‘The Office’ – ‘Ultimatum’: He’s chewing broccoli… chewing broccoli…

A review of last night’s “The Office” coming up just as soon as I live life like it’s an art project…

Because I decided to write my “Community” review as soon as that episode was done, I got to “The Office” later than I usually would, and as a result had already gotten a few e-mails/IMs/tweets from friends and readers warning me that “Ultimatum” was a mess. Maybe those lowered expectations helped me out, or maybe I was just in the right frame of mind, but I kind of liked it. As with the first Timothy Olyphant episode, one part of my brain kept telling the reasons why I shouldn’t like it (overly-familiar Michael material, including another diastrous meeting in the conference room), while another kept shouting that first part down so it could laugh.

There are things we know about Michael Scott. We know that he fancies himself the most entertaining man on the planet, that he blows little moments up out of all proportion. We know that he will treat the office staff as the family and friends he never had, but will also happily treat them as props in his own ongoing drama. We know that when you put Michael in the conference room, something horrifying will usually happen, and that it will often be funny, whether he’s kissing Oscar or trying to include a photo of Tom Hanks in “Big” as an example of a person with a disability.

We know all these things, and after seven years of it there are definitely times when Michael being Michael can feel tired, if not outright annoying.(*) But I thought that “Ultimatum” was a very well-executed, if familiar, example of this type of episode.

(*) In a way, I think I’m in the opposite camp from the people who feel the show should be retired when Steve Carell leaves. I love Carell, love Michael, etc., but the show’s been feeling tired for the last year and a half, and I do think there’s something to be said for the idea that his departure might reinvigorate the show. Maybe it’ll be a mess, but at the very least it’ll be something different. And I’m keeping an open mind about that.

“Ultimatum” was written by Carrie Kemper, sister of Ellie, and not surprisingly, it was the most I’ve liked Erin in quite some time. Michael’s over-the-top preparations for both possibilities, particularly the packing of the separate happy/sad boxes (“Bears sad, worms happy. Come on, Erin!”) and then Michael having a dance-off with himself as “My Life Would Suck Without You” competed with itself at different points in the song. Michael is ridiculous, but he put some real thought and planning into this, as did the script, and I enjoyed that.

I also liked how Pam’s board of New Year’s resolutions tied into the Michael/Holly plot, with Michael taking out all his frustration on poor Kevin. Kevin being bullied into eating broccoli – and not even knowing how to do it – may be Brian Baumgartner’s finest moment on the show since the famous chili disaster of ’09. Just a great bit of comedy that was silly enough to overcome the usual discomfort that comes with this sort of behavior from Michael.

And as usual, they treated Holly serious throughout this. She knows exactly what Michael’s doing and feeling, both in the meeting and then later with the transparent apology(**) to Kevin and Creed. She doesn’t let Michael off the hook for how he behaved, but she does let herself rethink the whole AJ thing, and potentially set us up for the reunion that everybody but Erin hopes is coming.

(**) Though I should credit Michael for even recognizing that such a thing was necessary, and that adding a buffer between himself and Holly had the potential to make it work better. The Michael of, say, season 2 would have thought he had done nothing wrong.

The Dwight/Andy/Darryl subplot was more lightweight, but it had its funny moments, like Darryl’s comment on the day shift at a strip club (“You can’t unsee that”) or Andy demanding that the DJ play some Dave Matthews deep tracks and then giving in to his desire to air fiddle to “Ants Marching.” Dwight and Andy are both characters that can go into very cartoonish, off-putting places at times, and putting Darryl’s low-key energy with one or both of them really works wonders. Darryl remains my pick for which of the internal candidates should be considered to take Michael’s job. Dwight as boss would be untenable, and we saw in the “Sex Education” episode that Andy comes across as a pale imitation of Michael when placed in that position.

One question: was John Krasinski off filming a movie during production of this one? Jim doesn’t appear outside of the teaser, and my impression is that most of those are so self-contained that they’re not necessarily filmed in order. So he could have shot the thing about Dwight’s Knights of the Night some other time.

What did everybody else think?