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The Office

The Office is a comedy set in a paper sales company Dunder Mifflin. Shot in a mockumentary style the show follows the exploits of regional manager Michael Scott whose excruciating behaviour can make life difficult for his fellow employees. NBC 2005-???

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Episode 23 - Broke

30 July 2009

Synopsis: The Michael Scott Paper Company are having to make their own deliveries each morning at 5am. Their accountant tells them that although they have won over clients with their cheap prices, they will eventually go broke. David Wallace arrives to meet with Charles, Jim and Dwight to discuss their options over getting their clients back. Dwight begins to reveal his true colours to Charles and Jim is sent to offer Michael a buy out. Jim manages to hide the information that MSPC are broke and Michael demands that he, Ryan and Pam get rehired by Dunder Mifflin. Then he asks for Charles to leave too.

The Good: This is happy ending, status quo restoring television of a very high quality. The Office is the epitome of modern sit coms. You can take away the studio audience and you can take away the fixed cameras setup. You can make the show look as close to real life as possible. But in the end this couldn’t be more like a traditional sit com if it tried. At the end of the episode everyone is back in the position they were in season one (with one or two minor promotions). Fortunately for The Office, that classic sit com structure still works and they deliver their own take on it in a really satisfying way.

At the core of why this works is making the characters seem plausible. Why is Michael a success when he is by Pam’s analysis still a child? You get your answer here. “Our company is worth nothing. That’s the difference between you and I. Business isn’t about money to me, David. If tomorrow my company goes under, I will just start another paper company and then another and another and another.” It’s Michael’s unbending spirit which makes him so valuable. Unlike so many people, probably David Wallace included, Michael actually loves the work he does. We know he sees his employees as his family and a lot of the enjoyment he gets out of it comes at the expense of others happiness. But his desire to work and succeed has brought him a long way.

It’s why he is up at 5am cracking jokes while Pam and Ryan are sleepy and miserable. For them it is just work, for him it is something more important. Thanks to this job he is able to live out scenes from movies in his real life. He is able to grandstand in his own office, standing up to his former bosses and declare dramatically “How the turntables...” He may not have the wit to pull it off but he is just happy to be valued and in a position of leadership interacting with people in a way which makes him feel good about himself. It’s a huge credit to the writers that they have slowly turned Michael into the hero of the show.

The other “hero” here is Jim who manages to get the best result for the people he cares about. Jim actually costs his company a lot of money but makes his friends lives better. It’s an interesting message to send and says something about how we as a society view working for big companies.

Jim’s story is very satisfying because the antagonism with Charles has been built steadily for five episodes. Now finally Dwight shows his true colours and Charles is stranded by his own bad judgement. Jim’s ambush of Dwight (questioning his detective skills) was amazingly plausible at blocking the damaging revelations about the MSPC’s true financial position. It’s another win for the writers of The Office that Dwight has been so consistently written. It seemed completely believable that he would abandon his conversation with Charles once his own skills were called into question.

The big happy ending moments were Jim and Michael smiling. Jim’s smile was beautifully shot and after exposing his weaknesses for a while, it seemed to return him to his original role in the show. Jim has always played the last sane man on The Office. The one who could see through the neuroses and stupidity of others and here he managed to manipulate everyone in both offices to get what he knew would be the best outcome. Michael on the other hand got to have another movie moment by denying Charles a send-off, just as Charles had denied him one (519). Then Michael turned to the film crew, his captive audience and posed with “his” office returned to him.

This episode wasn’t light on jokes in a bad way. The plot was more important than the humour. But we still got some good jokes. In addition to his turntables line, Michael tries to show his unstinting will to David Wallace by pointing out he has no shortage of new company names. A classic Michael misunderstanding of what is important. He also said “Our balls are in your court” which was a nice cheap laugh. Dwight too was his outspoken self (see Comic Highlight), trying to resume his lieutenant role (that he had with Michael) next to Charles. “Been there, done that” he says cockily (referring to Angela) to a bemused looking Charles.

There were just so many other nice touches here too. The logic of why the MSPC were able to get clients and why that would bankrupt them made sense. It made sense that they would do their own deliveries to keep costs down. It was nice to see Ryan twice acknowledge his substance abuse issues (411) as they haven’t been mentioned much since he returned. Dwight and Charles were both wearing white shirts while Jim happened to be wearing blue, the same as David Wallace. Pam blaming herself for Michael’s mistakes seems true to her character. I liked the fact that when Jim comes to offer Michael a buy out, Michael is ready to admit that they are broke. Again it goes to how well he is written as a character. Michael doesn’t even think about what this revelation might do for his business. Jim is Michael’s friend and Michael is feeling down and wants to talk about his feelings. It’s simple but so effective at telling a story. Michael being terrified that he would let that information slip to Charles and David was fun and very believable as a result.

The Bad: The Korean church joke didn’t work for me. It’s a classic case of a good joke which isn’t thought through properly. The first lady who approached it could see that the van was packed full of paper. How exactly would she have been able to get in even if she couldn’t figure out that it wasn’t the bus to church? The second lady getting in and no one at the MSPC stopping her was too out there. When you write something like that you make the audience ask too many questions about what was going to happen next. If Pam had asked her where she wanted to go I might have let it go. I think the joke would have been fine if it were only the final shot of a woman sitting alone in the van. That would have seemed believable and been long enough since the van’s origins had been explained to catch you unawares.

Pam and Jim kissing on the cheek just seems too little affection for them.

Comic Highlight: David Wallace naturally wants Jim to come in to meet with him and Charles to discuss the problem. But Charles wants Dwight and not Jim. They compromise and invite them both in but Charles makes it clear who he values. Dwight is very smug about that and says to Jim – “Come along, afterthought.”

That’s what I said: One of the selling points of The Office was meant to be that it wasn’t like a traditional sit com. I have always believed that it was its most successful when taking the traditional sit com formula and putting its own spin on it. That’s what this is. The humour comes from well established characters rubbing up against one another. We as an audience can see the whole picture and laugh at the misunderstandings and lies which go back and forth. In the end we all go home happy because all our beloved characters will be back next week in their familiar settings. The Office currently does this better than any other show on television. Long may it continue.

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