10
Nov
2011
The Office: Season 8, Episode 7
Pam's Replacement
Michael Richardson
The Office

Last week, the Office made me snap - readers will remember I called it one of the worst episodes of the show I've ever seen. I stick by that assessment, even with a week to cool down. I also suggested that the show was still capable of making good episodes, that their characters had not become so cartoonish and the plot so ridiculous that they couldn't still mine the show for a few great entries. I'm happy to report that this week's episode, while not great, manages to take everything horrid about last week's episode and corrects it. It is, also, very funny.

The most notable thing here is the story. Last week, Dwight built a doomsday machine, and threatened the entire branch with destruction. That is patently ridiculous, of course. This week's story seems like a conscious episode to shrink plotlines back into the confines of the office space, where relationships can still be used as the starting block of humor, rather than some fanciful happening. In this case, it's Pam's new replacement, whom she suspects Jim has a crush on. I've not always been happy about the characterization of Pam and Jim, but this episode actually makes them pretty appealing. Because everybody thinks she's either horribly self-conscious or overly smug, Pam has to rely of Dwight to give her practical advice for her problems. This also gives me an excuse to post Garfunkel and Oates' delightful "Pregnant Women are Smug."



Ironically enough, Pam isn't any more crazy than normal, but the people around her treat her as if she is. It's a nice little twist on the pregnant coworker trope. Then again, investigating into whether or not your husband finds somebody attractive is pretty crazy, but the show is taking baby steps at least.

Her methods to find the truth start with Kelly's foolproof system - asking him what friend he would set up with the new girl. If he picks a hot friend that means he thinks the girl is hot. In my mind, at least, that's a pretty good system. So when Jim picks an ugly friend, Pam thinks she's been figured out, and that Jim is purposefully lying to her to cover his tracks. Pregnant women are crazy, right? Nope - in the next scene Jim reveals that's exactly what he's doing. It's an enjoyable little subversion. Then Dwight goes and grabs Jim's crotch to prove his attraction, and it all gets a bit slapsticky from there. Still, each characters behavior is believable, and seem to come from a real place.

The B-Story is similarly well done. Darryl, Andy and Kevin are slowly shoved out of their own band by the new boss and his local musician friends. It's trifling, but it's a satisfying story line, watching them go from the happiest dudes in the world to being content to sing out in the parking lot. It's given exactly enough time to tell the story but it doesn't linger. There's no need for a c-story, and it doesn't even have to tie into the main plot. It's like a lesson in classic sitcom mechanics, structured beautifully with a nice little payoff. Every writer on this show should learn to write this way.

This week's episode has small, believable stories, toned-down characters and a structure that brought everything to a satisfying conclusion. It hit all the basics, and even managed to subvert some standards of the sitcom world. It is a competent episode, even a pretty good episode. That's the faintest of praise, obviously, but I'm pretty happy that the Office can still exceed my expectations.


Grade: B-

Miscellaneous:

That cold open was pretty good, even if it once again stretches the credibility of Erin's character. Forgiven for humor, which is something the Office rarely offers these days

Gabe offers a rational explanation of the new girl's relationship status: "Maybe he's a drug dealer. That's the best way to land a hot girlfriend - get her hooked." Cut to Kelly subtly nodding.

Gabe also tells Pam that pregnancy "is one of the most common fetishes." Nobody has any idea what to do with Gabe, and being meek was already Toby's gig. They're just making him weird instead. Shouldn't Creed be reading these lines?

"He has the broad face of a brewer."


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