“The Dundies,” the first episode of The Office‘s second season, was a massive turning point for a then-fledgling show. Season 1 had been fairly funny but inconsistent; it also seemed a little too mean-spirited for a mainstream American sitcom. (Maybe that kind of stuff will fly across the pond, Ricky Gervais, but in the Land of the Free, we like the protagonists of our comedies to be lovable. At least on some level.) The premiere of season 2, however, revealed that over the summer, the series had undergone fairly significant retooling — tertiary characters were starting to be fleshed out; the humor was less discomfiting; there was a lot more heart — and that it was much better as a result.
So it should be no surprise that The Office elected to bring back the awards ceremony to mark another important milestone: Steve Carell’s second-to-last episode as a series regular. Though the Dundies themselves hadn’t graced our TV screens since 2005, we learned tonight that Michael’s still been holding them every year — and that hosting his last Dundies ever is a huge deal to him. It’s also a huge deal for Deangelo, who will be responsible for taking over Dundie duty once Michael has left for Colorado (a.k.a. the Sunshine State).
Speaking of Deangelo — remember last week, when the new manager played by Will Ferrell gradually revealed himself to be kind of a jerk? Apparently now he’s back to being the bumbling, Michael Scott Lite doofus of “Training Day”‘s cold open. While I’m not totally sure that’s a bad thing — as I said, we like our comedic leads likable here in the U.S. of A. — I do wish Deangelo were less erratic. We still don’t know what this guy’s personality is actually like, which makes it difficult to care about him. Maybe it’s for the best then that he’ll only be sticking around for another two episodes.
That said, the duo of Deangelo and Michael did provide some of tonight’s biggest laughs. Of course Michael Scott, lover of pop culture that everyone else got over a few months ago, would turn to The King’s Speech for ideas on how to help his successor get over his stage fright. Deangleo’s missteps — casually asking Jim where he was on September 11th while practicing banter, reading everything printed on the cue cards (“Ad-lib masturbation joke”) — also elicited plenty of chuckles, despite his sketchy character. I was also happy to learn that the new boss’ middle name is just as ridiculous as the rest of his name.
The tacked-on subplot within tonight’s episode — Erin suddenly reveals to Jim and Pam that she can’t stand Gabe anymore, then dumps him while giving her Dundie acceptance speech — was less successful. We all know Erin and Andy, the bizarro versions of Pam and Jim, are going to end up together again, probably by the end of this season. Still, the breakup came out of nowhere. Gabe’s been annoying lately, but not any more annoying than he ever was. What was the straw that broke Erin’s back? Because she went and detached herself from him without giving her decision any context, the event had less of an impact than it should have.
NEXT: The Office/Rent mash-up you never knew you needed