(Image courtesy NBC)
âThe Deposition,â last nightâs episode of âThe Officeâ on NBC, marks the last new episode of the show âin the canâ since the writers' strike began Nov. 5. Thereâs no telling when the showâs fourth season will return if the writers' strike drags on for months, and NBC has just suspended the actors on half-pay.
Lots of talk about shark-jumping have accompanied the new season, particularly when âThe Officeâ began with four hour-long episodes, a decision roundly criticized. The real problem came not from the admittedly unwieldy length, but the creatorsâ decisions in shaking up its formula. For three seasons, the sitcom focused mostly on the maddening minutia of the workplace, enlivened by the clueless behavior of needy boss Michael Scott and fascist geek Dwight Schrute (Steve Carell and the brilliant Rainn Wilson). The unrequited love between Jim and Pam (John Krasinksi and Jenna Fischer) provided a crucial, bittersweet counterpoint. At its best, "The Office" is my favorite television comedy, with its second and third seasons at times improving on the terrific original British show.
âThe Officeâ ended its third season by getting Jim and Pam together, although itâs always a risky move for an episodic show to give in to romantic tension (as âCheers,â âMoonlightingâ and âNorthern Exposureâ can attest). With Jim and Pam doing just fine, the showâs focus shifted to the breakup of oddball secret lovers Dwight and prim Angela (Angela Kinsey) and Michaelâs even more outlandish, idiotic behavior, which have included hitting an employee with his car, kidnapping a pizza delivery boy, driving a car into a lake, getting lost in the woods, nearly running away on a freight train and humiliating himself during the lawsuit deposition of his girlfriend/ex-boss Jan (Melora Hardin). How dumb is too dumb?
Meanwhile, âThe Officeâ promoted put-upon temp Ryan (producer B.J. Novak) to be Janâs replacement and Michaelâs new boss. The justification proved extremely tenuous, relying on paper company Dunder-Mifflinâs 21st-century makeover, driven by a website dubbed âDunder-Mifflin Infinity.â Having Ryan turn into bullying, cocky New York executive isnât particularly funny, and probably wonât be until he has a long fall.
Michael clinging to the antiquated, low-tech ways provides plenty of comedic grist while mirroring real-life trends you might find in, say, journalism (to chose an example completely at random). This seasonâs highlight found Dwight âchallengingâ the website to see who could make the most sales in a single day (complicated by Jimâs prank to convince Dwight that the computer had become sentient). It resembled a modern-day goof on the tall tale of John Henry vs. the steam drill, and would fit with the hilarious "Dwight Schrute" action hero montage. (Incidentally, you can glimpse former Atlantan Lance Krall in the background of some shots as the head of Dwight's dojo.)
â30 Rockâ has now become the funniest show on NBCâs Thursdays, although âThe Officeâ has still got game. Last night Mindy Kaling proved that sheâs the showâs most underused comedic resource when she made the distinction between talking âsmackâ and talking âtrash.â (Apparently trash-talk involves insults that are not literally possible, like âYour mommaâs so fat, she could eat the Internet.â) Ed Helms, another former Atlantan, has spent too much time on the sidelines as well.
And at times, âThe Officeâ can hit home with the daring notion that Michael Scott is not a complete idiot, despite his self-inflicted disasters. Novak wrote the charming âLocal Adâ episode in which Michael created a TV commercial for Dunder-Mifflin. While being something of a clumsy, clichÃ©d ego trip, the spot also proved oddly charming. If and when the show takes up its fourth season, it shouldnât neglect to include moments like this:
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