Episode 24 - Casual Friday
30 July 2009
Synopsis: Michael is looking for an apology from his staff for not supporting him when he left Dunder Mifflin. But they want their clients back from Ryan and Pam. Michael sees that he was wrong and has to choose one of them to keep on in sales. Meanwhile it is casual Friday and Toby struggles to deal with the inappropriate choices people make.
The Good: The problems of reintegrating the Michael Scott Paper Company into Dunder Mifflin are entirely plausible. Michael of course thinks only of himself and is still bitter about the lack of support he received when he walked out. Where as Phyllis makes the excellent point that although Michael thought he was taking on David and Charles it was his former sales team whose clients he stole. In fact when she brings up the fact that Michael used to call them family he realises he was wrong. We don’t often see that and it’s a good reminder of the way Michael sees the world of the office. By the end of the episode he is back to indulging in his favourite pass time (as he did in the pilot episode) of fake firing people. Practical jokes might be funny with your family but not with your employees. Michael’s character is clear and consistent.
Along the way we have some fun with Dwight leading a rebellion against Michael and getting wrapped up in the espionage as you would expect. “Do not ask me where I got the invisible ink” he tells the camera crew, “Urine! It was urine.” Despite everyone ignoring his coded message the first time he is back once more writing in invisible ink later, refusing to be anything but professional in his secret dealings. I also enjoyed the suggestible Andy taking the memo (with the invisible message on) seriously and rearranging all his files in reverse alphabetical order. Michael turning the tables on his sales team was fun too. They lie about having been out for lunch so he proceeds to eat their packed lunches in front of them to horrified looks, particularly from Stanley. Dwight not knowing Stanley’s last name also made for a neat joke when he tried to suggest that the sales team would break away and form their own paper company.
I felt a little sympathy for Ryan, despite his scheming behaviour. He gave up thousands of dollars (last episode) for a job at Dunder Mifflin and now he may have nothing.
The Bad: I felt the Casual Friday story and most attempts at humour using the other characters failed because of poorly defined characters.
The debates surrounding Casual Friday seemed pretty artificial and weren’t developed very well. Practically all the men in the office were dressed very appropriately and most of the women too. Even Kelly’s J-Lo outfit covered her fully so was hardly inappropriate enough to support Toby’s claim that “there’s not a single appropriate outfit...except mine.” The outrage this causes is more surprising than anything else. There hadn’t been much evidence during the episode that the employees were clambering for it, so their sudden protests seemed strange. And are we supposed to conclude that Toby is being boring or narrow minded? Or is he right and dealing with arguments between co-workers in the simplest way possible? Toby plays his role really well, he looks very believable as the sad sack HR rep. But who is he really? He claims he was in a seminary (training to be a Priest perhaps) before dropping out because he wanted to have sex with a girl. It seemed like too crude an admission for a man who couldn’t even summon the courage to tell Michael to stick it when he quit (414). With clearer definition of who he is and what he stands for Toby could be much more effective. When he has been he has produced some outstanding moments of television (see 309 and 408).
Similarly lacking in definition is Creed. Here he is exposed for talking nonsense. He actually claims he doesn’t know why he said the things he did which made no sense. Again this undermines what makes him funny. Someone who just says random things isn’t funny. In real life those people worry you, they don’t amuse you. What is funny is when Creed has a clear and well defined moral compass which happens to be pointing in the opposite direction to everyone else. Otherwise he might as well just talk gibberish.
I still think Phyllis needs better definition too. When she plays the flustered and hurt employee calling out Michael, I buy into what she is doing. When she suddenly turns on Pam I don’t buy it. Yes she has shown signs of being sharp in the past, but when she was feuding with Angela I still commented that her sharp side wasn’t properly integrated into her character. I still don’t think it is. She is meek one day and harsh the next.
As for Meredith and Kevin, they both get big set piece jokes, Kevin with his chili and Meredith without much on. Both jokes immediately telegraph why they are supposed to be funny and so lose much of their humour. There’s nothing wrong with either joke, but by having both in the same episode it made me feel the writers knew there weren’t enough laughs present and so tried to throw in some crowd pleasers.
Comic Highlight: I haven’t yet got tired of Jim playing with Michael’s inability to understand sarcasm:
M: “I need your help. This whole Pam Ryan debate is screwing with my head.”
J: “Well I don’t want to be biased but I am very close to Ryan. You know that.”
M: “You’re close with Pam too.”
That’s what I said: The main story made a lot of sense. But the smaller characters need better definition to help carry the show when there isn’t a major plot development going on.
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