Friday, May 15, 2009

The Office: Company Picnic

The fourth season of The Office wasn't bad, but it also wasn't up to the standards the show's second and third seasons had set. It did, however, end on a positive note, with the arrival of new HR representative Holly Flax, played by the always awesome Amy Ryan. Season five picked up where the tail-end of that fourth season left off, and hasn't really had a bad episode all year. “Company Picnic,” the fifth season finale, written by Jennifer Celotta and Paul Lieberstein, directed by Ken Kwapis, and featuring the return of Ryan's Holly, just continued the excellence.

It's really nothing short of remarkable how much Michael Scott has grown as a character. Actually, what's remarkable about it is that it all seems so natural and unforced. He still has all the passive-aggressive tendencies and poor judgment he displayed in the early seasons, as illustrated by the less than polite way he treats Holly's new beau; but those traits have been tempered by experiences he's had since then, mostly having to do with his tortured relationships with both Jan and Dunder-Mifflin. He is now brave enough to stand up for himself, as well as just self-aware enough to realize when he doesn't really have to.

Holly, after all, is not Jan or David Wallace. She was being neither sadistic nor dismissive of Michael when she decided to break up with him; she was just being realistic. Moreover, Michael doesn't have to tell her that he loves her, because she already knows that. And when they sat there on the grass together at the end of this episode, discussing the disaster that was their SlumDunder Mifflinaire skit, Michael actually got that. And probably for the first time in his life, he didn't push. He just accepted the situation, and decided to enjoy the little bit of time they got to spend together.

Equally lovely was Jim and Pam's scene at the end. Even though Pam's imminent pregnancy had been foreshadowed a few minutes before, it nonetheless takes some guts to write a scene entirely reliant on the physical reactions of the cast. But it just shows how much confidence the show is working with right now, and Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski (who just maybe doesn't get enough credit for what he does) were more than up to the task.

Also showing just how much confidence the show has right now is the writers' decision to introduce a baby, which is one of those plot developments that has a reputation for eating shows alive. Given how well the show has handled the Jim and Pam coupling, however, I'm not too worried. The Office seems to take a certain pride in taking the things other shows have done wrong and doing them right.

Other stuff:
  • Pam's good at volleyball! I have no idea why that's funny, and yet it is.
  • SlumDunder Mifflinaire was evidence that even when The Office is at its sweetest, it can still make you cringe.
  • Stanley should get drunk more often. Just because I like seeing him happy.
  • Phyllis sitting down in the middle of the volleyball game is precisely the sort of passive-aggressive thing she would do. She is more like Michael than she would probably care to admit.
  • We need to see Rolf and Mose get together and hang out.
  • I'm liking the new receptionist. And so is Andy. But he really wishes she didn't suck so much at volleyball.

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