28
Oct
2011
The Office: Season 8, Episode 5
Spooked
Michael Richardson
I'm a sucker for holidays, especially TV holidays, where the costume and party budgets seem to be unlimited. The Office is one of those shows that wears its love of the holidays on it's sleeve, and the Halloween episodes are always a treat (get it?!). If nothing else, it's wonderful to see misguided costumes. I am ashamed to admit that Dwight's Kerrigan costume made perfect sense to me, while the skeleton gang's terrible little dance and even the way-too-late/ makes-no-sense-in-context-of-the-lockout Miami Heat Three costume continue a goofy and stupid tradition. It's delightful.

But they still have to craft an episode around the costumes themselves. So the Office goes back to its major theme this season - impressing the boss. The show's insistence that parties are the only way to ingratiate themselves with the higher ups is one of my favorite running jokes - as if these underfunded shin-digs will finally be the thing that puts them on top. Instead of the usual Party-Planning Committee, the reigns for this party have been handed over to Erin, whose never had much of a character, which is why the decision to make her carry the major narrative weight of the episode was somewhat surprising. Next week: a Kevin spin-off!

If you can think back and remember, Erin and Andy were dating. And though it hasn't been addressed since, Erin has maintained her feelings for her former-boyfriend-now-boss while Andy has gone through extraordinary effort to conceal his romantic life from her lest she be hurt. Keep in mind, we don't know this until the very end of the episode, because it has never been hinted at. At all. You know how the Annie/Jeff relationship on Community gets small clues and details to carry the viewer along? Well, this show doesn't think that much about its characters. Instead, we only have the happenings of this episode to guide us through.

Is the Office too glib these days to rely on such emotions to drive a story? It seems these days that the show simply sets up an event for characters to react to, with whatever consistency is necessary. And it also seems that plot has become more important than the characters, trifling though the plots may be. Think about it: would Andy of all people be able to keep a new girlfriend a secret 31 dates in to their relationship? Isn't he supposed to be the romantic? Wouldn't the office have been let in on some uncomfortable details by now? It just doesn't ring true for the character, but it was the only way to write out of the situation the show put itself in.

The B blot - Jim is incredulous his wife believes in the supernatural, which you think would have come up by now - and the C plot - Dwight bonds with the boss's son over Starcraft and douchiness - were both fluff to pad out the story. The D plot, if you can call it that, was simple but had the best payoff- Robert moves around the office, asking everyone about their biggest fears, from mummies to being buried alive. At the end, he weaves them all together into a single story that manages to put everyone in the office off their game for a moment. It's a masterful moment, though the talking head afterward undercuts the point, explaining the nature of fear itself. Alone though, it might be the best part of the episode. But these little bits of story betray the hesitance of their main story to do any heavy lifting, like an admission that their main characters might not be as dynamic or interesting than their early starting players. Jim, Dwight and Pam are the Miami Heat Three of the show, and the writers understandably think that you can't win the ring without them in the game (I've stretched this metaphor far enough).

At this point in the season, I think it's fair to start making some generalizations. The show is spinning its wheels. There's not much to differ the late Carrell Years from this new season. There's no driving plotlines, no new hooks, nothing to bring new viewers in or keep old viewers around. There have been some acceptable episodes, but no good episodes. And worse, for this reviewer, it's not even that satisfying to watch anymore. It's time to hang up the spurs - I think we can definitively say that there's nowhere else to go.

Grade:C

Miscellaneous:

Nomination for best costume: Creed's Osama Bin Laden

Nomination for worst costume: Ryan - is he supposed to be Da Ali G?

Gabe's evil laugh was pretty damn good. He'd make a good movie villain.


Tags: The Office
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