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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 12 - Prince Family Paper

24 January 2009

Synopsis: David Wallace asks Michael to gather intelligence on a small paper supply competitor. He and Dwight visit and discover a family run business which is doing well for itself. The family are so kind that they hand over their entire client list to Michael and then help him fix his car when he damages it. Michael feels too guilty about hurting the family and so wants to destroy the client list but Dwight forces him to hand over the information to David Wallace. The rest of the office engage in an increasingly heated debate about whether or not Hilary Swank is hot.

The Good: All season we have seen Michael become increasingly likeable as a character. His affection for Holly was endearing, he consciously turned his back on Jan (503) and has increasingly tried to do the right thing for his employees (504, 510), even if he doesn’t always know how. Michael’s stupidity and naivety are much easier to enjoy when he is being a nice guy and not just relentlessly selfish.

This plot serves his character really well. The obvious humour of him and Dwight unsubtly pretending not to know one another slowly morphs into a moral dilemma for Michael. It goes to the core of his character where he wants to be liked first and only seen as good at his job second. The idea of hurting the Prince family really bothers him. It’s an endearing story because you know Michael would like to have a family like that himself one day and so for once he can empathise with their plight.

And of course as a good employee there is a strong argument to be made for handing over the information to David Wallace. Ruthless employee Dwight actually provides some decent arguments to support the other side. He makes the ultimate capitalist argument that another company will do this to Dunder Mifflin anyway, so they need to expand to protect themselves. He even points out that Michael’s heart makes bad decisions (Jan, Ryan). Seeing Michael really upset at the end is such a nice moment for him as a character. He did the right thing as an employee but bore the guilt himself.

Michael and Dwight are a natural comic duo. They both think they know more than the other for completely different reasons and their ignorance delivers easy, authentic feeling humour for most of the episode (see Comic Highlight). Michael of course gives away that he is really in the paper business by being too knowledgeable on the subject. His quick witted response to cover for this is to say that he is “A Genius!” and then to cover for that he cracks cheesy jokes which Mr Prince kindly enjoys. Then there is Dwight demanding a job “I am your son now, you can visit him on holidays.” As the Prince family sweetly fix Michael’s car and bring him a cup of coffee, the perfectionist Dwight takes a sip and says “Uh, disgusting, what is this instant?”

Back at the office Michael tries to teach Dwight about the expression “Live and let live” by claiming it’s a James Bond movie which is a classic Michael misunderstanding (Live and Let Die). Then Michael makes a run for it with the client list. He makes it all the way to the parking lot with Dwight in pursuit and then runs all the way back to his office. It’s only when you realise he had forgotten his keys that it becomes really funny.

The Hilary Swank storyline has some merit to it (see The Bad). Kelly making it all about how good looking she was fits her character nicely and Kevin stating with passion that “a painting can be beautiful but I don’t want to bang a painting” was amusingly blunt.

The Bad: The Hilary Swank story is a classic Office story where they take something people do in offices (rating celebrities) and blow it out of all proportion for comic effect. But this seems such a frivolous argument that it seems contradictory that normally conscientious employees like Stanley and Oscar would waste their time on it. The use of slide shows and emotive personal arguments becomes increasingly farcical rather than genuinely funny. The punch line that Michael says she’s hot didn’t seem appropriate to me. To sum up the futility of their argument, surely Dwight should have stepped in to say that she wasn’t, thus bringing it back to a deadlock.

I also feel even more could have been done with Michael and Dwight pretending not to know one another. It seems such a rich source of comic possibilities that their actual interaction in front of the Prince family was pretty limited.

Comic Highlight: Michael has established a dialogue with Mr Prince and things are going well. “So when did you set up shop?” Michael asks. Mr Prince says “I opened this place up when I came back from Vietnam.” Michael says knowingly “Oooh Vietnam.” But then betrays his ignorance “I hear it’s lovely.”

That’s what I said: Michael has become a really strong central character. His naïve morality is exposed and explored here and it leads to an engaging and funny episode.

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