

Plus, they set up neatly in that episode how the new boss has no respect for Jim or his bogus "#2" title, paving the way for Dwight becoming the new manager, mirroring the course of the British series.

Besides, wouldn't it be fun to see Michael applying for new jobs, especially with the job market the way it is?

By Blogger tickmenanny, At March 24, 2009 at 1:10 PM  

I gotta say -- against my better judgement, I tend to agree with Troz on this one. The episode wasn't hilarious but I actually didn't walk away thinking, "God, what WAS that?" It'll be interesting to see if Michael sticks to his guns and starts the job search -- hopefully it won't mirror the exact plot when Dwight quit and then worked at Staples. I think tickmenanny has a good point too -- we're talking about Michael Scott here. He's not one to wait around after being mentally bruised by an upper hand, just like he's not one to wait around to get to know the "hot girl" well enough before throwing his hat in the ring for a shot at love. This is classic Michael and really, I couldn't be happier to see him clock out.

-- Sara

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At March 25, 2009 at 8:30 AM  

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