There was a point during the early part of the post-Super Bowl episode of The Office where I turned to my wife and said, “This is awfully broad.” And the first few minutes, especially, were pretty broad. But they were also screamingly funny, and gave way to what was maybe the best episode of the season.
It’s my hope that these spoilers won’t set off your biofeedback meter.
You can’t really blame the show for doing a somewhat slapsticky opening — it’s likely that millions more people than usual were watching (and to those folks, welcome!), so why not do a big pre-credits sequence that involved nearly the entire staff and, by the way, is funny whether you’re a fanatic or not?
For those of us who do watch all the time, though — or at least for me — what made the piece work was how perfectly in character it seemed for Dwight to go to extremes to try to teach a safety lesson. And for Kevin to break open the vending machine, for Oscar to try to bail out through the ceiling and refuse to save either Angela or her office cat, Bandit. (And by the way, the cat falling back through the ceiling tile very nearly brought tears to my eyes.)
And, of course, it follows perfectly naturally that there would be bigger consequences to Dwight’s escapade. Stanley has a heart attack, which brings corporate into the situation and leads to Dwight’s removal as safety officer. He nonetheless hijacks a CPR training session, leaping into action after the rest of the staff gets distracted by a “Stayin’ Alive” singalong (because its beat is good for keeping time when applying chest compressions, and, well, Andy starts singing in falsetto, and Kelly starts dancing …) and the practice dummy “dies.”
Why Dwight would need to demonstrate proper (although, not really) organ-harvesting technique is beyond me, and even with him putting the synthetic face over his own, it’s the one part of the episode that falls flat for me. But again, it still feels like a pretty Dwight thing to do, and it’s over soon enough, making way for the meat of the episode.
Both threads that followed for the rest of the hour — Michael’s efforts to make the office a less stressful place, and Jim and Pam sorting through her parents’ split and watching an illegally downloaded movie with Andy — were just fantastic, working in just the right amount of emotion with some seriously funny stuff (Paul “Toby” Lieberstein wrote the episode, and as he’s done several times in the past, he managed the balance exceptionally well).
You sort of knew that Michael wasn’t going to be able to take the cumulative effect of everyone ripping him, but both his slump-shouldered retreat from the stage and his subsequent return to the office to deliver his own putdowns worked great. Some of my favorite bits from the roast: Oscar’s pre-roast talking head “I consider myself a good person, but I’m gonna try to make him cry”; both the warehouse guys and Kevin pumping their fists after making Kelly’s list of people she’d make out with before Michael; and Pam’s comparison of Michael’s “thing” to an iPod Shuffle.
To Michael’s credit, though, he left the office to do his wallowing, and when he came back, he delivered his putdowns in excellent rapid-fire style. To Jim: “You’re 6-11 and weigh 90 pounds. Gumby has a better body than you. Boom, roasted.” Creed: “Your teeth called, your breath stinks. Boom, roasted.” Stanley: “You crush your wife during sex, and your heart sucks. Boom, roasted.”
That last one brought a chuckle from Stanley, and pretty soon the whole office is laughing, and the bad feelings are gone. Proving, as Michael says, that “laughter is the best medicine. So Stanley, go ahead and throw away those pills — you’re cured. [Pause.] Actually, you better hold onto the pills, just in case.”
The Jim-Pam portion of the episode could have been trickier to handle, but Lieberstein (and the show as a whole) once again shows a good feel for their romantic story by undercutting it with the silliness of both the movie they’re watching and Andy’s increasing frustration with what he thinks is their insight into it.
Pam’s dad has been staying with them while he and her mother go through a rough patch, but Jim says something that pushes dad over the edge, leading him to make a really bad talking-head joke (which he immediately regrets) and Pam to wonder what he said, and when he’ll say it to her.
What he said, though, was that he’s never for a moment doubted Pam was the one (awww), and it made Pam’s dad realize he’s never had that. Which is sad in its own right, but at least lets Pam know that she’s probably not headed down the same path. The revelation also leads to a brilliant talking-head moment as Pam explains that kids always think their parents are soulmates, but hers will actually be right. In the background, Andy overhears and, still thinking they’re talking about the movie, throws up his hands in exasperation that she’s still seeing things he didn’t.
About that movie: Lieberstein and other Office producers have insisted that the idea to include big names in the Super Bowl episode was theirs and not a mandate from NBC, but regardless, putting Jack Black, Jessica Alba and Cloris Leachman into “Mrs. Albert Hanaday” was a great way to incorporate them into the episode without overwhelming it. That Andy would be so affected by such a ridiculous story (complete with bad fake crying by Jack Black), and would mistake Jim and Pam’s discussion about their situation with movie commentary, made it all that much better.
More highlights from “Stress Relief”:
– A couple of great lines from the fire panic: Andy’s “The fire is shooting at us!” and Michael’s don’t-die-on-me exhortation: “Stanley, Barack is president! You are black, Stanley!”
– I’ll say it again: Cat falling through ceiling = comedy gold.
– More from the roast: Andy’s “What I Hate About You” was pretty inspired. Especially liked the lyric “We’re stuck listenin’ to you all day/Stanley tried to die just to get away.”
– Dwight, explaining away his fire-drill mishap: “I’d just like to say for the record that I didn’t kill anyone. Stanley was attacked by his own heart.”
– Michael, after finding out from Stanley’s biofeedback machine that he’s the cause of stress at Dunder Mifflin: “So it wasn’t Dwight after all. It looks like I’m the killer. You never expect yourself to be the killer — it’s a great twist. Great twist.”
– I’m wondering if Michael watches How I Met Your Mother, because his “Boom, roasted” is kind of like Marshall’s “Lawyered” snap.
– Dwight’s efforts to get people to sign his non-apology weren’t great, but I did love one thing, which illustrates how he really sees himself in relation to others, even Michael. “Nothing stresses me out — except having to seek the approval of my inferiors. Which reminds me … [hands clipboard to Michael].” He would, of course, make those feelings abundantly clear during the roast.
– A couple quick hits: Andy’s pre-movie greeting to Jim and Pam: “Milady, mi Tuna.” Michael’s musings on the spaceman with the giant microscope. “Push the reverse button!” And Andy’s restaurant and art criticism: “These muffins taste … bad. … That painting is … bad.”
I’m sure you have your favorite moments too, so I’ll cede the stage and let you have at it in the comments. How’d you like The Office‘s turn on the big stage? Were you satisfied with the amount of guest-star involvement, and what were your favorite moments from the roast?