THe Office: Season 8, Episode 16
After Hours
Michael Richardson
Huh. You know who has suddenly gotten tolerable? Dwight. If you had asked me at the beginning of the season what character they might actually improve over the course of the year, Dwight might have been my last choice. But here we are, another episode focused on Dwight that managed to give him some actual characterization.

Wait, did I say "focused on Dwight?" Because that's not really true. The focus was on "¦ well, the focus wasn't on anybody. Tonight's episode throws four story lines at us, and gives each of them pretty much equal screen time. It's a strange, potentially disastrous structure in a season that continues to have serious structural problems almost every episode. And yet, each of the stories is light enough that they don't require a whole lot of exposition, and rewarding in simple ways. The story lines, in order from good to bad: Dwight's flirting with Catherine Tate's Nellie in order to get his new Vice Presidency job; The gang back at Scranton staying late to file their Florida compatriots' paperwork; Cathy trying to seduce Jim; and Ryan and Erin sneaking around the hotel kitchen.

First up: Dwight. Now when I said that Dwight is not as terrible as he's been, that is not to say his character has gotten much less broad or goofy. He is still barely human-like. But this episode talks to pre-established parts of his personality - his ruthless ambition and his militaristic code of honor - and plays them off one another perfectly. Dwight needs to sleep with Nellie before Packer does, though when he finally gets the opportunity he can't bring himself to get the job that way, wanting to earn it based on talent. Nellie is still the hypersexual woman she was from last week, which plays well with Packer's inherent lecherousness. And when Dwight enlists Gabe's help to poison Packer (yes, you read that sentence correctly), it's actually a pretty satisfying (and funny) moment.

Darryl's misadventures back at the office feels slight but it's nice to see his relationship with Val actually get a shot in the arm. After Val's boyfriend accuses Darryl of sleeping with her, Kelly and the rest of the office parse through their text messaging for evidence of flirting. It's a funny, well-observed moment. Even better is when Pam and Andy come to give him advice, where Andy pretends that he's the one who would be best to give advice on Jim's behalf. Finally, he admits that he does have feeling for Val whenever she's ready to act on it. This has been one of the standout storyline of the season, and Craig Robinson has done some really good work with a character who doesn't get all that much screen time. He's able to do a lot of emotional work even as a deadpan character, which still gives me hope each Thursday.

Erin and Jim's story this week have some parallels, but unfortunately both are the weakest part of the show. Cathy's plan to seduce Jim was telegraphed a few episodes, but this story line fails in two ways. The first is that we never think that Jim would actually cheat on Pam. Fair enough, it's a comedy, and you can still mine laughs from the awkward situations that occur. The second problem, however, is that we don't get those awkward laughs either. The camera can't linger there for long enough to really drag out Jim's agony. There are a couple of good gags, such as when Cathy announces she has to shower, and Jim looks relieved until he realizes that she meant his shower (in one of the better jokes, she exits the shower asking "Is crazy gone?" Jim's look makes it clear that no, she has not). But for the most part, without any real tension we don't get much cathartic laughter. Erin and Ryan, on the other hand, escape to the kitchen after Erin admits to Ryan that she may move down to Florida permanently. Ryan takes this as a flirtatious gesture, and tries to sleep with her for the rest of the night. The problems here are almost exactly the same. They're not going to actually do it, and this time we get even less time to stretch out the awkwardness. Both stories are too light to stand on their own, but I could have done with getting rid of one entirely.

In the end, it's a fairly smart episode that cracks jokes often enough to cover up it's main flaws. By splitting the office this way for a few episodes, it's given the writers a bit more time to really feature the individuals they're writing for, and it all seems much more lively because of this. Maybe they should make it permanent - then we could have Florida Stanley forever.

Grade: B -


Another great cold open this week - a fairly smart, well-conceived joke about the circle of complaining that goes on in any office. Having a single gag to work off is the ideal premise in this situation, and they came across a good one. Also, I hate people who treat their pets like children, so fuck Oscar.

So if this Dwight spinoff is true, could getting passed over for the VP position be what drives him away from the company?

"I will have a waffle, with your maple-iest syrup." Erin is a connoisseur.

"If I wanted Jamaican food I would just hire a bunch of bodyguards and go there."

Tags: The Office
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