Michael Scott, The Office (Steve Carell)

Leave it to Michael Scott to turn the potential worst day in company history into a goofy murder mystery game: “Murder” had all the Dunderheads together, with almost no sub-story save for the minor developments in the Andy/Erin romance. I do declare!

“Murder” hit a lot of familiar notes: Michael’s an imbecile, but his tactics are grounded in some form of reality; Jim’s attempt to steer things in a more traditional direction seem cold and ill-placed; Dwight is intense; Andy and Erin have the hots for each other; Kevin is a doofus; Angela is persnickety and vaguely fundamentalist; Creed has a dark past; Oscar and Pam are both torn between playing along and being sane; Stanley would rather opt-out; and Meredith says strange things. (Not a ton from Kelly and Ryan tonight, alas.) While enjoyable, I kept waiting for the story in this episode to take off or transform or distinguish itself or…something. Instead, it felt like a remix of a lot of Office tropes — still enjoyable, certainly, but hardly a noteworthy episode.

What’s strange about “Murder” is that it only barely touched on its main plot point: that Dunder-Mifflin is in financial crisis (so much so that its expected bankruptcy makes the Wall Street Journal). Rather than confront or explore that issue, Michael decides to have everyone participate in a murder mystery game, which, predictably, everyone gets totally sucked in to, sporting comical Southern accents and staging crime scenes and such. It’s a cute conceit, but it makes me long for “Diversity Day” or something more substantive. I know this season was due for a shift in pace — between the wedding and Pam’s meltdown, the show’s been more focused on raw and real emotions than almost ever — but this still felt casual in a way, like an episode that wasn’t pitched as much at the hardcore Officers among us.

That said, it was still a solid episode, with more going for it than most other shows could ever dream of. The evolution of Jim’s attitude toward Michael is a major theme for the season, and “Murder” pushed that front and center. Sure, the game is silly, but Jim’s willing to accept and even borderline-appreciate Michael’s tactics, going so far as to put it in the context of (impending) parenthood: “If you’re a family stuck on a life boat in the middle of the ocean, one parent might want to just keep rowing. But if the other parent wants to play a game, it’s not because they’re crazy, it’s because they’re doing it for the kids,” he says, heavy with resignation. It’s not the worst lesson to internalize.

Ultimately, though, the episode was one of highlight one-liners and throw-away moments rather than one whose cohesive story made for some comic jubilee. To give these moments their due, here are my five faves:

1. Michael’s “tube city” for hamsters, which Jim vetoed

2. Andy’s ability to distinguish between drawls

3. Creed running back to his enormous ’70s-era car

4. Meredith angling for a threesome

5. Dwight, Michael, and Andy…and then Pam pointing fake guns at one another

Honorable mention: Angela and Erin, both for the entire episode. Sublime.

PopWatchers, as much as I liked the silliness of the episode (a lot! really!), I wanted a bigger pay-off. Instead, the goofiness reigned, and while it was a welcome recognition that the show’s its best when everyone’s together, I don’t know that it matches the rest of the season.

What’d you think? Whom do you “most medium suspect”? And can we imagine D-M — gasp! — going out of business?

Episode Recaps

Michael Scott, The Office (Steve Carell)
The Office

The mockumentary-style sitcom chronicles a group of typical office employees working 9-5 at the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

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