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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 11 - Duel

23 January 2009

Synopsis: David Wallace calls Michael to New York to ask why his branch is so successful. As he leaves he tells Andy that Dwight has been sleeping with Angela. Andy and Dwight agree to a duel in the parking lot. Angela agrees to be with the winner. Andy runs Dwight into the hedge with his car but they soon realise that Angela has treated them both very poorly. She ends up losing them both.

The Good: I give the writers a lot of credit for this story. I haven’t been a fan of this love triangle because all those involved were unlikeable, unsympathetic characters. But here they decide to shift all the blame onto the least likeable (Angela) and dredge an appropriate amount of sympathy for the two guys who she lied to. That final scene where they both “disown” her publicly feels about as close to justice as this story would reach.

During the episode she was particularly manipulative and mean. “Would I have said yes to formal chrysanthemums if I didn’t want to get married?” she asks Andy, trying to avoid any admission of guilt. Then she tries to fool him into avoiding the issue “We can either give in to what people are saying…or we can prove them wrong, let’s prove them wrong!” Then when the duel is set she is so happy to be fought over by two men that she clearly doesn’t care about their feelings as much as her own vanity.

Several nice moments flow from this such as Oscar’s look of horror at the news his desk was “used” by Angela and Dwight. Dwight leaping into a defensive pose whenever Andy might have discovered the news is funny and believable. I enjoyed his attempt to convince Jim to switch places “I’ve got a better angle on Pam, I can see everything!”

This season has been particularly good for Michael. More and more he is showing off the kinder and more responsible side of himself. He was spot on in wanting to tell Andy the truth (even if he chose to do it in a cowardly way). Someone had to because it was cruel that no one had replied to his wedding invitations and wouldn’t tell him why. This episode continues an underlying theme of the show which is that Jim is not just a laid back slacker but also a bit of a coward. His decision not to tell Andy and his refusal to stop Andy and Dwight fighting is consistent with his non-confrontational personality (see The Bad for more though).

Michael’s meeting with David Wallace produces the best joke of the episode (see Comic Highlight) but more than that it opens up an intriguing idea (see The Bad). The idea that Scranton is outperforming other branches needs exploring but seeing David being patient with a rambling Michael is always fun. David is ideal as the understanding corporate boss and Michael is always prepared with a confused but well meaning statement “I am so impressed with the potential you see in me.”

The opening joke with the speed gun is such a clever and creative idea. Michael is so believably desperate for status that I buy into him believing the car’s speed was his. His desperation to succeed and sheer glee at his new time convinced me that a stupid joke could be real. Now that’s good comedy.

The Bad: I’m still not convinced that the producers want Jim to appear as cowardly and negative as he sometimes comes across. His claim that Andy won’t realise Angela is cheating on him until “his kids have giant heads and beet stained teeth” underlines the cruel aspect of his silence. Andy is spending his money on his wedding and planning and looking forward to it. And Jim does nothing. He tells Michael it’s not the boss’ place to tell Andy but then whose place is it Jim? Really it should have been Oscar (after bonding with Andy in 507) but Jim or Pam should have stepped up by now. When Jim shrugs and lets Andy and Dwight fight he also looks like a bad boss. They may be on their break but their behaviour is disruptive, potentially dangerous and on company property.

There is also an aspect to the Dwight and Andy confrontation which hits the wrong tone. Their childish arguing back and forth tries to rinse some humour out of a situation which is actually very serious. Both act their roles so well that in the end, even as they play absurd sounding characters, they manage to show us genuine looking emotion at Angela’s betrayal. The end is a relief after their silly trash talk which bordered on making a farce of their real feelings.

The idea that Scranton is outperforming other branches is a story which should get its own episode. Throughout the show’s history it has been clear that Dunder Mifflin is a company in decline. So why has Michael managed to keep his branch working well. There are so many possibilities for an episode like that which could highlight why Michael is a good boss or perhaps how his great sales team compensates for his silly leadership or maybe that Scranton companies are loyal for some random reason and Michael is just lucky. The idea could be crucial to explaining why the office is able to function despite all the craziness which goes on within it. It feels like a wasted opportunity.

The jokes written for Meredith’s character make her look so pathetic that it rather strains the suspension of disbelief. Two episodes ago Dwight married Angela secretly and there has been no fallout from that at all. It seemed serious enough to turn her off him but clearly not.

Where was Toby during all the fighting? Surely as HR rep he should have stepped in and done something. His absence should have been explained.

Comic Highlight: Michael is so happy to have good news from David Wallace that he launches into an explanation of why his branch is successful “David here it is. My philosophy is basically this and this is something that I live by and I always have and I always will. Don’t ever…for any reason do anything to anyone for any reason, ever, no matter what. No matter where…or who or who you were with or or where you were going or where you’ve been…ever, for any reason whatsoever.” The shot cuts away to Michael explaining that sometimes he doesn’t know where he is going with a sentence and hopes it will come to him as he talks. For long term fans that explanation wasn’t even needed. As soon as Michael began to ramble I laughed because he plays his role so well and it’s so consistent for Michael to become flummoxed by the compliment and launch off without thinking through what he wanted to say.

That’s what I said: It’s more impressive stuff from the writers of The Office as they negotiate their way out of a bad storyline to an appropriate finish. That takes some skill and some good actors.

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