I am not the biggest fan of these super-sized episodes that NBC pushes whenever and whereever possible. When they work, they tend to work fairly well, but when they don't, they feel absolutely stretched thin.
Last night's episode of The Office ("Women's Appreciation") definitely fell into the latter camp, which was a bit of a disappointment. I'm usually such a fan of episodes written by dynamic duo Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, but the extended length of the episode was a real detriment.
I think that the super-sized installments work best when the production has time at the writing stage to craft an episode that is longer and more involved than the average episode and not at the production stage (which is when, I'm told, "Women's Appreciation" was told to go long) when the writers are forced to throw together more stuff and the editors are forced to include bits that normally would have been cut in a 21-minute episode. Instead of being a taut little gem of an episode, "Women's Appreciation" just felt filled with all of this air around it.
I'm also not sure that this episode nailed the spirit of The Office. When the series works, it taps into a painful reality that all of us can identify with; here, it was too far out there and unbelievable. For example, I could buy Angela's line that "Gap Kids was too flashy," but not the fact that she shopped for clothing made for large colonial dolls at American Girl. The joke went too far at the expense of believability and characterization. Likewise, I could understand why boyfriend-less Pam would choose a bathrobe at Victoria's Secret, but why would she then say she planned to cut it up into hand towels? Part of Pam wishes Roy still worked at Dunder-Mifflin and fantasizes that Jim was the flasher and Roy beat him up? Odd.
What's always separated The Office from other TV comedies for me is that rather than mine the situation for comedy (the traditional approach), the writers have always used the characters to generate the comedy. But last night's episode felt the reverse, like certain characterizations were being sacrificed for the sake of shunting these people into certain predetermined slots without much foreshadowing or grace.
Which isn't to say that there wasn't any funny in last night's episode, because there was. I loved how Pam and Jim very coolly tried to frame Dwight for the flasher incident, as Pam had Phyllis describe the flasher and then drew a police-style sketch to match Dwight (albeit without glasses and with a tiny mustache). Andy realized exactly who the sketch was of, but, with Dwight acting like such an ass to him, decided to continue taping the flier everywhere around Scranton. And, the joke paid off when Jim called a tip into Dwight's flasher task force hotline that he saw the flasher in the women's restroom above the sink.
I thought the awkwardness of the guys in the women's restroom was also fantastic as they discovered plush couches, candles, and magazines. I loved Toby's withering comment that he thinks they all hang out enough as is and Ryan's touchiness about the subject of office romances. Also great: Michael wondering why the flasher didn't expose himself to one of the hotter women, like Pam or "Karen from behind"; Karen being angry that the outing was to the Steamtown Mall but then relenting, saying that she has stuff in her car to return; Meredith's "my car, my rules" moment when she throws the bag out the window; Michael caving in to Jan seconds after leaving her a break-up voicemail.
But those smaller moments didn't add up to anything cohesive for me. Perhaps I hold The Office to a higher standard than other comedies, but that's because I love the series so dearly that when it's a subpar episode I feel the low more intensely than in a run-of-the-mill sitcom. Oh, well. You can't win them all, but I do think I would have liked "Women's Appreciation" better had it been a standard-sized episode in the end. NBC, take heed, if you're going to want something super-sized, you better offer those instructions early on.
Next week on The Office ("Beach Games"), Michael is up for a promotion at Dunder-Mifflin Corporate and decides to hold a day of Survivor-inspired challenges at the beach as a means of choosing his successor, leading a jealous Pam to watch Jim and Karen from the sidelines.
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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions junior exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at televisionary.blogspot.com.