The largest issue with recent seasons of the The Office is one word: stakes. It would be much easier to forgive the show, which has built up enough goodwill for people to continue to watch every week due to early seasons being some of the best a sitcom has ever pulled off, for not being funny if there was something else going on. While this week's A-story was solid, a return to the kind of story (but not just a repeat of beats and jokes) that could have been told in an earlier season of the show. Sure, Dwight's hazmat suit was absurd. Yes, Meredith's bald head was unpleasant. But that story utilized a realistic subject matter to explore office dynamics and asses the current state of relationships.
The other stories? Not so much. Darryl's efforts to lose Val, a girl he spent much of last season yearning for, is seemingly out of nowhere. Hasn't this character spent recent years in a rut due to loneliness? Somebody from that background would never be as callous as Darryl was tonight, not only making the break-up seem like Val's fault, but then attempting to play up his sadness to get things from his coworkers. Absolutely nothing here works, as Kevin goes to dumbest dumb, Nellie continues to be a non-presence (which, I suppose, is better than the awful presence she was last season), and Phyllis was there, I guess?
Jim's fantasy adventure with former basketball star Julius Erving is almost worse than the above story, as it doesn't provide anything. Nothing here is really even attempting to be funny, unless it's supposed to be hysterical that Jim is good at basketball? Or getting free snacks? I know that the purpose was to show a juxtaposition between his day and Pam's, but that's no excuse for not making it interesting in any way. And the unanswered phone call from Pam that ends this tale seems a far bigger omen than intended, unless the couple really is headed towards larger troubles. That was the way the season began, but then the show seemed to have backed off any marital issues between the two. Considering that we only have a handful of episodes left until the end, I'm not quite sure where the writers are going with this, and after the last few seasons, it's difficult to simply sit back and trust them.
Pam's side of the story may be a little more sad, but it at least has numerous things going on that attempt to actually say something about the characters involved, and their relationships with one another. The office-mates are forced to pair up to put mayonnaise in each others hair, and it actually kind of makes sense! Good on you, current Office. Being silly within a realm of possibly. The pairings all, except for Stanley and Meredith, illuminate the people involved, even if it's just learning that Creed thinks Pam is the "the weird one". Creed is actually given a number of great lines tonight, which leaves me convinced, as I have been for years, that it is one brilliant writer's job simply to come up with one-liners every week for Scranton's resident crazy-man.
Angela and Oscar's pairing doesn't really say much we didn't already know, but the waterboarding scene is one of the episode's highlights. Angela's quiet malice has always been a smart place for the show to go. Then we get to Pete and Erin. I stand firmly in the camp that believes that Erin has been the saving grace of latter-day Office. Her character has been a consistent force for good, to the point that even when she veered into "unreasonably stupid" territory, the grounded nature of Ellie Kemper's performance has given us a consistent character to root for. She's been very funny, and more than that, she's been the heart of the show ever since Jim & Pam got boring and Michael Scott left. That heart began in her relationship with Andy, but then, inexplicably, they reverted him to the angry, callous man he used to be. Suddenly she has a new love interest, and who really cares? It's impossible to be invested in a "will they won't they" that began mere months ago, especially when just before that, we were all rooting heavily for Andy and Erin to be together. I still do not understand why the writers threw these wrenches in during the final season, rather than ending with Andy and Erin together. Instead, her and "new Jim" will end the show together, and it's difficult to see most people being satisfied.
But I'll stop talking about the end game, at least for now, because the show itself doesn't really seem to be addressing it. This week's episode had two stories that didn't work at all, but did tell one solid tale. At this point, as we count down the episodes left, and wait to see if the writers are ever going to become aware that the show is ending soon, that's enough.
- In case you haven't heard, Steve Carell is likely not returning for the show's series finale. I hope this is a misdirection, as in the information era it would be incredible for him to appear without us knowing. But their reasoning is sound, and I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see Michael Scott ever again.
- Creed: "Bald people make me sick"
- Erin, trying so hard to be nice: "You look like a baby who suddenly aged fifty years"
- Erin reminds of her troubled upbringing: "Between the fosters homes and the orphanage, I've had lice 22 time"
- A great pun: "I'm not gonna lie, lye!"
- Dwight once had the nickname "girl puncher". This isn't as shocking as it should be.
- Is Erin's face, when she realizes Meredith has lice, a gif yet? Because it needs to be.