By Margaret Lyons
Updated February 12, 2010 at 05:54 AM EST

We won’t see another new episode of The Office until March, so “Manager and Salesman” will have to be enough Scranton for the next few weeks. I’m just not convinced it was quite up to the task. Yeah, it was good in parts, with a few sublime moments thanks to Meredith, but Kathy Bates is too famous for a guest role on a show all about pathetic realism. Too many of the moving parts — Jim and Michael, Erin and Andy, Dwight and Ryan, Jo and everyone — just never quite synced up with each other.

Bates’ Jo Bennett came to DMHQ with two massive, massive dogs. “They love a good crotch,” she told Andy, as they nuzzled into his. He made eyes with Erin so we could all remember that they have a crush on each other, and when someone says “crotch,” you have to look at the object of your affection — isn’t that a romcom rule? I think it’s a rule. Jo was unhappy that DM had two co-managers — Jim and Michael were each doing half a job, she insisted. If that, lady. Half a job at best.

Andy wanted to give Erin a Valentine (did you guys know they’re into each other? They are, don’t let the subtly fool you) but to make it seem more normal, he gave a card to everyone and accidentally gave Meredith a papercut when tossing her her’s. “Yeah, I have this thing about men cutting or threatening to cut my throat. Don’t try to cut my throat!” she confessionalized. Meredith, I love you. Never change. Erin apparently did not recognize Snoopy and Woodstock, but loved her card — sprayed with cologne — anyway.

“I’m Jolene Bennet, Jo for short,” Jo told the camera. “I’m a breast cancer survivor, close personal friends with Nancy Pelosi, and Truman Capote and I slept with three of the same guys,” which is quite an introduction, especially if she’s not going to mention the fact that she’s agreed to be filmed. It’s not that Kathy Bates isn’t good here — of course she is, she’s Kathy Bates — but it’s just too incongruous. She’s too recognizable, and it makes the suspension of disbelief too tough.

Everyone piles into the conference room, which gets my hopes up briefly — yay, a group scene! — where Jo gives them all a copy of the Sabre handbook and a copy of her autobiography, Take a Good Look. High fives to whichever Office prop master created that fake book cover, because it is dead on. She tries to give everyone a pep talk, not unlike her underling’s pep talk last week, and at the end just walks out of the room rather than field questions. I really, really wanted to hear what Creed’s and Ryan’s questions were.

Michael told the camera he was trying to say the word “manage” around Jo as much as possible, so she’d pick him to be the manager and make Jim shift back to sales. “Camel cigarettes did the same thing with Joe Camel by making him look like a penis,” Michael insisted. “I can’t even go near a cigarette now without thinking of a penis, and vice versa.”

In a subplot that should have been expanded, Kelly’s Valentine from Andy was really mushy — which she interpreted as Andy having a crush on her, even though he apparently didn’t even realize what the card itself said. “I guess in most romantic comedies, the guy you’re supposed to be with is the one that you’ve never really thought of in that way,” Kelly gushed. “You might have even thought he was annoying, or possibly homosexual.” It’s worth noting that this episode was written by Mindy Kaling, who writes some of the sillier, cuter romance stories on the show. Get this woman a romcom deal, please.

Jim decided to give Michael back sole management responsibilities because, as Oscar later pointed out to Michael, Sabre doesn’t have a cap on commissions — so a sales job is potentially much more lucrative than a management one. Michael flipped out, said he wanted it, but in an incredibly obvious twist at the end, Michael changed his mind about being among the little people, and he and Jim go back to the way things were, with Jim reassuming his desk spot next to Dwight and Pam. I’m not sure how much more I can care about who has the manager job if nothing ever really comes from the role. It’s changed hands way more times than any of us could possibly be interested in. Even Dwight doesn’t care about the position this much. The official management roles within the office are nowhere near as interesting as the actual lived roles; Michael may be the boss, but people actually fear Angela, not him. Toby might be the guy who has to lecture you, but the Dunder-Mifflinites actually respect Pam more. Titles matter so much less than the de facto roles; give me Phyllis and Angela working on the party-planning committee any day over Michael and Jim jockeying for a title and an office.

In another subplot that should have gotten more screen time, Dwight and Ryan — Dragon and Bobcat — had a “diabolical plot” against Jim. Ryan’s plan was to reenact parts of Saw, but they settle on trying to get the IT guy to help them. “He’s molesting people via the Internet,” Dwight told him. And then Ryan lamely crushed a soda can and Dwight bizarrely smushed an apple, and it was the best interrogation ever. If only Charles were still here, something really magical could have happened.

Kelly gossiped with her bandmate Erin about Andy’s Valentine, which Erin of course found devastating. Did you guys know that Erin likes Andy? And would be jealous if she thought he liked someone else? I hope this message is coming through. At the copy machine, Kelly gazed at Andy and planted a smooch on his cheek, which confused and upset the Nard Dog until Meredith cleared it up for him. “If I got that card, we’d be in the bathroom doing it right now,” she purred. Again, Meredith is the best. Andy was forced to sort of confess his crush, but sort of not, so again, we remain in Andy/Erin limbo, which is no longer fun and is now just annoying. That said, Ellie Kemper and Ed Helms are so adorable I want to die.

The good moments of “Manager and Salesman” evoked the best parts of the show, but I wished the stories worked together instead of just alongside each other. If Jo could have had a horse in the race re: the Valentines, or if Michael and Jim could have known about Ryan and Dwight’s plan, or if Erin’s heartsickness could have affected how she interacted with Jim and Michael, the episode could have been more than just a list of conversations.

Other thoughts:

++ There were two great puns:

Ryan: Did you see Saw?

Dwight: Of course I seesaw, Mose and I seesaw all the time.


Michael: Where’d you get that information?

Oscar: Manual.

Michael: Manuel who?

++ Dwight and Jo are definitely into each other

++ No one had any reaction to Michael’s Tallahassee-is-in-Texas gaffe? Not an even an eye-roll from Stanley?

++ Michael just did not fit in in the sales bullpen anymore. Dwight, Pam, and Phyllis appeared to have a pretty symbiotic ecosystem down, and it was nice to see Dwight outshine Michael a bit.

++ Ed Helms had a lot of good moments, but “It’s not ’cause of the smell; I’m just expecting a nosebleed” completely killed me.

++ I like how much Erin likes Michael and feels lukewarm about Jim, and how the show hasn’t dropped that as part of her character. Her and Michael weakly dancing to the Bossa Nova keyboard music? Amazing.

What’d you think, PopWatchers? Are you ready for Andy and Erin to just get together already? Holy God, how much more of this can we stand? Or are you more focused on Sabre, Jo, and those pony-sized dogs? Do you miss Angela?

Image credit: Byron Cohen/NBC

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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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