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The Office recap: Casual Friday

May
1

The Office is really on a roll, such that you have to wonder where this wellspring of creativity comes from so late in the game.

That’s not a knock on the show and what roads it’s been down the last few years. Well, OK, it is a little. But while the show has been very good, often even great, for a long while, it hasn’t been transcendent for some time — just about three full seasons, actually.

But an episode like “Casual Friday” or recent installments like “Prince Family Paper,” “Broke” or “Michael Scott Paper Company” have revived a dormant vibe that made 22 minutes of Dunder Mifflin more than the sum of its eclectic, bizarre and sometimes all-too real parts.

I’m not even saying this was a great episode. But it did have a great feel to it.

I can’t put words to the feel, but I can talk about one thing the writers did that they so frustratingly wouldn’t always seem to do for a while. For starters they address issues before they become nagging questions.

Resentment for Pam and Ryan was inevitable. They stole their clients fair and square, but that couldn’t wash following this latest merger. The thing is, it wasn’t immediatley clear who was right or wrong. You could feel for Michael’s grudge at the troops that wouldn’t follow him into the breach. Eventually, though, you had to feel for the scorned sales team —   his family, as Phyllis pointed out, on whom he turned .

She’s really cutting to the quick lately, no? I suspect, perhaps unfairly, that as recently as earlier this season, the entire question of those clients would have been dropped faster than a summer program at Pratt. But it’s the kind of mundane but real question that would fester in any real office and ought to be fodder for a show like this.

From the understated cold open of poor, poor Kevin staying up all night to slice and dice his onions and garlic, only to take a chili slip-and-slide across the carpet, this episode oozed vibe.

And intertwined throughout the episode were glimpses of Toby we’d never caught before, including a single talking head that revealed how he came to be a divorced Scranton-ite HR pro instead of a man of the cloth. Excellent visual too.

“Well I was in the seminary for a year and dropped out because I wanted to have sex with this girl Kathy. Followed her back to Scranton, took the first job I could find in HR. Later she divorced me. So no I wouldn’t say I have a passion for HR.”

Mostly, though, this was an episode in which a ton of stuff happened. Not all or even most of it was crucial, but it had a kind of mosaic effect for me. From Dwight’s urine messages and Meredith’s scantily clad idea of casual wear to Phyllis comparing Pam to a trout — Shut up, Phyllis — and Michael fake-firing Pam and Erin stolen Post-it-style, this was a bit of a whirlwind. And somehow it all worked.

30 Rock always had that balance in its first two seasons, and it’s got to be tough to hit those notes without leaving the viewer feeling punchy. Instead it was, I don’t know, slightly suspenseful? No, maybe more a little edgy, uncertain.

Putting the crew back together seemed to easy, which of course lends to an expectation of a clash, and we got that, a mutiny, actually.

Dwight predictably led the charge, but Stanley and Phyllis fueled the fire. I was surprised they even let Jim in on the discussions, but it made for some funny Pam-bashing, which is only funny when it’s to Jim’s face, as again when Michael veered in that driection near the end. I didn’t expect Jim to chime in, though. Shrill, huh?

The secret meeting was nicely paced with the laughs. A strongly worded letter? No. A strongly painted picture? No. What’s like taking a hostage? And along comes Meredith, fairly thinking it might be a dogfight. I do wonder what her social life is like.

Anyway,  it’s on like a prawn who yawns at dawn. Andy had a few good lines like that. He gives it to Toby, in fact, calling him an amorphous blob of kakhi, which is kind of rough. But Toby finds the stones to stand up for himself to the group. That was certainly refreshing.

The mutiny was a very clever twist in that it put it to Michael what it would be like to have your disgruntled underlings threaten to walk out and start up some competition. Doesn’t feel good, I bet. Still, I didn’t see the Schrute-Bernard-Lapin-Vance…-Stanley? Paper Co. coming?

In the end, the whole episode was about addressing that rift rather than ignoring it, which was a bold choice.

A few random observations:

  • Did Michael say he’d ruined all other men for everyone?
  • Dwight’s idea of casual? No tie.
  • Pam and Phyllis dressing alike was weird. Was it a subtle nod to Phyllis’s Pam-designed wedding?
  • Angela flipping over Oscar’s sandaled feet reminded me of Oscar’s rant about the jazz babies poster.
  • Dwight was using Ryan’s mug, the star mug with the picture, to hold the urine for his secret notes.
  • When Ryan told Michael there was a mutiny, he said it was “against you…us.”
  • Michael is not to be truffled with. He needs to crack skulls Chiklis-style. Shield, not Commish.
  • What was with Creed and Jim. Is Jim seeing his future?
  • Darryl: “What’d I tell you about building forts in my warehouse?”
  • Ryan and Pam have developed a rapport. That is not something I expected.
  • I wasn’t sure Michael was really promoting Pam or firing her until after the scene was over.
  • Does Pam have a follow-through problem? I think she might, or at least the writers who write her do.
  • Michael: “Well, there’s no easy way of saying this so I will just drag it out.”
  • This wasn’t a dopey Casual Friday episode like the summary suggested.

This entry was posted on Friday, May 1st, 2009 at 11:52 pm by Brian Howard. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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