Monday, February 2, 2009

The Office: Super Bowl "Stress Relief" Review

There was some positive buzz from various bloggers and reviewers who obtained advanced screeners on last night's Office episode entitled Stress Relief. Some were comparing it to the classic episodes of season two, while others were claiming the special was a perfect way to introduce the show to a new post Super Bowl audience who might not have otherwise tuned in on Thursdays to bear witness to the Dunder Miffin-ites.

Indeed, the episode was fun, and I did find myself laughing at some funny Michael Scott moments; yet, the story lines that folded one into another felt disjointed and scattered. First we have the plot on Dwight's fire safety crises, followed by a corporate reprimand. Then we have a bootlegged movie Andy downloaded to watch with Jim and Pam. Then we have Pam's parents tussling with marital problems that involves Jim's emotional and verbal support. Then we have Stanley's heart attack prompting Michael to take on the responsibility of keeping people healthy and alive by extolling relaxation exercises, ultimately culminating into his idea of having a Michael Roast, which goes horribly wrong. Throughout this hodgepodge of situations, there were plenty of laughs with a dash of bewilderment on where these characters are going, and how their stories are being told.

The Office writers tend to have problems breaking a clean one hour story successfully, only pulling it off well in season three's The Job and this season's Weight Loss. Stress Relief had the same split personality syndrome most other one hour installments have sustained. It felt like two half hour episodes rather than one complete sixty minute story. Minus the multitude of tiresome commercials, and that only whittles it down to forty minutes plus change.

Although the lovable Andy Bernard has improved with age, I fear the writers have turned some of their characters into cartoon figures. Dwight has devolved into a hateful person for the sake of comedy. Some may find his antics and behavior humorous, but I find him painfully disturbing, putting a damper on the comedy. Perhaps I put myself in the role of the the other fictional characters on this sitcom. After all, this show started off as a story of The Everyman (and woman) to whom I could relate. I only know if I had a co-worker who carried around weapons, lit fires in wastepaper baskets and locked all the doors before re-enacting Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, I'd call the authorities. He's a danger - not a comedic character. It's my hope they are going somewhere with this newly deranged Dwight. Perhaps he will be thrown in prison for a few months, released, and re-hired by Dunder Mifflin under one of those special work programs that Martin from season three's Stamford crew obtained? Maybe not.

Michael was hysterically funny at times in this episode, and Carell always does him great justice; however, Scott's need to be loved and to protect the security of his "family" at DM can be tiresome. Instead of seeing Shrute as the danger he really is, Michael protects him, thus causing more probable harm on his employees. In addition, Angela has proven to be a shameless hussy. Jim and Pam are great, but I wish Pam, even in her emotional state, and possibly with Roy baggage clouding her judgment, would stop jumping to conclusions with Jim's actions (such as in the parental issue) only for her to realize how much he loves her. When are we going to see how much she loves him? When is she going to show him how much she appreciates all he's done for her? (And sacrificed, btw. He could have been a VP in NYC by now - if he really wanted it.)

Yet, I will say their moment was lovely. Jim's support of Pam as she works out her feelings and issues with her folks is the heart of what makes The Office what it is.

Beautifully executed by the writers, Krasinski and Fischer. Kudos.

The writers are wasting some prime opportunity for Halpert evolution. The boy needs to step up and find a purpose besides Pam. If Pam is the purpose that drives him, perhaps he needs to channel it into something else. Or just throw himself under a train and be the boss at DM Scranton.

Nevertheless, it was a blast to see a new opening title sequence, incorporating other characters who have been prominently featured as of late. As for the entire ensemble, I adore them, and will stick by them until the end, hoping that somewhere between now and the last episode ever, we'll get a glimmer of that wonderful show that gave us heart, soul and realism. Indeed, there were flashes of this last night. It may have been mired a bit in too much storyline activity.

I liked the episode for what it was: a prime time sitcom aired after the Super Bowl to attract new viewers. It was better than some other episodes this season, and it probably pulled in some decent ratings. Indeed, it had lots of funny moments. But as a long time viewer, I felt is was one of the best of season five, but not as great as the pre-Super Bowl online buzz had me believe.

Next week's Office episode will be part one of a two parter called Lecture Circuit. Michael and Pam go on the road to spread the word of his sales success, where they encounter a very pregnant Karen Fillipelli. And unless she's been pregnant for two years, no, Jim is not the father.

And 30 Rock's next episode Generalissimo, guest starring Jon Hamm, promises to be HILL-arious.

Here's the current promo:

Photos and screenshots courtesy of NBC Universal

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