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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 10 - Moroccan Christmas

29 March 2012

Synopsis: Phyllis bosses Angela around to make her Moroccan themed Christmas party the best ever. When Angela has had enough she calls Phyllis’ bluff and exposes Angela’s infidelity to the whole office (but Andy doesn’t know). Dwight buys up the most popular Christmas doll and sells it on for profit to desperate fathers. Meredith sets her hair on fire after drinking too much and Michael decides to stage an intervention. When he doesn’t get the support he would like from the rest of the office he drags her to a rehab clinic himself.

The Good: Dwight’s exploitation of parents for profit is a clever idea. It fits his ruthless streak and allows for some nice jokes (see Comic Highlight). Toby ends up begging Darryl for his doll and is overjoyed when he agrees to sell him it. Then when he sees it is a black doll his enthusiasm drains away. It is a very clever joke because it goes beyond the usual easy racial humour. For a little girl, it will be difficult to understand why her doll doesn’t look like her, especially when she (presumably) has seen the doll advertised as white. So the joke is that much more sophisticated than the average “white guilt” gag.

The revelation that Angela has been sleeping with Dwight is a big plot development which viewers will have been anticipating. Having the whole office discover at once is an interesting choice, as opposed to having individuals discover one by one. Dwight’s proud reaction to the news is amusing and entirely befitting. He says “Don’t look so surprised” but did many of the others know that he and Angela were ever an item? Outside of Jim and Pam everyone is ignorant of that fact, so they should be surprised. The writers should pick up on that plot point. In fact owing to their recent bonding (507) it would be nice if Oscar told Andy the truth.

The Bad: Michael’s intervention is a strange story. The tone really lacks any comedy at all. In fact for once Michael looks like he is probably doing the right thing. Usually his interference in people’s lives is entirely misguided but here he is trying to help Meredith. We have seen her get drunk so many times that we assume she probably does have a problem. Michael sounds entirely reasonable when he says that her drinking ruined the party and he wants her to get better. He even sounds sweet when he says “if anything ever happened to you, I would be very angry at myself for not doing all that I could do.”

Strangely the others seem to agree with him for the need for an intervention but then don’t help at all. If they had argued against the entire idea the comedy of Michael’s bad idea would have been more obvious. Instead, though he is clearly going about it the wrong way, there isn’t much humour in him saying yes and her saying no over and over again. When he drives her to rehab the joke is again confused because she knows every bar in town, again reinforcing that she seems to have a problem. But once at rehab he drags her in against her will in an uncomfortable scene. Her desperate discomfort is all too real and we suspect she might benefit from some help. It’s all a bit of a mess.

Meanwhile Phyllis’ comedy misfires from a similar lack of direction. So far we have almost always seen Phyllis as a nice person who is easily cowed and dominated by Michael, Angela and Dwight. She is obviously enjoying her revenge on Angela but all her jokes come from a very different persona. Rather than meekly enjoying her day in the sun, Phyllis behaves very ruthlessly and much of her humour flows from the idea that she is this in control person. Yet that isn’t how she has been portrayed at all. It’s reminiscent of how Jan and Ryan’s characters suddenly changed when it suited the writer’s purposes.

So the big revelation comes from a strange place and doesn’t quite resonate. Again its Stone Cold Phyllis who snaps at the first sign of rebellion from Angela rather than a satisfying comeuppance for Angela’s bad behaviour. It feels like the whole tone would have been far better if Angela had spent the episode undermining Phyllis only for her to finally stand up to Angela and get sweet revenge. Instead the revelation falls a bit flat.

We also have Andy and Toby looking incredibly pathetic. There is a side to The Office where characters awkward behaviour is exposed completely and some will find it funny. However I believe Andy and Toby are exposed here in ways which make them unlikeable. They are made to look like objects of pity and derision. They are uncomfortable reminders of how depressing the real world can be sometimes and that detracts from their roles as comedy figures. Again some people are happy to laugh at the misery of others but some are not and I am one of them. Andy’s confession of his drunken college behaviour indicates he has been a reject all his life. Cool kid Jim even makes fun of his music which he clearly takes so much pride in that he spends the whole evening practising to try and be liked. Meanwhile Toby looks foolish for waiting until the last minute to get his daughter a present and then almost breaks down when he thinks he has failed. His failure was not thinking ahead and it’s difficult to sympathise with him after practically crying over his own lack of forethought. Exposing his lack of preparation is particularly damaging because his role in the show is to show up Michael’s lack of professionalism. This hits his character where he is meant to be strong.

Comic Highlight: Having sold a doll for $200 we cut to Dwight in the interview set surrounded by the dolls singing “Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la ka-ching!”

That’s what I said: I doubt many viewers thought as much about the characters when they watched this episode as I have done. But I suspect most people didn’t enjoy this episode as much as past Christmas episodes. And if they dig deeper I think they would conclude the tone here is very negative and humourless. It’s seeing characters at their worst with no hope of redemption that just isn’t funny.

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