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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 18 - New Boss

27 March 2012

Synopsis: Michael’s 15th anniversary with Dunder Miflin is coming up and he is planning a big party. Charles Miner the new VP for the North East Region arrives to talk tough economic times. Michael is suitably disturbed by Charles’ professionalism and begins to act childishly. When he can’t reach David Wallace he drives to New York to complain about Miner. David offers to pay for his party but Michael quits. Back in the office Kelly and Angela fight over Charles’ attention and Jim ends up looking deeply unprofessional.

The Good: Charles Miner, like David Wallace plays the role of normal professional really well. It’s like there is suddenly a real person in this fantasy world. Of course this has consequences both good and bad.

Michael’s reactions are spot on as ever. Instead of seeing the office as a place to create revenue he still sees it as a place of fun and sees the people in it as more important than the work they do. So he throws a surprise breakfast in Charles’ honour and treats him like a new guest on the Michael Scott show. He introduces his employees in great detail (see Comic Highlight) and tried to shelter them from the bad news coming from corporate.

Michael’s childishness is very consistent with his established traits and he rushes off to David Wallace to try and fix this problem. It’s another terrific turn from Wallace who is such a hero figure in the show. He knows how Michael treated Jan and Ryan and he sees through his complaints about Charles to the issue he thinks really motivated Michael – his party. David is kind and smart enough to know that Michael’s fifteen years of service are worthy of reward and offers to pay for the party. So Michael quits. It’s quite a surprise and I don’t know quite where the story goes from here. There are a myriad of possibilities, good and bad.

Even better than the Michael story is Jim digging himself a deeper and deeper hole. It shows a great deal of self awareness by the writers to expose Jim as a character in this way. Jim was originally the David Wallace of the show. He was the voice and frowning face of the viewer. He was the voice of reason, looking at the madness of Dwight and Michael from the outside. But as time has gone on we have seen the flawed side of Jim. So often it seemed like he could help everyone if he stood up for what he knew was right instead of joking around or walking away. Now his joking around makes him look like the unprofessional slacker which at times he can be. The writing really pushes him into a perfectly plotted corner. First he tries to explain himself to Charles but that makes him sound petty (for trying to mess with Dwight). Then we see him sweating under Charles’ gaze (much to Dwight’s delight) and being caught in the middle of more silliness at the Party Planning Committee. Finally he tries to reason with Charles but only makes himself look more foolish. It’s terrific writing showing a deep understanding of Jim’s character and how his behaviour can be perceived.

There’s a nice sprinkling of light humour throughout. Dwight is ever present with his foolish suggestions for Michael’s party (“I thought it might be appropriate to begin the festivities with a 15 minute round of applause.”) and his deeply dull but thorough history of Scranton (to keep Charles distracted). Jim milks the word classy for all its worth and Pam teases him as only a girlfriend can in their joint talking head. Michael is his enthusiastic self banging his hand accidentally on the doorframe in a moment of excitement. And what better line could sum up Michael’s complete lack of professional self awareness that “Truth be told I think I thrive under a lack of accountability.”

I also really appreciate David Wallace’s reaction to the presence of the cameras as he exits the toilet. You would be surprised and annoyed to see them.

The Bad: I guess the only problem is that when you introduce a “real person” into the office it does expose the more implausible parts of the show. The more Charles cracks his professional whip the more it becomes difficult to believe that Michael could have lasted at the company for fifteen years.

And now what’s going to happen? Something I could do without is seeing Michael try his hand at all his fantasy professions and fail at them. We know he is a loser, we know he probably couldn’t succeed elsewhere and we don’t know to have that shoved in our face.

Comic Highlight: Michael introduces the accounts team to Charles:
M: “This is Oscar Martinez. He is Latino, and he just got out of a long term relationship with a man, Gill who broke his heart. But he didn’t bring any of that into work, it did not affect his job performance whatsoever and I am very proud of him for that…This little hell raiser is Angela. She has slept with a bunch of different guys in the office. One over there in the orange, heyoo. And where’s the other?”
C: “You know Michael, I don’t need to know everyone’s sexual history.”
M: “Well, perfect because we have now arrived at Kevin and he has no sexual history!”

That’s what I said: A really well written character based episode. Charles shines a light on Michael’s incompetence and Jim’s laziness. Will this drive them forward to change and grow? The answer will say a lot about the kind of television show The Office wants to be. But for now this is quality stuff.

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