Friday, April 30, 2010

The Office, "Body Language": Kiss me, stupid

A review of last night's "The Office" - and this week's bit of potentially huge "Office" news - coming up just as soon as I reanimate a bull...

The internet briefly freaked out earlier this week when a radio clip turned up of Steve Carell saying he intends to leave "The Office" when his contract ends. Everyone calmed down quickly once they realized two things: Carell's contract runs through next season, so we still have a while to go; and chances are high that over the next year, NBC will find a way to keep Carell around, whether that requires more money, a more flexible schedule that would have Michael largely absent from some episodes, or what have you.

Now, I think most of us are in agreement that this hasn't been a particularly strong season for "The Office," and that's led many of you to declare that the show needs to end soon. Even with the Carell situation, that ain't happening. "The Office" is one of NBC's few success stories, and its only real comedy hit (the other three Thursday sitcoms are largely being buoyed by its wake), and while a network's fortunes can change in a year, I have to believe the show is too valuable to let go. And I do think, as I've said before, that whatever problems there have been this year, the show can rebound, because I've seen it happen to great sitcoms that have had off years.

And in watching an underwhelming, Michael Scott-centric episode like "Body Language," I almost wonder if an arrangement where Carell isn't around as much might be beneficial.

Look, I love Steve Carell. Funny man, talented man, kind man, and the show would not exist without him. He's been at the center of most of the funniest moments and episodes of this show's history, as you'd expect from the leading man. But despite being at the center of the show, Michael has always been the character the writers have had the most trouble getting a handle on. Some weeks, he's the 8-year-old who never grew up. Some, he's got Asperger's. Some, he's just a normal guy who isn't as funny as he thinks he is.

The inconsistency, and the writers' tendency to fall into the trap of highlighting Michael's worst qualities (writers on "The Simpsons" fall prey to the same thing with Homer), can make me really dread Michael-centric episodes sometimes. "Body Language" wasn't nearly as bad as this season's "Mafia" - nor was Michael as idiotic in this one as he was there - but it was still a fairly uncomfortable, airless outing, one where nearly all the laughs could be found in the Dwight/Daryl/Kelly subplot.

Given the choice between more episodes like this or occasional episodes where Michael's on the road and Dunder-Mifflin has to get by without him, I think I might take the latter. That way, perhaps the Michael-heavy episodes might be more focused.

I know there can be a danger in trying to elevate supporting characters above the lead, but "The Office" has always been structured in an odd way, where Michael is the main character in terms of screen time and his importance to the plot, but where he's otherwise written like a supporting character while Jim and/or Pam are written as more traditional leads. So I think an "Office" with Carell's reduced participation might actually work, and perhaps work better than what we've gotten this season.

But again, that's a year away, at a minimum, and hopefully the series can rediscover some of its juice before then.

What did everybody else think?

48 comments:

Jerry said...

I actually thought that compared to last dozen or so episodes, this one was at least somewhat funny, if illogical and desperate. At least I laughed out loud a few times while watching it, so that's a plus. I still say the writing is the issue and the various writers seem to be out of interesting ideas since the Pam/Jim wedding, so maybe you're right that less of Michael could help. If they plan to make Kelly or Kelly/Ryan the "boss" to enhance the wackiness (not saying they are, but the way things are going it wouldn't surprise me) then I'll be checking out soon.

Anonymous said...

loved this episode actually, surprised you didn't

Bryan said...

this was funnier than it has been in a while BUT stalker Michael was a little over-creepy I thought. He wasn't as much endearing as scary and a bar manager would certainly be able to tell the difference.

stephen said...

100% Agree with your view on Michael. They need more moments like last week's episode that have his character more under control, than like this weeks. The theme of Michael screwing up the situation and having it all work out thanks to blind luck is getting old.

jasctt said...

Stopped watching this earlier in the season and don't miss it at all. I'd love for him to leave the show, causing it to end. especially if they would bring Amy Ryan back for the series end. let me know if hat happens.

Anonymous said...

"Stopped watching this earlier in the season and don't miss it at all."

Just enough to drive-by with a comment about the fact that you don't watch or miss the show, you mean.

Chrissy said...

I sort of liked this, although I wouldn't say it was particularly strong (except for Dwight's talking heads, which were really funny - "Why can't I ever be a puppet master and have it all work out?!?")

I think the reason it worked for me was that it was such a recognizable situation - not being sure if someone likes you. Michael's response is wacky, but the premise is incredibly mundane and something most people experience, so there's a level of empathy that doesn't exist for all of his storylines. I also enjoy whenever the whole office gets really into something, like deciding whether Hilary Swank is hot or whether Michael has a chance with Amy Pietz. She was certainly giving him some mixed messages.

However, I couldn't really figure out what her deal was in the parking lot - she just sat there all that time? And Michael never looked out the window longingly and noticed her bright red car? Not a plot hole, just kind of weird and hard to explain.

Glad to see not-Toby getting some more screen time - his brand of corporate enthusiasm tickles me. Kelly as an executive (like Julia Roberts!) has potential, I think. I've always enjoyed Kelly/Ryan plots, and kind of wondered what was up with them this year. Ryan's advice for the interview was classic as well, nice character bit.

Oh, since I know 30 Rock won't be getting a write-up, I have to say that while Community was my favorite of the Thursday night comedies last night, "It's a Vietnamese size 2" was the line of the night. I haven't laughed that hard at that show in a while.

Too Late said...

I've always liked The Office despite Michael Scott, not because of him, so I could do without him, depending on how it's done.

I prefer Michael when he's relatively normal, so I didn't love this episode. Beyond that, I'm still not buying that the bar-owner would be interested in Michael.

Also, what was Pam's obsession with putting dumb jokes into the sales pitch? Is she Michael, Jr.?

Anonymous said...

You summed it up perfectly Alan! Less Michael=more comedy.

stephen said...

Michael Scott reminds me of that kid from high school that everyone finds funny/hilarious at first. As time goes on however you find him to be less funny and more obnoxious/annoying, and you just wish he would grow up. So to me its although all the main characters have changed at least a little bit from the start, but Michael has not.

Kayvan said...

No post for this weeks Justified, Alan?

Kensington said...

I liked it, but I almost always find Amy Pietz delightful. If it hadn't been her, maybe I wouldn't have liked it so much.

Anonymous said...

I thought this episode was great. Sure, Michael was cringeworthy, but that's Michael, right? Great use of the entire cast, nobody seemed over the top or out of character. Felt like old school Office. And I enjoyed the Dwight/Kelly B-plot. This season has been pretty much hit or miss, but I thought they knocked it out of the park last night.

Bryan said...

No post for this weeks Justified, Alan

there was a post - it's down before the Happy Town review

LA said...

Add me to the chorus. I thought this was one of the funnier episodes this nearly comatose season.

I do agree that less Michael could actually turn out to be a very good thing. The bench is deep on this show, and of late, the supporting cast has been grossly under-used.

Anonymous said...

Kevin telling Oscar to shut up about moving the M&M's and Creed just mentioning pus, both very funny.

Anonymous said...

For the second episode in a row, my favorite moment came from Gabe. In an unrelated thought, Erin moved a little too close to Kenneth territory with this episode.

G1000 said...

I really enjoyed this one. I really don't know why so many people are seeing this has been a weak season. Apart from a lousy three episode stretch mid-season (beginning with "Koi Pond"), this has been a really entertaining season. This episode was no exception. Michael was hilariously creepy. Dwight was hysterical (loved him calling Oscar a "double minority"). And Creed's line had me in hysterics.

Also, it's about time that Michael got a new romantic interest. Hopefully they don't end this one as abruptly (and badly) as they did with Holly.

I do agree, though, that this show could possibly move on without Carrell. Kelly and Ryan being put in charge: that could be great.

Note: One thing I didn't care for was that the whole Erin-Andy fiasco seemed to have been forgotten. What happened there?

Anonymous said...

I was so excited at the end of the episode when Michael still had the hair clip in his hands. I thought they might actually start putting us inside of Michael's delusional thoughts and the kiss never happened. I find myself less and less compelled to bother with this show, but if they decided to start throwing some curveballs and making it depressingly real like the British version I'd be singing its praises in the streets. You know, just a little seed in this episode... maybe a few at the beginning of next season, and then the the show ends with season 7 and Michael has slipped deep into mental illness. Sure would be an interesting way to end a show that seems to be ending with a sputter.

Fidelity Castro said...

Kelly/Ryan moments have been my absolute favorite of this season, as sparse as they are. Ryan has never been a character I wanted to see more of on his on, but together those two have a great dynamic. Besides, more office politics and less romance is exactly what this show needs. The endless attempts to find another romantic interest for Andy/Michael to compensate for the loss of the Jim/Pam story line is painful to watch. All in all, though, the last two episodes have been great and made me reconsider whether or not they should end the show after this season.

tribalism said...

Definitely way better than last week's "Secretary Day". I would love to see Kelly as boss of The Office one day. I can only imagine how Angelo would deal with that development.

Even though Michael's storyline seemed to be a retread of a lot of his other hang-ups, he and Donna definitely have chemistry...you know, when Michael wasn't forcing himself on her. Yikes. The mint-hand gag was still funny, though.

You can find the rest of my thoughts on my blog where I provide my favourite lines, favourite exchanges, and favourite visual gags. Click my username for the link.

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering this for a while now, but what exactly is Ryan's job now?

BigTed said...

I also found this episode fairly funny. While Michael was cringeworthy, I enjoyed everyone else's reactions to his situation. (And Pam and Jim really have turned out to be a great team, especially when we see their differing perspectives on things.)

Unfortunately, there was an awful lot of behavior that wasn't exactly crazy, just illogical. Why does a restaurant manager need a lot of fancy printers? Why was Michael trying to kiss her in the office (terrible business behavior even if she does like him), instead of just asking her out? If Darryl isn't an executive and isn't working in the warehouse anymore, what exactly is his job?

The whole point of this show is to provide an exaggerated version of what office life is really like -- which means it has to make sense.

aimee said...

Perhaps it was because I watched this right after my Spanish class last night, but I thought the cold open with Michael trying to learn Spanish was hilarious. I agree, though, about the Michael-centric episodes. In particular, I dislike stories that make him seem TOO buffoonish. I prefer the ones (like Safety Training, for example) that allow Carell to play to what I feel is his true strength, showing us the vulnerable side of a guy who's overcompensating. That's what made him great in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and it's what drives his best episodes of The Office, too.

Schmoker said...

Honestly, the only characters the Office cannot afford to lose are Jim and Pam. Without them to ground things, the show would go completely off the rails (although it would probably still be funny, just not classic funny). Carell is a gigantic talent, but Michael Scott is really no longer crucial to the show.

But end The Office? Are people crazy? With so few funny shows on television, why is a less than perfect Office still not eminently worth watching? I'll take this show at this level for as long as they want to air it. It's not as classic as some other seasons, but it's still laugh out loud funny each and ever week. It's just that some weeks have more of those moments than others.

But this season has still produced some classic moments, from the wedding to Michael's romance of Pam's mom (and Pam's freaking out about it) to the birth of Pam's baby, which was at least half a classic episode, and then half of a very funny episode.

leez34 said...

I'm going to have to join the majority of voices on here that liked this episode a lot.

And I wouldn't watch the show without Michael.

Nicole said...

While I think that the show can have episodes that don't focus on Michael and still be funny, I think that the Office is starting to reach its natural end point and really should stop by the end of next season. US networks tend to take good shows and push them well beyond their expiry dates, with the last few seasons being pale imitations of the show at its prime. The Office has already been on a downward turn for the past year or so, and while there are good episodes, it is not as consistently funny as it once was.

J said...

I'd been wondering what the cast of Caroline in the City has been up to. Thanks, NBC's The Office!

dickey simpkins said...

Carell is obviously the star that drives the show, but could the show take a "Scrubs MD" approach that tries to integrate some new cast members to mesh with the supporting actors? Michael Scott gets his transfer to be with Holly, Jim and Pam move to New York, and we see some new blood. NBC would probably be crazy to alter one of their few hits, but I'd love to see a new direction for the show.

Ryan said...

Great episode that may hinge on whether you like the character of Michael Scott. I love him, so I really enjoyed this episode. Plus, even if you aren't a Scott fan, there were some strong performances from the supporting characters like Kelly, Dwight, Gabe, even some laugh out loud lines from Phyllis, Oscar, and Creed. Overall, I thought the writing seemed sharper than usual with some really funny bits inserted throughout the episode.

Tyroc said...

Funny episode!

Media Mindset said...

It was a better episode that a lot of this season. Has some funny moments, but something is lacking still.

As for the end of the office possibility...I don't mind, it would be 7 seasons by the time SC exits, if he does, so that's a good run for sure. It's maybe running out of steam anyway.

Anonymous said...

can we relax a bit? losing carrel isnt like losing ted danson from cheers or kg from frasier

DolphinFan said...

Anonymous re: Ryan's job

Ryan's still a temp worker, meaning he pretty much does now what he did in Seasons 1 and 2--help Michael with his stupid hobbies (like the photographs in the Donna-seduction-attempt montage), complete menial tasks (or as we saw in Shareholder's Meeting, NOT complete them), and generally have no specific tasks so that they can hide the character while B.J. Novak wears his many production/writing/directing hats.
For the episode itself, the Michael story didn't work except for Pam's take on it (and JF nailed the "Ms. Boob Shirt!" line) and the Dwight failed puppet-master story worked because it's nice to be reminded that Dwight is just like Michael in a way: great at sales, terrible at anything involving advanced thinking and leadership. The Dwight we know would never have come thisclose to setting up Jim to get fired, and it's good to see that Dwight return.
One minor brow-raiser, though: people in the office are actually afraid of KELLY? Seriously? More than Angela, Phyllis or even Meredith, all of whom come across as a lot more scary/sociopathic than Kelly does? Maybe the idea is that Kelly's sabotage of Jim and Dwight last year is known by the office now. Works for me.

Col Bat Guano said...

I thought this was one of the strongest episodes of the season. Michael was a bit over the top, but the stakes were so low it was much less painful to watch than say Scott's Tots or Mafia. I also liked that gave Jim and Pam a chance to play off of each other. Since the wedding they have struggled to give them moments that didn't seem strained.

Matt Maul said...

I read an article last year which reported that The Office WAS going to end soon.

'The Office' Ends As Documentary Crew Gets All The Footage It Needs

(couldn't resist)

Tony said...

Alan,

Did you decide to stop posting on 30Rock? Or are you officially at Hitfix now?

Wade Kwon said...

To add to Dickey's suggestion ...

I've long believed that if the Office or Carrell needed an out, Michael Scott could be promoted to corporate, and let Andy become the new branch manager.

Andy, toned down a notch, could bring his own awkward sensibility and mismanagement to running Dunder Mifflin. He wouldn't have to be the focus of every ep, but he makes the logical choice in extending the show a few more seasons.

Anonymous said...

Tony, here you go.

Scott Hollifield said...

I'm late to the party as usual but as far as the differing opinions on Michael's creepy-factor, I for one am proud to carry the banner for Team Cringe. Yes, I do also appreciate those episodes and moments that show Michael has a human or compassionate side, but to me frequently the show is at its funniest when the envelope is pushed and Michael is doing something that makes you want to shout at the TV or cover your eyes. That element is like a spice that makes the show even zestier to me even if it may be a little much for some tastes. Moreover, it's what gives Michael's character its edginess; I would hate to see the writers smooth over his rough edges and make him always sympathetic because I saw how that destroyed the characters of Archie Bunker, Hawkeye Pierce and Arthur Fonzerelli. I would probably still watch a Michael-less Office since the show has such a strong ensemble and identifiable style, but it would be a lesser Office indeed nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

This came from a recent interview with Steve Carell.

With all these film opportunities that have come your way, have you given yourself a time limit on how long you’ll continue doing The Office?

I have at least a couple more seasons in me.

Anonymous said...

I usually post here under a handle but this I will have to say anonymously-- Over the years, I have actually developed a thing for Micheal. I used to wonder what any woman/character would ever see in him but now I have this thing. I find him weirdly attractive. I know it's crazy. He's such a weird ridiculous guy. I love to watch him dance. I love him in his suits. THIS IS NOT A JOKE! I have a thing for him. Any other women share my thing?

Anonymous said...

I got into The Office despite Carell, in fact for the first two seasons whenever I rewatched an episode I'd sometimes fastforward through his sections.

He's often the least funny thing on the show. Ideally I'd like to see them try a season with Dwight as manager or if there was some way they could get Ricky Gervais to bring Brent on board, that would work.

Having said all that, I'm 95% sure Carell was simply negotiating in public and has no intention of leaving if the network pays him more.

Anonymous said...

I didn't like this episode, nor have I ever liked episodes in which the writers fail to tone Michael down. That said, I can't imagine the show without Steve Carrell - the other characters are great, but a lot of their personality traits are only good in doses. I can't imagine tuning in week after week to see a show that focused more extensively on Ryan, Phyllis, Kelly, Creed, Oscar or Meredith.

On the other hand, one character I'd love to do without is Dwight. His character has gone through such a rapid change from nerdy, irritating kiss-ass to evil, outspoken egomaniac. I feel like Rainn Wilson, great as he once was, took control of Dwight through improvisation and the writers then played to his 'strengths'. Whatever the case might be, I can't stand watching any of his subplots this season.

rhys said...

Please for the love of God get rid of the Michael character. The over-the-top cartoon type character he is constantly made into just does not work for a relatively forward thinking comedy like the Office. It has nothing to do with Steve Carell. He sells whatever nonsense the writers throw at him. But they've painted the character into a corner. Maybe if they brought in a real long term love interest who then in turn is able to reign him in to some degree, it would work. But as it is the character completely detracts from the rest of the show. Every scene with Michael was painful to get through, while the scenes without Michael were hilarious. I just hope Steve Carell leaves simply because he wants to move on creatively.

Question Mark said...

The tone of the show has gradually shifted from 'your average office environment except with a crazy boss' to 'a crazy office where everyone is goofy,' so maybe if they had to replace Carell, the next step would be a Newsradio-esque 'normal boss has to deal with crazy employees' scenario? I guess the logical idea would be to have Jim be the normal boss in this scenario, but the Jim-as-manager idea has already been explored enough on the show itself. Pam-as-manager would be too much of the same thing. Andy-as-manager would be too similar to Michael, plus Ed Helms is busy with movie roles too.

I have no doubt that a Scott-less Office would be funny, but it would be so different that I could hardly imagine the right boss to really make it seem fresh rather than just a case of a show that's continuing because the network wants it to. Man, Greg Daniels had it a lot easier in cartoons; Hank Hill or Homer Simpson never considered leaving for the movies.

"Ideally I'd like to see them try a season with Dwight as manager or if there was some way they could get Ricky Gervais to bring Brent on board, that would work."

Gervais might be busier with movies than Carell is, but oh man, David Brent in Scranton would be epic.

DC said...

This episode is why I prefer the awkwardness of the British Office to the US version. Had this been an episode with David Brent, he would have never gotten the girl and the intense awkwardness created in his futile pursuit would have been enough to drive the episode.

Love the Office still...but its at best the 3rd best show on NBC Thursday nights this year.

Kelli said...

BigTed, I was right there with you wondering why in the world Michael had to kiss the poor girl instead of just asking her out.
Over-the-top Michael is hard for me to watch sometimes.