A review of last night’s “The Office” coming up just as soon as I make a definitive statement…
Every now and then, I’ll get an e-mail from a reader who came to “The Office” midway through its run, and who wants to know why exactly Michael hates Toby so much, and if perhaps there’s an episode they could seek out that has the explanation. And I always tell them two things: 1)That Michael hates Toby because Toby’s job makes him into the party-pooper for all of Michael’s various attempts to be the fun boss, and 2)Beyond that, he just hates the guy.
It happens. There are people in your life – relatives, coworkers, friends of friends, the barista at the local Starbucks – you just develop an irrational dislike for. There may be an inciting incident for that hatred, but eventually your mind blows everything that person does way out of proporition, refashioning it to justify the original dislike.
That’s how the Michael/Toby dynamic has always worked, and it’s been one of the show’s most reliable running jokes. (The only time we run into trouble is when other characters start dumping on Toby, too, and even there it can work on occasion, like when Jim filled in for Michael back in “Survivor Man.”) And part of what makes it work is that Toby will never, ever let Michael beat him down. For years, Michael has insulted him, tried to frame him for the cops, pretended to be his friend and then punished him for believing that, and yet Toby keeps coming back for more. He’s used to being life’s punching bag, but he also believes, deep down, that he could be a good friend to Michael, and dammit, he’s going to keep trying.
With Steve Carell on his way out the door, “Counseling” puts a button on this relationship, with Toby finally getting through to Michael by tricking him with games. (Acting, essentially, like a child psychologist.) Michael opens up about his childhood, how his stepdad (whom he never considered a stepdad, because he was too hung up on the real father who abandoned him) helped put him on the path to management, and his need to be liked. And though he throws a tantrum when he realizes what Toby was up to, in the end the two men do come to a sort of accord. Michael can disguise it by hiding it inside their mutual dislike of Gabe, but he doesn’t really need to go have another counseling session with Toby, even with the mis-checked forms. He chooses to. And I’ll be curious to see, over the remainder of Carell’s victory lap season, if this was a one-time thing, or if Michael’s treatment of Toby will be softened, even a little.
Speaking of Gabe, he was part of the resolution to the stronger of the episode’s two subplots, as Pam – realizing she’s not cut out to be a saleswoman, despite Michael’s faith in her from the Michael Scott Paper Company days(*) – decides to place herself in the invented position of office administrator and hope that no one will challenge her. The writers have struggled lately to find things to do with Pam, but last week put her into a funny Jim/Dwight prank war storyline, and here she scams her way into a position that will give the writers an excuse to have her interact with everyone more. And though it briefly seemed implausible (or like a plot from a more surreal show like the late, lamented “Better Off Ted”) that she would get to keep the job, I bought – and was amused by – Gabe figuring it out but being too spineless to challenge her on it. My only concern is that we now have what feels like many, many layers of management, between Gabe, Michael, Daryl and now kinda sorta Pam, but if this is an attempt to see if Jenna Fischer might be able to be placed in charge of the branch, well… color me intrigued.
(*) Speaking of which, the old MSPC office was the location for one of the show’s funniest openings in a while, with Mike Schur reluctantly/hilariously reprising his role as Mose (here with a Cabbage Patch doll in a Bjorn!) as part of Dwight’s horrifying attempt to set up a daycare center in the building. I think Jim was being too tough on it, though; kids would totally love Mr. Fork and Lt. Knife, no?
The Jim/Dwight storyline was probably the weakest of the three, if only because you knew exactly how it was going to end. It was obvious that Dwight had misunderstood or misrepresented the incident at the mall, and also that he was going to immediately cave and buy the pewter wizard, and the way in which the final confrontation played out wasn’t interesting or funny enough to overcome that predictability. And yet until then, I enjoyed it, as both a rare example of Jim helping Dwight (in part because he’s just amused to be around the guy), and a less-rare but still welcome example of the staff coming together to help someone out of a weird jam. (Kelly in particular kept parachuting in nicely to offer advice and/or “Pretty Woman” quotes.)
Two solid episodes to start the season.
What did everybody else think?