‘The Office’ – ‘Michael’s Last Dundies’: Remember to call

A review of last night’s “The Office” coming up just as soon as I love banter but hate witty banter…

“Yeah. Okay. Well, this is gonna hurt like a motherf—er.” -Michael

I want to start at the end of “Michael’s Last Dundies Ever,” because that final scene was pretty fantastic – in some ways just as touching, and just as much a natural endpoint for Michael Scott, as his proposal to Holly a couple of episodes ago. Again, one of Michael Scott’s great dreams in life was that the office staff would become the family that he never really had – that they would come to love him, and his sense of humor, and his self-conception of himself as a great performer, and all the rest. So to see these people – who, five and a half years ago, treated the Dundies (and all of Michael’s other big ideas) like a chore, and who for so long treated Michael himself like an idiot – stand up and serenade him with an alternate version of that song from “Rent”? That was everything he has ever wanted from them. That was a “World’s Greatest Boss” mug that somebody else bought for him, rather than one he had to buy for himself.

That was beautiful.

And that was enough to justify(*) an episode that was very up-and-down otherwise.

(*) And I typed that word before realizing I could use it as an excuse to note the brief reference to Tim Olyphant’s character, who is apparently still employed by Dunder-Mifflin but always on the road like Todd Packer. Anybody want to place odds on whether we ever see Danny again?

Mindy Kaling wrote the original “The Dundies,” so she deserved to be the one to write this one (she directed, too), but as with “The Godfather Part III”(**), the sequel was in many ways a pale shadow of the original.

(**) Michael’s talking head assessment of “The Godfather” franchise was funny, but also illustrated how there have always been several different Michael Scotts – with varying levels of intelligence, charm and performing ability – depending on which member of the writing staff is the driving force behind a particular episode. Compare that “Godfather” monologue to, say, Michael telling his telemarketer co-workers in “Money” why the first “Die Hard” was so much better than the sequels. I’m not saying one man can’t have both opinions, but there’s been so much inconsistency to Michael over the years that I imagine a Kaling-scripted version of “Money” would have had him struggling to convince the others that “Die Hard with a Vengeance” was the peak of the series, while a Paul Lieberstein-written version of this scene would have compared it to “The Godfather III” in the more accurate way, while also finding an excuse to compare Toby’s presence at the Dundies to Sofia Coppola’s acting.

The first time we saw the Dundies was at a very different time in these characters’ lives. Jim was still the young, bored guy crushing on Pam, virtually everyone still hated Michael, and the whole thing was a chore for the staff to get through, up until Jim and a drunk Pam had their “no one picks on our brother but us!” reaction to the hecklers and decided to get behind Michael for an evening. There was a point of view there, and a character arc, and I think a sequel showing how much everyone has changed – up to and including how Jim and the others now feel about Michael – would have been a fine idea.

This wasn’t quite that – at least, not until the song at the end. At times, Michael was smoother, but at others he was just as much of an ass as the first time, and much of the ceremony was as awkward now as it was then.

Some of that can be blamed on having to spend so much time giving Will Ferrell stuff to do, as two episodes into his arc, nobody has come up with a good reason for him being here other than that he’s Will Ferrell. I enjoy Ferrell unnecessarily raising his voice as much as the next guy (or pulling a Ron Burgundy and reading everything on the cue card), but he’s adding very little and taking away from what should be the focus of Carell’s final episode. And Deangelo also seemed to get a personality transplant between last week’s episode and this one, going from a meaner version of Michael to a more ordinary guy who likes Michael but has a weird, specific form of stage fright.

But I think there was a real opportunity missed to show, for instance, that Michael has learned to stop making fun of Phyllis just because she’s old (particularly since, as has been frequently established, they were in the same high school class), or else to show how everyone but Toby has learned to let this stuff roll off their backs because it’s just Michael being Michael. And we didn’t quite get either. The Dundies were a mess all those years ago, and they were a mess last night, in a slightly different way.

I also had much higher hopes for the moment when Michael, Dwight and Deangelo got in the car together, as Kaling has been on script for several previous brilliant moments involving Michael and Dwight stuck in a car (the drive to the hospital in “The Injury,” Dwight peeing into the soda can in “Branch Wars”), but this one was both quick and not particularly funny.

Still, the final scene was great, and there were some good laughs before that (Meredith’s house, Ryan objecting to Pam’s use of “like crack,” Jim being annoyed by/in denial of Michael’s very accurate (UPDATE: or not, depending on your point of view; more in the comments) portrayal of him in the video).

What did everybody else think?