[01/30/09 - 12:27 AM]
The Futon's First Look - "Office, The: Stress Relief" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Sunday, February 1 after the Super Bowl)

The network's description: "STRESSED OUT IN THE OFFICE--SPECIAL ONE HOUR POST SUPERBOWL EPISODE FEATURING GUEST STARS JACK BLACK ("SCHOOL OF ROCK"), JESSICA ALBA ("FANTASTIC FOUR") AND CLORIS LEACHMAN ("MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE")--After Dwight's (Rainn Wilson) fire safety seminar goes awry, he must make amends to the stressed-out office. Michael (Golden Globe winner Steve Carell) tries a number of ways to get his employees to relax before discovering that he is the number one stressor at work. So that people won't feel afraid of him, he insists on a no-holds-barred roast of himself. Also, while watching a pirated movie, Andy (Ed Helms) is convinced that Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) are film gurus. Leslie David Baker, Brian Baumgartner, Kate Flannery, Mindy Kaling, Angela Kinsey, Phyllis Smith, Oscar Nunez, Creed Bratton, Craig Robinson, Paul Lieberstein and Melora Hardin also star."

What did they leave out? Alba's appearance is so brief - if you blink you might miss it.

The plot in a nutshell: When no one pays attention to Dwight's (Rainn Wilson) fire safety talk ("It's my own fault for using PowerPoint. PowerPoint is boring."), he takes matters into his own hands by creating a fire simulation. Not surprisingly, it goes horribly, horribly wrong (in the most hilarious way possible) and the stress of the event puts one of the Dunder-Mifflin crew in the hospital. An equally horrified corporate demands Michael fire Dwight, but he'll have none of it, instead opting to have someone come in and teach the gang CPR. But when that also goes just as sideways ("Now Dwight knows not to cut the face off of a real person," Michael notes.), Michael realizes he's the one that's ultimately responsible for all the stress in the office. And so, inspired by "The Comedy Central Roast Channel," Michael decides to throw a roast of himself so everyone can let out their grievances against him. As you might guess, the event proves to be both gut bustingly funny and chill inducingly awkward - as well as surprisingly emotional. Meanwhile, Andy (Ed Helms) invites Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) to watch "Mrs. Albert Hannaday," a bootlegged movie featuring the aforementioned stars.

What works: The opening five minutes may be the most outrageous, over-the-top moments in the history of the show as the chaos caused by Dwight's fire simulation is a feat to behold. From Angela (Angela Kinsey) rescuing her cat to Oscar (Oscar Nunez) climbing into the ceiling tiles to the camera guy getting trampled, words do not do it justice. It also proves to be vintage "Office" - a random event causes Michael to insert himself into a problem and make it even worse, turning him into the problem. And of course, like a child who throws a fit when you don't play a game his way, Michael is offended when everyone actually does roast him (whether it be Jim bringing out his log of Michael words that don't make sense, Angela giving her spin on "If you... then you might be Michael Scott" or Oscar unloading on him in Spanish). Thankfully for us, it proves to be a great showcase for the entire cast as their characters and attitudes are distilled into just a few simple beats (for instance, Toby gets turned away because roasts are "for friends only"). That, coupled with everyone inadvertently having to rally together to make Michael feel better, and you have a great sample of what makes "The Office" such a fantastic show. Well, except for...

What doesn't: ...the unfunny, eye-rolling and borderline pointless subplot involving Andy's bootleg movie. It's Super Bowl stunting at its worst - Alba, Black and Leachman might as well wave to the camera and say, "Look, we're in 'The Office!'" The "movie" itself is funny in theory - Black falls for girlfriend Alba's grandmother (Leachman) - but the hook is supposed to be that Andy mistakes Pam and Jim's conversation about something else for their deep criticism of it. Again, funny in theory however Jim and Pam's conversations are about something far more serious causing Andy to look less silly and Jim and Pam's problem to not quite feel as serious. In the end viewers will forgive all of this - for reasons I won't spoil here - but the dots of this subplot never quite connect.

The bottom line: It's after the Super Bowl folks, what else are you going to watch?

  [january 2009]  


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