A quick review of last night’s “The Office” coming up just as soon as I kayak to my job at the bike shop…
If there’s been a consistent element to Paul Lieberstein’s work on this show – first as one of many writers, now as the man in charge of steering this old battleship – it’s that he understands what makes the main characters tick, and is able to use that for real emotional resonance, in episodes like “The Job,” “Money,” “Goodbye Toby,” all the way up through last week’s Lieberstein-scripted “The Incentive.” When the show wants to give Jim, or Pam, or Dwight, or now Andy a quiet, emotional moment, it’s usually still able to do so very well, and that includes most of Andy and Darryl’s interaction here in “Lotto.” Though for the most part the show seems content to use Andy as Michael Scott Lite, one of the subtle differences is that Andy and Darryl are friends in a way Michael only wished he and Darryl were, so the two of them could have a real conversation(*) down by the coffee bar, Darryl could express his frustration that he didn’t get the manager job and Andy could finally pull Darryl out of his funk.
(*) Though even that had some Michael Scott overtones, reminding me a fair amount of the equally-strong, serious scene between Michael and Stanley at the end of “Did I Stutter?”
All of that stuff was good, as were some of the wistful moments of the staff (Jim and Pam mainly) trying to imagine what their lives would be like had they won the lottery.(**) Where the show has struggled a lot this season – and for big chunks of the last few seasons – is with the comedy. There are still some funny moments here and there (Craig Robinson’s dry delivery of the monologue about the taco smell in his basement was hilarious), but for the most part we’ve seen these same characters in these same situations for a very long time now, and it’s hard to keep wringing laughs from them without a very different dynamic (which the show steered away from in promoting Andy) or without selling them out for the sake of a joke. Pretty much every Oscar gag in the main part of the episode (in the teaser he was fine), for instance, required him to be pretty far-removed from the buttoned-down character he was much earlier in the series. And the antics in the warehouse, while giving John Krasinski a chance to direct various bits of physical comedy, never felt real. Whether or not you believe that Dwight would drive the forklift into the wall (that seemed much more of a Michael move), at a certain point either he or Jim would’ve gotten their acts together. There’s a difference between illustrating what a warehouse guy knows versus what an office guy knows and just making the office guys seem like morons. (Though Kevin slipping in the grease while Jim and Dwight were doing a talking head was amusing, at least.)
(**) Not that a TV showrunner has tons of extra time, but I would love if Lieberstein would actually start doing The Flenderson Files true crime podcast. If nothing else, it might finally provide closure to the whole Scranton Strangler issue that a certain portion of the audience became fixated on late last season.
What did everybody else think?