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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 4 - Niagara

27 March 2012

Synopsis: It’s Jim and Pam’s wedding in Niagra Falls. Michael is hugely excited for all sorts of reasons including the pickup opportunities. He is frustrated to find he can’t get a room and Dwight steals the girl he was after. He seeks comfort in the arms of the similarly bitter Mrs Beasley. Andy tears his scrotum and Kevin’s shoes get thrown away. On the day of the wedding Jim whisks Pam away to get married on a cruise ship. They return to complete the formal ceremony only for their friends to act out a popular youtube wedding video.

The Good: Michael announces that this is the most important wedding until his own and in terms of the overall show that is a very accurate statement. This is a huge episode for The Office. It almost feels wrong that it is not a season finale because it loses some of its significance by rolling in and out of the early season episodes as it does.

But nothing can rob Pam and Jim of their moments here. As the episode goes on it becomes ever clearer how important these two characters are to the show. More than any comedy couple since Friends ended they are quite the beloved duo. Their ever reasonable, patient and affectionate behaviour is such a winning and likeable combination. Their exchange on the drive to Niagra about mental snapshots and their little joke about them was a perfect example of why they work both as a fictitious couple and as an onscreen duo.

But more than their own cuteness their positions as the voice of reason becomes ever more essential in this double length episode. As the writers attempt to cram as many jokes as they can think of into this orgy of humorous clips, it is the Pam and Jim plot which remains steadfastly serious, reliable and emotional until the very end. It reminded me strongly of their invaluable contributions to the success of The Office as a show. As wonderful a creation as Michael is, his selfishness makes him unsuitable to be the heartbeat of the show. He needed Pam and Jim, one suffering, the other gently mocking to be the voice of reason and the voice of the audience to keep the show believable. Pam and Jim are the undeniable good guys of the story and here they get their highest of high points. Their wedding felt like it came at just the right point in the show’s development. The Office writers learnt from the mistakes of Friends and Cheers and didn’t attempt to extend the will they- won’t they drama too far.

As mentioned their story stood out as serious and consequential when many other threads were falling by the wayside. Jim’s wonderful speech about her was terrific writing. Just as he winds up his tale of patient love he accidentally reveals that she is pregnant to her stunned grandmother. Michael swoops in to make a bad situation worse and after revealing inappropriate sexual details, Jim ends his toast the way he had intended “To waiting.”

Before the ceremony Pam tears her veil and calls Jim to comfort her. Again she takes a mental snapshot in another lovely scene as he cuts his own tie to show his contempt for anything other than becoming her husband. He then whisks her away on a Niagra cruise to get married without the stress of their friends and relatives around. It’s such a fitting moment for them, summing up the way they have coped with the office all these years. The final gorgeous shot of them holding one another while staring out at the falls was perfection. When a show makes you feel happy for a fictional couple, you know you are watching good television.

Unfortunately another consistent thing about The Office has been the writers inability to adapt to double length episodes. The writing has always struggled to fit the smaller characters into these stories and pace developments appropriately. Sadly faced with such a significant episode the writing goes way overboard in trying to cram in every joke and funny moment that they can get their hands on. I will split these up into nominally good and bad sections but almost every gag and minor story was a missed opportunity. All were underdeveloped and the writers would have been much better off picking a couple of ‘B’ plots to focus on rather than trying to give everyone screen time.

However very little was ultimately damaging to the show so it’s more a case of “could have been even better.” As you would expect we get plenty of Michael and his excitement was understandable and well exploited. His night with Pam’s mother will doubtless be the source of much mirth down the road and his failure to book a room certainly gave him plenty to do. His selfishness was exposed by Dwight when he admitted he wouldn’t let Dwight stay in his room if their roles were reversed and he spends the night in the ice room which made sense.

Dwight’s useless research on Pam’s relatives was pretty funny and he popped up throughout the episode to provide some smiles. Be it finding twins, killing horses, turtles or just being a sleazy slob. Ditto Andy who serves many a broad purpose here, hurting his scrotum, tearing up at Jim’s speech or continuing his hapless pursuit of Erin from last season. One of the really fun moments was when he asked Kevin why Meredith was sitting with all the younger people. “She probably switched cards with someone. Like I did with Erin” he explains. “What?!” exclaims the amusingly frustrated Andy.

Elsewhere there is good continuity with Jim’s annoying older brothers (505), Pam’s parents’ divorce (513), Stanley bringing Cynthia (601) and buying a toaster as a wedding present (315). We even get Toby’s affection for Pam popping up briefly to be instantly squashed of course.

The Bad: There are only three things which definitely belong here. The opening vomit scene was far too overdone. The idea of ever useless Andy vomiting at the thought of it was enough to carry the comedy. To have the whole office barfing just at the sight of someone else doing it took the show into the realms of Family Guy and it doesn’t belong there. I also thought Oscar was out of character being so rude to Pam’s sister for making an innocent mistake. Finally I suppose I still question why the cameras are following Jim and Pam to their wedding. It remains a logic hole in the show even if you don’t think about them 99% of the time, I will hold the 1% to account in the final analysis.

Otherwise as previously stated I felt the majority of the smaller stories were missed opportunities. Michael’s interest in Isobel and Dwight’s conquest of her was all underdeveloped. They both had many other roles in the story and though interesting, her involvement didn’t serve much of a purpose for either character. Michael’s conversation with Memaw seemed to serve absolutely no purpose either. I assumed he was going to talk her round to attending through some revealing story which would show us how much he cares deep down. Or else just lie to her to get her room, but he did neither.

Similarly Andy was used too much and yet developed too little throughout. We got no sense of whether he was getting anywhere with Erin or if he really cared about her. His scrotum injury wasn’t exploited for full comic effect and ended up feeling like an unnecessarily easy joke.

Ryan’s selfish attitude, Stanley’s affair, Michael’s portrait of Jim and Pam and Toby offering Michael a bed all failed to receive the attention which they could have gotten.

The youtube wedding scene seemed like another step too far despite its obviously good natured intentions. Amongst the sea of silly developments I felt its inclusion rather undercut the plausibility of the episode. I suppose if the plan was concocted while Jim and Pam were absent then it becomes more believable as a sort of payback for them delaying things. But it still seemed to rely on a huge amount of coordination between a bunch of people who didn’t know one another the day before. The whole act seemed very selfish and mean to Jim and Pam, essentially hijacking their wedding so everyone else could muck about. I also think those who hadn’t seen the youtube video would find the whole scene a lot less interesting.

Comic Highlight: Kevin’s shoes being thrown away because of the smell is pretty broad humour. But his appearance in the church wearing two tissue boxes on his feet was hilarious and unexpected.

That’s what I said: What a difficult episode to sum up. You won’t be bored by this, the jokes fly at you and never stop. But this didn’t feel like the episode for that. Jim and Pam’s story was so good that the jokes felt like an unnecessary distraction.

The bottom line on this episode will depend on your perspective. For fans who don’t analyse this will probably be remembered as the episode where Jim and Pam got a beautiful wedding day. For those who want The Office to become a great sit com to sit in the pantheon alongside shows of yesteryear, this was a missed opportunity which is a real shame.

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