A few weeks ago, the season premiere of House didn’t include any of the non-Hugh Laurie cast, and I worried: It was one of my favorite episodes in years, and that’s probably not a great sign for supporting players. Tonight’s Office didn’t include Pam and Jim, and…well, Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski are safe. Their physical presence was sorely missed, as was the level of realism and grounding those characters bring to the sometimes loopy episodes. “Mafia” made me an offer I could way too easily refuse.
The episode was practically all A-story, which is kind of a shift for the show: Almost everything was about Michael’s bizarre interaction with an insurance salesman Dwight and Andy believed was a mob boss. No Kelly. No Angela. One line from Ryan. Hardly any Creed. No Stanley. No Phyllis. One line from Meredith and two from Toby. Just a little Oscar. A little Kevin. I love the budding Dwight/Andy alliance, and I think the characters mesh incredibly well together — they’re both obsessed with protocol and power, even if both of their rubrics are fundamentally weird — but it wasn’t quite enough to sustain the whole episode for me. My favorite episodes include everyone, and “Mafia” was just too drilled down. Even Kevin borrowing Jim’s office just to fart in didn’t have quite enough oomph: It was a little obvious for the character and didn’t add much to the story.
As usual, Michael was too susceptible to intense influence, both from Mr. Grotti — whose “I’ll send it back” catchphrase he adopted — and from Dwandy, who first picked Grotti as a mobster and then tried to renege. Michael and Andy’s least-credible selves took center stage, bottoming out in Andy dressing up as a mechanic to seem tough during the lunch meeting. Minus Jim and Pam, only the audience was left to WTF the whole lunch segment, and while it had funny moments (Michael being unable to order in an intimidating way), those jokes generally play better with more of a contrast, when there’s a “normal” character there to chafe at the impropriety.
The running gag of everyone calling Jim and Pam didn’t hit hard enough either. Why again would they be answering calls from Dunder-Mifflin? If Kevin wasn’t even going to attempt to fix or cop to the credit card debacle, why did he call in the first place? If Oscar could call out the imbalance “between ‘sane’ and ‘other'” while Mr. and Mrs. Halpert are on their honeymoon, wouldn’t he be savvy enough not to bother calling — and to recognize that when Michael has a cockamamie idea, it’s better to let it run its course than try to dissuade him with logic and critical thinking skills?
It’s not that I hated this episode: I didn’t. I laughed many times, like when Meredith explained the “upper decker” (which I’ve previously heard called a “thousand flusher,” but po-tay-to, po-tah-to), or with Toby admitting that he’s “checked out.” I loved Dwight reminding everyone that R sounds are tough, which is why we use the word “murder” and not “muckduck.” That it totes why, you guys. But none of these moments fueled the major arc of the episode. Maybe post-wedding we were due for sort of a dip; maybe a non-PB&J episode was necessary to emphasize what role those two play in the office. I just couldn’t get on board for “Mafia.”
Some additional thoughts:
++ This isn’t the first time organized crime themes have surfaced: Recall the Five Families of the Scranton Business Park. I thought for sure Dwight and Andy would tap Kevin’s Mafia-lore knowledge, or at least ask Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration, for advice.
++ The opener made me think we were in for a crazysauce awesome episode, from Meredith’s previously mentioned recap of her weekend to Ryan daring Michael to write a book. Unfortunately, ’twas not to be.
++ I’ve said it before, but what’s one more time: Ed Helms is fantastic on this show, and Andy Bernard is one of the best dressed regular dudes on TV this fall. Did you see that corduroy jacket? Paging Ted Mosby: This is the look you’re going for.
Were you more enthusiastic than I was about “Mafia,” PopWatchers? Convince me: Was “Mafia” one for The Office record books?